Hubert Pragnell, Architectural Britain

This chronological study of British architecture from Saxon times on is produced by the National Trust and its dimensions (it’s about 15 cm square) mean it can be slipped into a handbag or large coat pocket when visiting a notable building. I haven’t read it all through and I think that is not the best way to use it; it can be dipped into either for information on a particular building or place (as long as it isn’t Manchester, which seems only to have one building worth mentioning), or for a summary of a particular aspect of British architectural history.

The 320 pages contain generous amounts of densely printed text, copious detailed line drawings by the author, as well as photographs (many of them naturally enough of National Trust properties). The quality of photography is generally good, though the photograph of Great Pulteney Street on p. 205 is too under-exposed to be much use. The focus is on large-scale buildings rather than ordinary vernacular architecture, and architecture is regarded as applying only to structures with a roof and walls (apart from the Forth Bridge). Thus open-sided market halls, whether ancient stone ones or later iron-framed Northern examples, don’t get covered. The first few chapters are largely about churches, the rest mostly about secular buildings. Inevitably there are things that the reviewer would have liked to have read more about: post-mediaeval churches, or Art Nouveau (while there may not be many buildings in this style in Britain, it had a definite influence on architectural detail at the turn of the 20th century).

I am not well placed to find inaccuracies, but I noticed one: the Bathwick church referred to (pp. 207-8) is St. Mary’s not St. John’s. The author may not have realised that the asymmetry of Camden Crescent in Bath was not originally intended, but came about because during construction it became clear that the planned east end would be likely to subside down the hill. The indexing, though detailed, is not well laid out because a lack of indentation makes it hard to tell when entries for one place end and those for the next begin. An index of architectural terms would have been useful.

An online search for this book finds the 2007 imprint described as a revised edition, although my copy says it was first published in the UK in 2007. Was an earlier edition published elsewhere? The insidious influence of television can be seen on the cover, where the name of Ptolemy Dean (who contributed a single-page foreward) appears in larger type than that of the actual author.

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