Travelling for The Buildings of England

'The human side of Pevsner on the road is documented in painful detail in the letters he wrote during his travels, or travails, through Nottinghamshire – and, indirectly, in the final text, which reflects his tribulations. Lola was unable to accompany him, and this would be the only county which he would cover entirely on his own, playing the parts of driver, leader and assistant. The volume would be dedicated ‘to the driver, who gave satisfaction’; but this was something of an exaggeration.

 

Pevsner had no aptitude whatsoever as a driver. Bertschy Grigson remembered him taking, and failing, his test so often that the driving school was embarrassed into offering him a discount. On  August 3rd  1948 he took his test: ‘‘Tired, washed out, deflated, dizzy (only three whiskies) and not a bit happy,” he reported.”My only reaction at the moment is intense hatred against my car.”

 

Over the first week, his life assumed a pattern of a kind, relieved by small diversions – listening to the Proms on hotel radios, going for a modest half-pint of Bass to relax from his labours, reading Anna Karenina when he finally went to bed. Food was a duty rather than a pleasure. The sandwiches he had bought in London had lasted him a week – including those with Camembert “of which everything smells”. “New rations bought today. I’m saving sugar and points. I’ll eat raw bacon too. Good stuff. And I’m eating churches.” '

 

No passing irritations or despondencies could stop him appreciating Southwell Minster anew, and there were many small architectural pleasures. But grumbling is never far away, and some recurring Pevsnerian bêtes noires make their first appearance in Nottinghamshire.... Pevsner’s best defence against the charge of blandness is the amount of toning down which those in charge of later editions would feel necessary.

© 2015 Susie Harries