Tuesday, November 15, 2016
The next of my handful of new book reviews is of the latest addition to Pevsner’s Buildings of England series. For many, these books are self-recommending. But now the revised editions are coming out, many of them getting on for twice the length of the original books, it seemed a useful idea to have a closer look at the benefits of revision – and it’s certainly not just a case of deleting demolished buildings and adding newly built ones...
Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Warwickshire
Published by Yale University Press
The arrival of a new revised edition of one of Pevsner’s Buildings of England volumes has me rubbing my hands with glee, especially when it’s on a county in my local area. As I live in north Gloucestershire, not so far from the border with Warwickshire, the new edition of Warwickshire is right up my street.
Pevsner’s original Warwickshire came out in 1966, so a full update was due. As seems usual these days, the new Warwickshire has 800 pages (there were just 529 smaller pages in the 1966 edition), but unlike its processor it doesn’t include Birmingham, which will appear in a forthcoming volume on Birmingham and the Black Country. There’s plenty of space, then, for new extended entries on Warwick and Coventry Universities, and for many individual new buildings (Pevsner’s account of Coventry Cathedral, a new building in 1966, is reproduced with little change, apart from some notes on recent minor alterations and additions). The old buildings (and there are some belters in this county: Warwick and Kenilworth Castles, Baddesley Clinton and Stoneleigh Abbey) are covered in more detail. The book also includes much more information about many places – small towns such as Bedworth and Atherstone, for example, are covered in much greater depth. We get a richer picture of this fascinating county as a result.
One huge gain in the revision process is the scope to draw on the results of new research about all kinds of buildings. Recent books on the architect Sanderson Miller (very active in his native Warwickshire) are a case in point. Andor Gomme’s work on the architect and builder Francis Smith of Warwick is another. Recent research also throws light on the designers of important houses such as Compton Verney. And on rediscoveries. Why didn’t the 1966 Pevsner tell me about the wonderful Norman tympanum in the church at Billesley, I wondered? Answer: because it was only rediscovered in 1988! The new book includes it, and provides a photograph of it too.
It didn’t take long before I got out and about with the new Warwickshire in my hand. It throws light even on places that are familiar to me, as I discovered when I took it on a journey through parts of the south of the county. There was much more than in the original book on the large village of Brailes, for example, and about smaller ‘hidden’ places like Idlicote, with its church, house, and dovecote, and about places I’d driven through hundreds of times, like Halford, a village on the Fosse Way with a good church (another bit of excellent Norman carving (who said Herefordshire had all the best Norman sculpture?) and some elegant early-19th century houses. I finished my trip in Shipston-on-Stour, which I thought I knew like the back of my hand. But the Pevsner encouraged me to explore more closely a former nonconformist chapel I’d overlooked before, and introduced me to a bit of the town I’d not visited, where it pointed me towards an extraordinary former police station with, of all things, 19th-century Gothick ogee windows.
So Warwickshire doesn’t disappoint with the familiar places. And I’m already noting down buildings I don’t know that I want to see. I think the list will continue to grow for some time. Anyone with any kind of interest in Warwickshire, its history, and its buildings, will I’m sure react in the same way. There’s no need to hesitate to buy this latest Pevsner.