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The Development of English Building Construction

by Charles Frederick Innocent.Donhead,1999.295pp.£35

First published in 1916,and long unavailable, this is one of the standard works on vernacular architecture, writes Julian Holder .It can be placed beside S O Addy's Evolution of the English House (1898);no accident,for Charles Innocent was,with Eddy,one of a close-knit group of Sheffield architects and antiquarians who studied vernacular architecture just when urban expansion was destroying it.

Innocent,who died young,was clearly of the SPAB school of thought which found in old buildings the possibility of a modern rational approach that would not resort to architectural pastiche.The son of one of the finest school architects of the nineteenth century,he was both a product of,and an honourary lecturer in, the then relatively new school of architecture at Sheffield University.This book,originally published as a series of articles in The Builder ,began life as lectures for his students.Despite its age, its 16 chapters remain eminently readable today.

After nearly a century we would now question Innocent's absorption with the cruck,as opposed to the box,frame and certainly not categorise it as primitive.Apart from this qualification,the general drift of the book is as valid now as in 1916.Without it,the work of figures such as Cecil Hewitt,Alec Clifton-Taylor,and Ronald Brunskill is unthinkable.

Julian Holder is an architectural historian

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