Editor Elizabeth Williamson on challenges facing her team
to update a 54 year old classic
Chichester Society members have probably consulted, or even own, a copy of The Buildings of England: Sussex, by Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, first published in 1965. It covers the historic county, treating the post-1888 East and West Sussex as two separate sections in a single volume. Nikolaus Pevsner’s East Sussex was revised by the late Nicholas Antram and published as Sussex: East in 2013. At last the West Sussex volume is complete and is now available in bookshops.
What can you expect to find that’s new and what has been preserved from the original Sussex? The foundation is Ian Nairn’s West Sussex section, with some interventions by Pevsner, and the swathe of Pevsner’s East Sussex consigned to West Sussex in 1974. It has taken three authors to bring it all up-to-date. The team grew as work progressed. Tim Hudson took on Arundel and Chichester (apart from the Cathedral and Close, revised by John Crook), Midhurst and Petworth, places south of a line from Southbourne to Eartham, all but one of Lutyens’ houses, and the Charterhouse in Cowfold. Jeremy Musson has worked on the remainder of Chichester District, that is, eastwards to Loxwood and Bury. Other significant contributors were Bernard Worssam and David Rudling for specialist introductions to the county’s geology and archaeology. David also checked and updated all archaeology entries and wrote new ones including Roman Chichester and Chichester’s City Walls. ‘Pevsner guides’ would be an impossible task without the help of dozens of experts on particular localities and subjects, many of whose names you will recognise in the Acknowledgements – where we also thank those who kindly invited us into houses, churches and public buildings.
Spotting stylistic contrast
Should the reader detect differences in style and content in the easterly parishes, that is at least partly due to the distinctive approaches of the original authors. Pevsner regretted that Nairn ‘… found that he could no longer bear to write the detailed descriptions which are essential’ once he had completed West Sussex, acknowledging that ‘Mr Nairn has a greater sensibility to landscape and townscape than I have, and he writes better than I could ever hope to write. On the other hand, those who want something a little more cataloguey … may find my descriptions more to their liking.’ A balance has been struck: the original authors’ intentions and words have been preserved where appropriate but often fresh research and more time to investigate have required fresh beginnings or almost complete overhaul.
Probably most important to Society members is the new information about Chichester and its immediate surroundings. At the centre is John Crook’s account of the Cathedral, prefaced by a splendid new introduction clearly explaining the building phases. There is new information too about the Close, including rare survivals like the C13 roof of St Faith’s chapel in St Faith’s House. In the town, Tim Hudson has cast a critical eye over the most recent additions: Pallant House Gallery, with a ‘lumpish S front’, and the Novium, ‘unrelated to its surroundings’, do not come off unscathed, though there is praise for the ‘appropriate’ additions to the Festival Theatre. Some older modern buildings are reappraised. One is Marriott Lodge, which, at the time of the first edition, was planned as an extension to the Theological College at No. 3 Westgate. New discoveries have been made about older buildings presented here as ‘Perambulations’. Within a short walk along West Street one can find out about such diverse subjects as: the 21st century sculpture of St Richard; the Prebendal School’s medieval fabric; Edes House and its seventeenth-century interior; the original purpose of former St Peter’s Church; and the architect of the Oliver Whitby School (until recently House of Fraser).
Useful attention is given to historical development. Along the coast for example, Selsey has been separated from the ancient Church Norton and given its due as a seaside resort; there are some special early C20 buildings including large Arts-and-Crafts houses, notably The Bill House by Baillie Scott. On Thorney Island the RAF Officers’ Mess takes its place alongside the medieval church and rectory.
A huge range of information is to be found throughout this volume from church monuments, medieval wall paintings and war memorials to the architects of Victorian churches and schools; architectural histories of great houses such as Cowdray, Petworth and West Dean; and the local character of cottages and village halls. New for this edition are discussions of challenging modern designs, particularly those for the Goodwood and Wakehurst estates and at the Weald and Downland Museum, with its collection of vernacular buildings. This West Sussex volume of The Buildings of England series will guide you to the best of the county’s architecture. And the colour photography is fantastic!
Elizabeth Williamson is former editor of the Pevsner Architectural Guides. Tim Hudson is a former editor of the Victoria County History for Sussex. Jeremy Musson is an architectural historian, consultant, and author.
An earlier article by Tim Hudson published during the planning phase for the update is available here
(This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of the Society’s Newsletter)