An update on a classic: The Pevsner guide to West Sussex buildings

From Tim Hudson, co-author.

Fresh from the press this week is the long awaited Sussex: West, the latest revised volume in the Buildings of England series.  This series was founded in the late 1940s by the emigré art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, to provide an inventory of everything of architectural importance in all the English counties: churches, cathedrals, institutional buildings like schools, great country houses, and also the more ordinary sort. 

Image courtesy of Yale University Press.

The original volume, Sussex, was published in 1965, its authorship shared between Pevsner and the crusading – one could even say maverick – architectural journalist Ian Nairn. Nairn was chiefly responsible for descriptions in the western end of the historic county. 

Revision of the series is funded through Yale University Press by the Paul Mellon Centre; and nowadays this means expansion of the original texts by up to twice their length.  So Sussex has necessarily been divided in two, the revised eastern section (corresponding to the modern county of East Sussex) being published in 2013.

Naturally the resources of the West Sussex Record Office were very important aids to the revision process, many types of documents being consulted, especially parish records, maps, building plans, and the archives of the great estates.  The reference libraries of the County Library Service also proved invaluable, notably the library at Worthing for both its books and pamphlets and its peerless collection of newspaper cuttings.

The new volume for West Sussex is edited by Elizabeth Williamson, previously a Deputy Editor of the whole Pevsner series, with as co-authors Tim Hudson, once Editor of the Victoria County History for Sussex (and well known around the Record Office), and Jeremy Musson, a freelance architectural historian and consultant who was formerly architectural editor of Country Life

Tim Hudson, co-author of the updated West Sussex Pevsner guide, and a regular visitor of the Record Office.

Elizabeth’s contribution to the revision was the central and eastern parts of the county, Jeremy’s broadly the north-western end, roughly as far south as Goodwood, and Tim’s the area around Chichester, together with Chichester itself (apart from the Cathedral and Close), and three other towns – Arundel, Petworth and Midhurst.

In addition Tim revised the accounts of four houses elsewhere designed or altered by one of his favourite architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens, besides the Charterhouse monastery at Cowfold, to which Elizabeth because of her gender wouldn’t have been allowed access. 

Meanwhile work on Chichester Cathedral and Close (the former with its wonderful late C20 artworks) was the responsibility of medievalist John Crook, who had previously dealt with Winchester in the first of two revised Pevsner volumes on Hampshire.  Authoritative archaeological input, including accounts of major sites like Bignor Roman Villa and Fishbourne Roman Palace, was provided by David Rudling.

Burton Park, Duncton. Credit to James O Davies.

The gazetteer section of the book is preceded by a detailed Introduction giving an overview of the architectural history of West Sussex.

Expansion of the gazetteer text itself has allowed for much more detail about buildings already described in 1965, incorporating the results of subsequent research.  Much more is also said nowadays about C19 and early C20 buildings in historical styles (to which Ian Nairn for instance wasn’t always sympathetic).  Other building types are also featured more, eg medieval vernacular housing, industrial structures, and buildings for transport like railway stations and airports.

Additions to the building stock since 1965 naturally claim an important place, for instance the Novium Museum in Chichester, the Rolls-Royce HQ at Westhampnett (by the architect of the Eden project in Cornwall) and the quirky East Beach café in Littlehampton.

East Beach Cafe, Littlehampton. Credit to James O Davies.

Ian Nairn’s comments in the original book could famously be spicy.  Inevitably it hasn’t been possible to retain all of them, especially the more un-PC ones.  But the assessments of the authors of the revised volume remain individual to themselves – and sometimes even controversial.

The format of Sussex: West is larger than that of earlier volumes, and as with all modern Pevsner revisions it is illustrated in colour, with 121 ravishing photographs mostly taken to order by James O Davies.  There are also more plans of buildings than before, together with maps of the major towns; the latter especially will aid readers in their ‘perambulations’ (a favourite Pevsner word) around them.

Sompting Tower. Credit to James O Davies.

Copies of this new edition will soon be available to view in the Record Office, and in West Sussex Libraries.

Find out more about the Pevsner architectural guides to Britain here: https://yalebooks.co.uk/pevsner

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