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BOOK

REVIEW

The Buildings of England - Lancashire: Liverpool and the South West By Richard Pollard and Nikolaus Pevsner. Yale University Press, 2006.745pp. £29.95

Richard Pollard may have been daunted by the task of updating Pevsner, but if he was it doesn't show. Pollard doesn't stand in Pevsner's shadow. He steps resolutely out of it and strides up a Lancashire hill to get a vantage point on all he is about to survey.

Lancashire: Liverpool and the South West is the second of a three-volume revision of Pevsner's original two-volume Lancashire, published in 1969.

South Lancashire has been divided into two (Lancashire: Manchester and the South East was published in 2004. North Lancashire is due in 2008).

As it happens, Pevsner approached South Lancashire with trepidation. Sleepy market towns and Medieval village churches were one thing, but the grimy cotton and coal towns of the North West threatened to overwhelm him.

Tom Wesley, Pevsner's driver in Manchester, recalls that when he dropped the great man off in the city centre, he was visibly shaking. The iron discipline quickly reasserted itself, but he acknowledged in the foreword that it was 'the most difficult area I have ever had to describe'.

The south-westerly half of the region, Pollard is quick to point out, far from being unrelenting hard red-brick terraced streets and mournful mills, actually has a at topography and, Liverpool and its environs aside, has much agricultural and rural land.

With the exception of Liverpool, where Pevsner had invaluable help from historian Edward Hubbard, the region was originally treated hurriedly and thinly. So it's not so much the frenetic pace of change, but the fact that much was omitted, that has necessitated the two volumes. At 800 pages each, this makes the revised South Lancashire nearly four times as long as the original.

Of course the south-west Lancashire of this title doesn't really exist, the metropolitan boroughs of Merseyside, Sefton, Knowsley, Greater Manchester et al accounting for most of the geographical area it covers.

Liverpool dominates - this book includes the condensed and updated Liverpool city guide written by Joseph Sharples (AJ 22.07.04) and extends out to the Liverpool suburbs. The introductory essays are updated, much expanded and a thrilling read - it's a good 120 pages before the gazetteer starts.

Pevsner didn't concern himself overly with industrial history. Often he didn't get beyond the churches. Pollard had the luxury of time and space to research and reappraise buildings - and indeed whole districts and towns - that Pevsner merely peered into or bypassed completely.

Warrington, for example, which had just eight pages devoted to it, now runs to 40, which partly reects the town's rapid growth but also addresses Pevsner's omissions.

St Joseph's RC Church in Leigh, near Wigan, puzzled Pevsner, who recognised its idiosyncracy but didn't have time to look further. Pollard has researched its context, discovering that the architect, Hansom, had overreached himself. Completed in 1855, when urban populations were expanding and churches were being built to accommodate these new congregations, Hansom tried to build a singlespan roof but failed, so had to erect columns.

Places like Haydock were dealt with summarily by Pevsner. Haydock itself was not even dignified with an introductory line, merely a few desultory comments on a church and a grudging reference to a (since demolished) mansion house.

Pollard goes there and manages to bring this former coalmining settlement alive.

Even so, most of Pevsner's original text can still be found here, and it's difficult sometimes to see where Pevsner ends and Pollard begins. Pollard can be just as acerbic, but despite his exasperation with the crassness of some of the ubiquitous distribution centre, retail park and 'lottery-cliché' architecture, it's the fondness that rings out.

A native of County Durham, Pollard lived in Liverpool for three years - the time it took to write the volume - and familiarised himself with the area (he is now working on the Yorkshire: West Riding volume).

Pevsner was well aware of the limitations of his whistle-stop approach, and always said that it was the second edition that counted.

The Buildings of England series was a staggering achievement and 'Pevsners' will be cherished long after they have all been revised. 'I'll look it up in my Pollard' may not have quite the same ring, but it could soon be tripping off the tongue in south-west Lancashire.

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