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Devon possesses a wealth of historic buildings both in its towns and in its countryside. These range across a spectrum from great houses and churches to little cottages, but the county is especially significant for its traditional buildings constructed of local materials. There are at least 550 farmhouses which are fundamentally medieval structures -although obviously much altered over the centuries- and many of these have walls of 'cob' (a mixture of earth and straw) and thatched roofs of combed wheat straw. Both these materials, while not unique to the county, are found far more commonly here than elsewhere in the UK and add to Devon's special rural character.
Devon's many historic towns also contain fine historic buildings from the 15th century onwards, and its 16th and 17th century town houses in Totnes and Dartmouth are particularly notable. Exeter has fine Georgian terraces and 19th century town architecture is well represented in places like Barnstaple and Newton Abbot.
The county's ecclesiastical buildings are dominated by Exeter's great 12th and 14th century cathedral, but almost every town and village has a medieval church, mostly rebuilt in the 15th century in the Perpendicular style, as well as a selection of non-conformist chapels usually of 19th century date.
As a county, Devon does not have a great number of very large country houses but nevertheless possesses a number of national significance such as Dartington Hall and Mamhead House.
Buildings may be protected by being included in the Government's 'Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest' (i.e. Listed Buildings) and there are approximately 19,000 of these in Devon, more than in any other single county. Copies of the Lists are held at County Hall and can be consulted by appointment. Contact us to make an appointment. Copies of the lists are also held in the West Country Studies Library in Exeter and by District Councils and National Parks for their own areas.
You will need a special consent from the appropriate District Council or National Park if you wish to demolish or to alter a Listed Building in any way which affects its historic character. Internal as well as external alterations are also subject to this control. The object of this tight control is to ensure that the character of historic buildings is not damaged; it is not intended to prevent reasonable alterations provided these are in keeping with the building. Consent for alterations is more often granted than refused, but since making changes to listed buildings can be a complex matter, it is a good idea to discuss what is intended with the appropriate conservation officer at an early stage.
Although the Devon Lists are comprehensive not every historic building is included. More 'blanket' protection is often provided by the designation of Conservation Areas in the historic parts of towns and villages and there are over 270 of these in Devon. Administration of the law relating to Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas lies with the Devon District Councils and National Parks, but Devon County Council also seeks to ensure that this heritage is properly cared for by working with the Districts and National Parks to formulate policies on the proper maintenance of the historic building stock, by offering limited grant aid (usually in shared grant schemes), by working with various county-wide specialist historic building bodies, and by providing and publishing advice for the owners of buildings on all aspects of their care. The County Council also uses best practice in looking after its own large estate of historic buildings.