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Male voice choir

review

The Buildings of Wales: Pembrokeshire By Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach and Robert Scourfield. Yale University Press, 2004. £29.95

If Pevsner discovered Englishness through his series of architectural guides The Buildings of England, are Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach and Robert Scourfield discovering Welshness in The Buildings ofWales?

This is the fourth volume in the emerging series that will eventually cover all of Wales. It follows the established Pevsner format but, as with other recent editions, the longer introductions make these books more than a simple point of reference. Pembrokeshire is really three books in one. First, the 98-page introduction provides a comprehensive background to the context and architecture of the county from prehistoric times to the present.

Second, the building descriptions provide an astonishingly comprehensive guide. Third, the glossaries are in themselves a compact dictionary of architecture, mixing the standard Pevsner glossary with some helpful notes that explain the meaning of Welsh place names.

For a county of such outstanding natural beauty, it seems entirely appropriate that the introduction begins by describing the landscape. An emerging theme is that landscape, geology and climate have had a powerful influence on Pembrokshire's buildings. Climate change is discussed as a key factor in determining prehistoric settlement patterns, and the need to minimise climate change is a unifying factor for the very small selection of notable recent buildings that are illustrated.

The complex geology is responsible for a variety of local building stones. Some are too porous to resist the damp climate, hence the abundance of roughcast and render. Some are too hard to be intricately carved, hence a more simple approach to detail.

The introduction covers many revealing facts about Pembrokeshire: nowhere in the county is more than 10 miles from the sea;

John Nash was the only 'pure' architect practising west of Swansea in 1780 after his retreat from London to escape his bankrupt past; the great iron roofs covering the shipyards at Pembroke Dock were built by the engineers of the Crystal Palace. Sadly, many architectural highlights describe what might have been or is no more - the roofs at Pembroke Dock are gone and John Nash's opportunities were restricted. Pevsner's incisive critical style emerges where the authors' lament Nash's lack of involvement in the planning of the new town at Milford: 'He would surely have traced out something of more flourish than the simple grid plan that proceeded.'

The building descriptions reveal an astonishing breadth and depth of research. A curious circular garden in the middle of a country lane on the approach to Castelmartin has been revealed as a former stone-built pound of 1780 for stray animals (creating one of the first roundabouts in the county). Nearby, the most-westerly great landscape garden in Wales is illustrated as the setting for the former Palladian villa Stackpole Court, believed to be by Colen Campbell, but tragically demolished in 1963. Drawings of the scheme show a calm simplicity and help explain the stunning landscape that remains.

Tenby is a particular focus for superlative descriptions. Augustus John is quoted as finding that 'you may travel the world over, but you will find nothing more beautiful'.

Here we are also told that the Greek inscription from Euripedes on Cockerell's 1810 sea-water bath-house translates as 'The sea cleanses all men's pollution' - a poignant reminder of close links with nature.

Nearly 50 pages are devoted to the tiny city of St David's, as the cathedral is considered to be the most important religious building in Wales. By contrast, the evolution of the emerging new building type for nonconformist chapels is a fascinating case study in designing from first principles.

The drawn illustrations combine archive material and helpful diagrams within the body of the text. Colour and black-andwhite photographs are successfully grouped together to minimise any interruption to the flow of text, and their variable quality can perhaps be excused by the informative selection, including two contrasting houses by James Gowan and Future Systems.

In addition to the three authors of Pemrokeshire there are four contributors, and so it is inevitable that the presentation is more complex than in Pevsner's more individual original guides. For example, the development of Milford's town plan is covered three times from different viewpoints. The product is therefore not a solo performance, but more like a chorus by a well-trained choir.

This sense of singularity of purpose and communal effort perhaps also defines an emerging sense of Welshness. No individual architects or builders emerge as a dominant force in the buildings of Pembrokeshire. The abundance of delightful structures is always set off against the greater forces of environment and landscape. This is encapsulated neatly in the jacket illustrations that show Carew Castle and the exquisite Caerfarchell nonconformist chapel (pictured), neither of which has an attributed architect.

David Morley is an architect in London

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