We represent the nation’s largest collection of independently owned historic houses and gardens. We are here to ensure these historic homes stay alive and accessible for generations to come. Our family includes over 1,600 important historic houses, many with open doors, waiting to be explored. Typically, Historic Houses properties remain lived-in homes, and all of them have fascinating and distinctive stories to tell.
We help our house-owning members celebrate the past, secure the future, and speak with one powerful voice.
Our members enjoy unique access to hundreds of homes and gardens that tell a personal, living history of the United Kingdom, helping to bring the nation’s history to life.
What we do
As the country’s largest collection of historic houses and gardens, our main role is to represent these important, independently owned heritage properties.
We regularly meet with politicians and opinion formers, to emphasise the economic and social impact of historic houses and their ongoing needs.
Living in and maintaining a grade I- or II*- listed house is not for the faint-hearted. For our 1,600 house-owning members we provide much-valued technical advice and expertise on any aspect of the experience.
We also help to spread the word about the rich diversity of our house members’ homes. Around 320 Historic Houses properties are open for regular public visiting. Their beauty and splendour help to make them attractive destinations. Our membership scheme offers free access for anyone to explore this fascinating slice of the nation’s story.
We began as the Historic Houses Association, which remains our legal name. We were originally formed from a sub-committee of the British Tourism Authority, and our earliest member houses included many that had opened to public access for the first time in the 1950s and 60s – such as Beaulieu, Longleat, Knebworth and Woburn Abbey.
Our mission is to ensure the long-term protection of the country’s finest houses and gardens. Most of our members are listed Grade I or II*, and what unites them all is that they are independently owned and operated. They cannot rely on direct government support, and therefore must depend on their own resources for their continued survival. Many of them remain lived-in family homes, sometimes staying in the same families’ hands for many hundreds of years.
Our ability to influence government policy was tested early on when we campaigned against the destruction of the country house. A landmark exhibition at the V&A in 1974 catalogued nearly 2,000 houses that had been lost in the preceding century, as a result of agricultural decline, heavy-handed taxation and the depredations of wartime uses.
The threat of a more punitive capital taxation regime in the mid-1970s led the Historic Houses Association to become an effective political force, persuading the Labour government at the time to make important changes to the tax regime.
Since then, many independently owned historic houses have gone from strength to strength. Diversification over the last 40 years has seen increasing numbers of houses offer themselves as wedding and events venues, film sets, holiday accommodation providers, or visitor attractions.
Our member houses continue to face a conservation backlog of nearly £1.5 billion-worth of essential repairs and maintenance, of which nearly £500 million is urgent. Historic Houses therefore continues to have an important role in representing its member properties to all parts of government across the UK, and in ensuring the best possible conditions for house ownership and operation.