The Buildings of England – London 2: South

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner

I was fed up with borrowing a very out-of-date version of this classic from the library, so I asked Santa Claus for my own copy this Christmas.

And Pevsner’s still a really good all-rounder for getting a grip on the architecture of an area.

What I like about him is that he gives not-quite-but-not-far-off equal measure to modern buildings as the ancient ones. This is very useful as there are very few local publications that give any notice to modern stuff – especially the ugly buildings. Virtually every book about Greenwich you’ll ever read will tell you about the ORNC, Queen’s House, Observatory etc, and of course Pevsner pays most attention to these gems, but who else is going to even notice Holywell Close (in Ruthin Road, if you’re wondering) which is “a pleasant combination of 1974-5…an early example of the vernacular mode by the GLC”?

Despite this book covering the whole of the South of London (how come whenever books and magazines cover London there’s always three sections for the North – North/West/East – and just one to cover everywhere in the south? We’re lumped-in with Twickenham and Wimbledon – which are bloomin’ miles away…) there’s a good-size section for the whole borough of Greenwich – another plus for those not living in the town centre. He’s not always polite about buildings, which, of course, is even more enjoyable.

There is one thing that niggles. There’s a hint about it on the front cover. “Published with the aid of the Greater London Council.”

Hang on – the GLC was disbanded in 1986.

And yes, folks. This book, despite continuing in print, and going through numerous reprints, has not been updated since 1983. Now, admittedly the Great Man Himself died that year, and perhaps the books have been set in aspic out of some kind of respect.

But these are gazetteers, rather than straightforward books. I’d have thought that someone would have picked up the baton on a franchise like this and started updating them.

As a guide to the architecture that was around in 1983, this is a fantastic record. The Old District Hospital, for example, still lives in this book (though he describes one of my favourite modern buildings in Greenwich, the Health Centre as “an ugly A-frame with forceful raking struts.”) But it’s in sore need of updating. Are there any Pevsner-alikes in the building?

So – that old copy in the library is as up-to-date as they come. But in case you want to get your own, here’s the link:


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