For those who enjoy exploring this country and its rich and varied architecture, a new volume of a Pevsner Architectural Guide, which, as usual, includes a geological and historical background to the area, is welcome. There are now seven of these paperback books and they follow a similar format to the Buildings of England series, itself now being updated and expanded by Yale University Press.
Andrew Foyle's volume on Bristol is concise, well-researched and immensely readable. What it is not, despite the claim, is comprehensive. On many occasions reference is made to significant buildings within the present-day city but 'outside the area of this study'. This suggests that the author's knowledge is wide but that the limits imposed, presumably by the publisher, have prevented him from sharing it.
This might be easier to understand if the reasons for the arbitrary nature of the boundary were explained. Foyle notes that Pevsner's Bristol and North Somerset volume ignored Bedminster, yet Cotham, Redland, Montpelier, Sneyd Park and Henleaze are just some of the suburbs missing here. For Montpelier we can find reference to the trendsetting Ashley Place development, but it does not, apparently, merit further description. Neither does Picton Street, the only intact Georgian shopping street in Bristol that still retains a Charley Box or lock-up.
While excursions are made to Blaise Hamlet, Kingsweston and Arnos Vale Cemetery, these are not the only other places of interest in the city. And why is Tyntesfield included?
Should this not be within the forthcoming and updated hardback volume, Somerset 1: Bristol, Bath and the Mendips? Perhaps this title reveals the problem: although the books should overlap, with the city guides to Bristol and Bath being detailed supplements to the local Buildings of England series, they do not. If they did, the recent Gloucestershire 2: The Vale and the Forest of Dean edition should have extended as far as Foyle's boundaries. That it does not results in large and significant areas being wiped from the map.
The introduction takes us on a long journey from the birth of the city to its modern-day development. It seems surprising that architects, planners, highway engineers, and the city council as a whole receive barely a finger-wagging for the horrors inflicted in the post-war years. The pressure on the city architect from developers might have been great, but was that an excuse for accepting poor planning and design?
Did the imminent arrival of the Development Corporation in 1987 justify planners and councillors alike accepting large, badly designed schemes simply because to refuse them would have handed the decision-making to an unelected body? The Development Corporation has gone, but the results of the council's poor thinking remain.
Conversely, the personal contribution of those like Dorothy Brown, Jerry Hicks and others, who stood up and fought to preserve so much that is unique and good about Bristol should have been acknowledged. Hicks' letter to the Bristol Evening Post in 1972, alongside the sketch he produced showing a 100m slab towering over the historic King Street, was a seminal moment.
Pevsner's opinions remain the subject of much debate and Foyle's will no doubt provoke similar arguments, not least his assertion that the concept for the remodelled centre is right. Did the alternative - a restoration of the covered dock and quaysides - really promise to be no more than a 'hole in the ground with water at the bottom of it'? Were not the main reasons for its dismissal the inability of the highway engineers to accommodate a four-lane highway and the belief of the designer that Bristol should ape Barcelona? The alternative at least would have given a sense of scale to the area.
Anyone exploring Bristol will benefit from having this book as a companion.
However, for those who both know the city and the limits of the Buildings of England volumes, it is perplexing and leaves an impression of having been short-changed.
Yale needs to address this by asking Foyle to add to his excellent work in an expanded second edition.
Peter Dlugiewicz is an architect in Bath