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The best book on our buildings since the summer of love 1967
FORTY years ago, in the Summer of Love of 1967, architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner published his Architectural Guide to Worcestershire.
It was one in his series covering English counties that had begun in 1951. While its impact on popular culture was significantly less than the gathering on the Monterey County Fairground in California, where the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, the Who and Scott McKenzie, among others, played to 200,000 hippies over a June weekend, Pevsner has probably survived longer as a reference source.
That first volume on the county's significant buildings was dedicated to Sir Gordon Russell, the internationally acclaimed furniture designer from Broadway.
Now, in the summer of 2007, comes a revised and expanded Pevsner guide to Worcestershire, dedicated to the memory of Freddie Charles, who died five years ago. Freddie was the county's doyen of timber-framed buildings and had contributed to the first volume.
Another figure missing from this latest publication is, of course, Sir Nikolaus himself, who died in 1983. So the task of updating the 2007 book was undertaken by Alan Brooks, a former Tewkesbury headmaster, who has already revised two other Pevsner guides, those to the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean.
First the quick history lesson.
Worcestershire was created as an administrative unit in 918, based on the huge estates held by the Bishop of Worcester and the great abbeys of Evesham and Pershore.
However, as Mr Brooks points out: "The boundaries have been tinkered with more than those of most counties over the years, although the changes have been mostly minor." The most significant was losing the northernmost area around Halesowen and Stourbridge to the newly created West Midlands in 1974.
With a splendid flourish of the schoolmaster's pen, he adds: "In shape Worcestershire resembles a parallelogram with irregular edges."
Those who remember a parallelogram from their school days will recall a four-sided figure with two pairs of parallel sides. In Worcestershire's case the eastern from Frankley down to Broadway and the western from Upper Arley down to Pendock.
Within that area lies a rich mix of buildings from "the noble Gothic cathedral of Worcester" to small thatched cottages, from timber framed dwellings to fine country houses of red brick and sandstone, such as "the Jacobean Westwood, near Droitwich, with its extra-ordinary X-plan design", Hanbury Hall, a gem of the Wren period, and Hagley Hall, grand and Palladian.
Then, of course, there is Witley Court, "now an unforgettable Victorian ruin" but once a rival to Blenheim Palace, which was badly damaged by fire in 1937 and abandoned. Only recently has the National Trust managed to restore order to the once beautiful gardens and cleaned up the shell of the house.
Mr Brooks has left no stone unturned and no ogee-crocketed arches unrecorded in his quest for architectural detail and you can dip into this volume, either as a reference book or guide, and discover the most interesting properties in your village, parish or town.
And they are not always the biggest.
For example, in the grounds of Wichenford Court, there is mention of the 17th century timber-framed dovecote, now in the care of the National Trust, while at Holt Fleet bridge there is a well preserved Second World War gun emplacement.
It's not always the ancient either.
At Strensham, the M5 services (northbound) are dutifully described as " symmetrical, mostly two-tone brick" with the southbound "more whole-heartedly open plan and almost entirely double glazed towards the car park".
At South Littleton, Long Lartin high security prison is listed as "flat roofed and rather lame", although one suspects this was a building designed for function, not fancy.
At nearly £30, the updated Pevsner Guide to the Buildings of Worcestershire is not cheap, but it is a unique trip across the county's architectural landscape.
On the front cover is the striking facade of Westwood House at Droitwich, but on the back, in a most innovative touch, are the half naked Art Deco ladies from inside the old Northwick cinema in Worcester, which probably went unnoticed and unappreciated by those in the back row of the stalls in 1967.