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Revealing detail

Building the Georgian City is the most important book published on Georgian architecture this decade. It makes a major and original contribution to the scholarship of the subject and reveals - in great and entertaining detail - the rich craft tradition which produced the speculative Georgian house.

The book is structured in a straightforward manner. James Ayres deals first with the architects and builders of the uk's Georgian towns and cities and examines the financial, craft and artistic systems within which they worked. This chapter embraces short essays on such subjects as architectural publications, legislation, and the use made of drawings and scale models.

Subsequent chapters treat the site and its preparation, building supplies, and the various trades such as stone masons, carpenters and joiners, bricklayers, plumbers and glaziers. There are plentiful diagrams and excellent photographs of construction methods and workmen's tools.

Much of the book will be a real eye-opener, even to those who think themselves familiar with the period and the subject. Particularly interesting is the section on house-painters where Ayres discusses the beginning of the split between the crafts and arts of architectural decoration. Artists, particularly sculptors, would turn their hand to decorations and the creation of objects such as fire-

surrounds, and it can be argued that much of the finest Georgian craftsmanship is art of the highest standard. Certainly charming and characterful are the murals which the author has discovered, especially one of c1830 by Thomas Walters in the Phippens farmhouse, Butcombe, Bristol, which shows a romantic alpine landscape complete with a prancing deer.

Building the Georgian City is extremely well illustrated and includes many images which are not only unfamiliar but also very apposite. The reproductions are of high quality, with many in colour. The book is an essential acquisition for all interested in Georgian building.

Far less essential is The Georgian Country House. This is a compilation of essays by a bevy of academics - selected by Dana Arnold (who includes five essays of her own) - which throws little significant new light on a familiar subject. This is not to say that some efforts have not been made at achieving originality - Arnold, for instance, tackles women and the country house with a grim intensity and earnestness.

All the essays are worthy and some are really very interesting - particularly those by M H Port and Tim Clayton - but the publication is clearly intended for fellow academics and students and all too obviously betrays its origins 'as a course outline for the ma degree in Country House studies which I teach' (as Arnold admits). The illustrations, particularly the black- and-white photographs, are poor amateur affairs which even the meanest publisher should not attempt to impose upon the book-buying public - particularly when asking £25 for what is, in every sense, a slight work.

Dan Cruickshank is an architectural historian

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