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Putting Pevsner in your pocket

Yale’s iPhone app will put Pevsner in people’s pockets again, writes James Pallister

Pevsner’s county Architectural Guides were written in the days of index cards and quiet libraries. The days started with a promenade past the town’s notable buildings; mornings and afternoons were to assess each building and scrawl down minute notes, followed by a cigarette, light meal in an inn, such as the one (pictured) featured in Pevsner’s Buildings of England: London East, then the day’s work written up at his desk, with wife Lola chipping in with clarifications and additions to the next day’s itinerary. The intense, month-long period of field research was preceded by days combing secondary sources. One haunt was the library of the Society of Antiquaries, where Pevsner and his assistants had to keep clear of the formidable librarian, Dr Deane, with whom they were not popular. On Thursday afternoons, when the society held its meetings, they kept clear, the library being  ‘full of irritable old gentlemen’. These anecdotes and more are in Susie Harries’s cracking biography, Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life.

When starting out on his mammoth task, Pevsner indicated he wanted to go further than his countryman Georg Dehio, who crossed Germany by bicycle, recording its buildings. ‘I intended to go beyond the Dehio in two ways. Length and autopsy. Instead of five volumes for the whole country there should be one for each English county, and every building […] should be seen by me.’

Pevsner’s guides haven’t yet made it onto smart phones but this week the first step was taken with the publishing of his Architectural Glossary as an app for iPhone and iPad. It’s a useful, simple taster for what’s to come. Pevsner defended the size of his guides by arguing they were small enough to fit into his (seemingly voluminous) coat pockets. Still, at least the app brings him closer to his stated ambition: ‘What I would like, is for every schoolboy to have his own volume of his own county in his pocket.’

Download: Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary App for iPhone and iPad, Yale University Press, £2.99

Read: Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life, by Susie Harries, published in hardback (834pp) and as an ebook by Chatto & Windus, rrp £30.00

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