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This paper explores the familiar history of the development of conservation ideas and practice in twentieth-century England, focusing on the postwar period. It begins by reviewing a longer period, to establish context for wartime and postwar legislation; we will see, for example, that postwar policies did not arise wholly from the scale of bomb damage. Area-based conservation appears in plans from the 1940s, predating its adoption in 1967 legislation (and even the 1962 French law that is sometimes credited with inspiring the British practice). Attention to local events and actions deepens our understanding of conservation history, including the influence of individual plan-writers, officials and legislators. This paper seeks to reinterpret the traditional history of conservation through an examination of changing values. It also suggests that the dominant approach of the period—to identify yet more ‘‘things’’ to conserve—has been of limited value in the wider practice of urban management.