Magazine article The Spectator

'Cornwall', by Peter Beacham and Nikolaus Pevsner - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Cornwall', by Peter Beacham and Nikolaus Pevsner - Review

Article excerpt

Cornwall Peter Beacham and Nikolaus Pevsner

Yale University Press, pp.800, £35, ISBN: 9780300126686

Before writing this review I spent an hour looking for my original Pevsner paperback on Cornwall, published in 1951 (the first in the 'Buildings of England' series). It was falling apart, but I always took it with me on an architectural jaunt, together with my father John Betjeman's Shell Guide to Cornwall , of course. The two books were good companions. The Pevsner was littered with notes in the margin, made by my dad, like 'absolute balls,' 'what?' or 'wrong' underlined. (I did not find the tattered book and can only conclude that some light-fingered book dealer has stolen it within the last year.)

Admittedly there were inaccuracies but with no official buildings 'list' at the time, Nikolaus Pevsner was out on his own. His chief interest was always the churches and he never presumed to write much about 'place'. If a village had no noteworthy buildings he would simply leave it out, however picturesque it happened to be. In the amended and scantily revised 1970s edition, the

hitherto unmentioned village of Polperro, for instance, was given two column inches using my father's Shell Guide description in quotation marks -- a tacit acknowledgment that the two guides served different purposes. Pevsner was architectural dates and details, Shell more mood.

While revering both Pevsner and Betjeman, what Peter Beacham has done with the latest Cornwall is to perform magic: he has brought the two together. In consequence it's a wonderful guidebook and I'm not just saying that because I know and love the county so well. Yale University Press made an inspired choice in Beacham. Not only is he a lyrical and sometimes funny writer with a true gift for evoking place, but he also cares passionately about architecture and about doing full justice to Cornwall. From his home in Exeter he has left no fern banked lane or secret drive unexplored; no farmhouse, manor, church, chapel, village or town unvisited and, 60 years after Pevsner's original Cornish exploration, he has brought a fresh eye to everything.

It has taken him ten years. Beacham worked at English Heritage for over two decades and ended up being head of the listing of buildings: he is also an Anglican priest with a deep knowledge of ecclesiastical history. …

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