Pevsner Architectural Guides

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The Pevsner Architectural Guides are a series of guide books to the architecture of the British Isles. Begun in the 1940s by art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the 46 volumes of the original Buildings of England series were published between 1951 and 1974. The series was then extended to the restr of the Britih Isles in the late 1970s. The Scottish and Irish guides were incomplete as of summer 2012. Most of the English volumes have had second editions, chiefly by other authors.

Origin and research methods

After moving to Great Britain from his native Germany in the 1930s, Nikolaus Pevsner found that the study of architectural history had little status in academic circles, and that the amount of information available, especially to travellers wanting to inform themselves about the architecture of a particular district, was limited. He conceived a project to write a series of comprehensive county guides to rectify this, and gained the backing of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, for whom he had written his Outline of European Architecture.

Work on the series began in 1945. Lane employed two part-time assistants, both German refugee art historians, who prepared notes for Pevsner from published sources. Pevsner spent the academic holidays touring the country to make personal observations and to carry out local research, before writing up the finished volumes. The first volume was published in 1951. Pevsner wrote 32 of the books himself and ten with collaborators, with a further four of the original series written by others. Since his death, work has continued on the series, with several volumes now in their third revision.

Content of the volumes

The books are compact and intended to meet the needs of both specialists and the general reader. Each contains an extensive introduction to the architectural history and styles of the area, followed by a town-by-town — and in the case of larger settlements, street-by-street — account of individual buildings. The guides offer both detailed coverage of the most notable buildings and notes on lesser-known and vernacular buildings; all building types are covered but there is a particular emphasis on churches and public buildings. Each volume has a central section with several dozen pages of photographs, originally in black and white, though colour illustrations have featured in revised volumes published by Yale University Press since 2003.

Celebratory volumes

In 1986 Penguin Books published an anthology from Pevsner's volumes edited by Bridget Cherry and John Newman, "The Best Buildings of England", ISBN 0-670-81283-8. It has an excellent introduction by Newman asssessing Pevsner's aims and methods.

In 2001 the Penguin Collectors Society published The Buildings of England: a Celebration, edited by Simon Bradley and Bridget Cherry, fifty years after BE1 was published: it includes twelve essays and a selection of text from the series. ISBN 978-0-9527401-3-1

Buildings of England

The Buildings of England is a series of books considering architecture in England county by county. For the most part the volumes are based on counties, though some counties have, by sheer volume been split into more than one volume and London, the whole metropolitan area, has been considered separately.

In some later reprints, the counties have been abandoned and the books based on artificially derived areas inspired by local government structures, which coauses substantial continuity problems between volumes, along with uncertainty and built-in obsolesence

Volumes in print

The list below is of the volumes that were in print in 2006 (updated to include City Guides in print at October 2010, and new volumes released 2011–12). The original volumes are gradually being replaced with new editions in a larger format, updated to reflect architectural-history scholarship since the first publications of the guides and to include significant new buildings. The dates after each title are of the first publication and of any revised edition. All are now published by Yale University Press.

The volumes for Bath, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead, Nottingham and Sheffield are part of the parallel "Pevsner City Guides" series, a more richly illustrated paperback format.

City Guides=

The first of the paperback City Guides, covering the churches of the City of London, appeared in 1998. It was followed by a new format with integrated colour illustrations, beginning with Manchester in 2001. In most cases the City Guides have preceded a revision of the county volume in which they are located, although they do go into greater detail than the county volumes and have more illustrations. Thus the Birmingham guide completely absorbs the central Birmingham section of the Warwickshire volume, which is now over forty years old. Two of the guides, covering Newcastle and Gateshead and Hull, are more recent than the hardback editions for the surrounding counties, and therefore update as well as expand the coverage of those cities.

Buildings of Ireland

The Buildings of Ireland covers architecture in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Pevsner himself did not consider Ireland and this series is not so far advanced as the others. However, the following three volumes have been published, and a fourth, on South Ulster, is pending.

Buildings of Scotland

The Buildings of Scotland is a series which continued under Pevsner's founding editorship to consider architecture in Scotland. The format is largely similar, but the guides have not adopted a county system, using a bespoke geographical division. One noticeable difference in some of the series contain divisions within the voumes so that for example the volume entitled Argyl and Bute (concerning Argyllshire and Buteshire but oddly excluding Arran) has separate three separate, gazetteers for Argyll, its islands, and for the Isle of Bute. Unlike The Buildings of England, none of the Scottish volumes adopts a hierarchy of ecclesiastical buildings, instead grouping them together. As with the English revisions, several of the volumes are the work of many contributors. As of late 2012, the series is three volumes from completion.

Buildings of Wales

The Buildings of Wales covers counties Pesvener did not undertake, and it uses a bespoke geographical division apparently inspired by local administrative areas, which is somewhat confusing and potentially inconsistent.

Superseded volumes

The revision of the series has rendered some original volumes obsolete, usually as the area of coverage has changed. To date the following volumes have been entirely superseded:

  • Cumberland and Westmorland (1967)
  • London: the Cities of London and Westminster (1957)
  • London, except the Cities of London and Westminster (1952)
  • London Docklands (1998) (with Elizabeth Williamson)
  • Middlesex (1951)
  • North Lancashire (1969)
  • South Lancashire (1969)

In addition, two volumes, North Devon and South Devon were superseded by a single volume covering the entire county. Parts of the original Hampshire & the Isle of Wight and Yorkshire: the West Riding volumes have been superseded by revised volumes.

Outside links


  • Cherry, Bridget (1998). The Buildings of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales: a short history and bibliography.