Pevsner and the Victorians
Pevsner was atracted to the Victorian era primarily as a period that had been neglected – 'the obscurest age since 1066’. He deplored some of its characteristics – the historical fancy dress, the sham materials, the vulgarity – but found others hard to resist: gusto, tenacity, edginess and a constant thirst for information. Intrigued by extremes, he enjoyed writing about his villains as well as his heroes, Teulon and Lamb as well as Pearson and Street.
He was entertained by Victorian building, but he also took it seriously when others did not. By including it in The Buildings of England and putting his academic weight behind campaigns to publicise and preserve it, he encouraged others to take it seriously – scholars, architects, planners and civil servants.
He believed it should be valued and preserved primarily as the most powerful expression of the spirit of its age. Chairman of the Victorian Society during its formative years, he fought alongside John Betjeman, Hugh Casson and others to save churches, hospitals, mills, stations and other monuments to an age of industry and national pride.
He often disagreed with his peers. In his view, a good modern building might be preferable to a mediocre old one, and it was better for a building to be dismantled and lovingly re-erected in Wisconsin than to moulder in Wiltshire. But beyond doubt was the value of his contribution in getting Victorian buildings included within the listing system and persuading the National Trust to widen its net for them. During his Chairmanship, according to the Minister for Planning, the Victorian Society had ‘saved a hundred years’.