The English House: 1,000 years of Domestic Architecture By John Steel and Michael Wright. The Antique Collectors' Club, 2006. £45.00
Fitting 1,000 years of British domestic architecture into 399 pages is a Herculean endeavour (Simon Jenkins squeezed 1,000 'best' houses into nearly 1,000 pages) and the result is large, glossy and expensive. This book aims to provide 'information without wafe, spiced with the occasional aesthetic comment'.
Its initial author John Steel, founder of the Antique Collectors' Club, spent years photographing houses that interested him, and in retirement began assembling his photos into book form because he felt there was nothing 'at a serious level for the person coming new to the subject'.
He meant to restrict himself 'to considering the outside of a house and then usually only the front, the chief guide to dating'; in fact, he frequently describes interiors, particularly when dealing with early medieval buildings.
The text is divided into chronological periods, each with an introductory essay, followed by a series of subheadings: 'The grand Eshaped house' etc. A glossary and useful list of houses by county comes at the end.
Michael Wright completed the book after Steel's death, but he too didn't live to see it in print. Whether or not there was a gap in the existing literature, this is a handsome monument to their joint enthusiasm for an unfailingly absorbing subject: fat, eye-catching, packed with prettily wrapped gifts of wildly varying quality - but the pleasure of a lucky dip is assured.
Deborah Singmaster is co-director of Footnotes Audio Walks