The Buildings of England: Shropshire By John Newman and Nikolaus Pevsner.Yale University Press, 2006. £29.95
Shropshire's history is surprising.
Predominantly rural, with a present population of less than half a million, its Coalbrookdale settlement was the origin of the 18th century's Industrial Revolution - a place which thrilled and horrified polite society with its furnaces blazing in wooded valleys. In Shropshire we find the world's first iron bridge (1777-80), the first iron-framed building (Ditherington Flax Mill, Shrewsbury, 1796), and the oldest surviving iron aqueduct (Longdon-on-Tern, 1795-96).
Pevsner's original Shropshire volume, which this book updates, was published as long ago as 1958. Back then the Coalbrookdale Company still existed and it was to be a decade before the Ironbridge Gorge Museum was created, transforming the understanding of the area's history. John Newman considerably expands Pevsner's coverage of the county's industrial development.
I had never previously heard of the curiously named Snailbeach, which went unrecorded by Pevsner in the original volume. This extraordinary industrial complex produced more than half of Britain's lead between 1845 and its closure in 1913.
Another event which had a big impact on the county was the declaration of Dawley New Town (later enlarged to Telford) on the east Shropshire coalfield.
This only occurred in 1963, so the section on Telford is almost entirely new and Newman treats its planning by John Madin and its new housing areas with commendable thoroughness. But he rightly dismisses its new town centre, which is incoherent despite Gordon Cullen's input to the competition-winning scheme.
Newman is an experienced hand, having previously written two Kent volumes and the Glamorgan and Gwent/ Monmouthshire volumes in The Buildings of Wales. He and his contributors display all the impressive omniscience that we have come to expect from Pevsner's successors. He has a command both of the idiosyncratic BoE syntax, and of the dry Pevsnerian wit.
Newman records in passing the evocative names of the railway companies which connected the various parts of this large county - Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway, Wellington and Severn Junction Railway, Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway. Many of their lines, now disappeared, must still have been running when Pevsner wrote the original volume in 1958. Another ubiquitous name is that of the local Haycock dynasty of architects, most prominently the Neo-Classicist Edward Haycock, architect of Millichope Park (1835-40) and the Music Hall in Shrewsbury (1838-40). Other names that are also frequently mentioned are Thomas Telford and G E Street.
So many good things, so little space. To finish, a few other personal favourites: Soane's Pell Wall Hall; Nash's Cronkhill; Stokesay Castle; all of Ludlow; the Morris & Co.
windows at Meole Brace; Telford's Chirk Aqueduct; and Norman Shaw's Adcote.
Joe Holyoak is a Birmingham-based architect and urban designer