Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Shakespeare's county

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.


Peter Ashley said...

How about this for a piece of total irrelevance. Whenever I see that view of Warwick Castle, as on the cover you show, I wince slightly because it was used behind Albert Finney's head on the cover of my DVD of Tom Jones, (the film of Fielding's novel before anyone says 'It's Not Unusual'). As we know, the book and film are set in Dorset and Somerset, Warwick Castle doesn't appear and as far as I know castles don't figure much either. Needless to say it was designed by someone at MGM in the USA, and we all know what they're capable of.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Quite so. Warwick Castle is (look out there's a cliché coming) Iconic, you see. And you gotta have something Iconic on a DVD cover. Bah!

Francesca Jefferies said...

Another great blog post, and a very convincing review. I'd imagine the book contains some great photography also. Warwickshire has some beautiful properties. Upton House is a wonderful 17th century country house in Warwickshire. The hipped stone slate roofs and various roof dormers are just lovely.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

The man in the record shop in Bristol looked puzzled when I complained that the German-made CD of Elgar's music had a SUSSEX type half-timbered house on, not a Worcestershire-Warwickshire type! I hope he realised I was in jest!

Does the new Pevsner note why there are so many mostly dry "moats" in North Warwickshire, mostly from manor houses and farms with pretensions to be manor houses?

Yes, Atherstone is well worth noting: I had an intellectual conversation there with a lady in the church cafe. Hartshill (birthplace of Michael Drayton the Elizabethan poet) and Polesworth Abbey worth searching out too: well served by local historians. My photo of the Anker in winter, which was taken to show how "dull" the landscape can be, compared with Wales, has pride of place on my wall: some hidden gems (e.g. cruck cottages, sandstone bridges) here and there - some of them I've never found mentioned in the literature. Perhaps I just haven't read the right books.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all. Joseph: Well, if the man in the record shop had wanted to be clever-clever, he could have mentioned Brinkwells, the Sussex cottage where Elgar lived in c 1919 while he was writing the cello concerto. But we know it should have been Worcestershire or a neighbouring county on there. However, I can beat this. I have an Elgar CD with a picture of the Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern) on the front. HOW do they think of these things?

Cara said...

During Shakespeare's life ins stratford, the majority of the houses were constructed of timber, a heavy framework, of which the squares and triangles formed by the wooden braces were filled with lath and plaster. The roofs of the better houses were of tile; but thatch was the more common material. If the front did not rise in steep gables, the slope of the roof was sure to contain dormer windows peeping out of the thatch. Porches invariably sheltered the door; and, if the house were that of a trader, a penthouse formed a covering beneath which he set up his stall. The better houses of the main streets in the village were built of timber and brick instead of timber and lath and plaster. Shakespeare seems to have rebuilt New Place of stone, a material of which the College was wholly constructed. Often the timber framework in front of a house was elaborately carved. Barns and office buildings were constructed like the smaller dwelling houses, of timber, lath and plaster, and always thatched.