Ancient monuments have been in some way protected since the passing of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882 empowered the Commissioners of Works to accept as a gift or bequest or to purchase or accept guardianship of ancient monuments.
Subsequent Acts relating to Ancient Monuments (in 1900 and 1910) amplified these powers, until the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913 superseded them. This new Act provided for the appointment of Ancient Monuments Boards for England, Scotland and Wales, (consisting of archaeologists, historians, and representatives of learned societies and interested public bodies) to advise the Commissioners of Works in the making of preservation orders concerning monuments in danger of destruction or damage.
Further legislation in 1931 (Ancient Monuments Act) augmented the protection for ancient monuments, but largely speaking inhabited houses were not included, and therefore lacked protection.
However, the Town & Country Planning Act of 1932 gave the new Minister of Town & Country Planning scope to preserve existing buildings or other objects of architectural, historic or artistic interest. The 1944 Act strengthened this protection by placing a duty on the Minister to list historic buildings.
Section 42 of the 1944 Town and Country Planning Act required the Minister to consult experts in order to carry out the listing of historic buildings. This led to the establishment of the Advisory Committee on Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest within the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.
The Historic Buildings and Ancient Monument Act of 1953 expanded upon the provisions of the Town & Country Planning Act of 1944 to include the protection of buildings that were privately owned. The Act empowered the Minister of Works to appoint three separate Historic Buildings Councils - one each for England, Scotland and Wales.
The Historic Buildings Council for England advised the Minister of Works, and after 1962, the Minister of Public Building and Works on the exercise of powers to make grants and loans towards the repair and maintenance of historic buildings; to acquire such buildings or to assist other organisations (such as the National Trust) to do so. Subsequently the Council was given the added responsibility (shared with the Duchy of Lancaster) for the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The Fund was able to make grants or loans towards acquisition, maintenance or preservation of land, buildings or objects of outstanding historic or other interest throughout the UK.
The Council was provided with the advisory services of the architectural and archaeological staff of the Ministry's Ancient Monuments Branch, which also provided secretarial services.
Responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council for England was passed to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1966. This new Ministry had been created in 1951 as a post-election re-naming of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning - formed a few months earlier by the merger of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the local government and environmental health divisions of the Ministry of Health.
In 1970, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was absorbed into the new Department of the Environment. The Historic Buildings Council for England continued to function as a separate unit within the new Department of the Environment's Directorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings until 1984.
During this time the Council was given the additional duty of advising the Secretary of State on his power to make grants or loans towards the cost incurred in the promotion, preservation or enhancement of outstanding conservation areas - through the Town & Country Planning (Amendment) Act, 1972.
Membership of the Historic Buildings Council for England included among others: Patrick Buchan-Hepburn (Baron Hailes) - chairman 1963-1973; Sir Howard M Colvin, architectural historian and scholar; Christopher Hussey, architectural historian; William Holford (Baron Holford), architect and town planner; John Hope (1st Baron Glendevon), a former Minister of Works and chairman 1973-1975; Dame Jennifer Jenkins (Lady Jenkins of Hillhead), chairman 1975-1984; Sir Alan Lascelles, a former keeper of the Royal Archives and chairman 1953-1973; Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, architectural historian; and Sir John Summerson, former curator of Sir John Soane's Museum and architectural historian.
The Council was abolished by section 39 of the National Heritage Act of 1983. The same legislation established the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (English Heritage), which took on the functions of the Council and began operations in 1984.