It was 1945 when the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner embarked on an ambitious project to travel the country, writing and recording as much he could about the architectural gems of England.
The Buildings of England series included more than 40 works, some written with collaborators, which are still revered today as some of the finest guides to all that is good and great about this country’s historical buildings.
The Northamptonshire guide was first published in 1961 and was revised in 1973 by his assistant, Bridget Cherry. The third edition – which has taken three years to produce – has recently been published.
Bruce Bailey, from Lowick, is the man behind the latest version of the book, although he has been involved since the very beginning when Pevsner started his research.
Bruce, who works as an archivist for Drayton House in Lowick, where he now lives, and Althorp House, explained: “I was an assistant at the Central Library in Abington Street, Northampton, when Pevsner first started the series in 1959-60. He came into the library and I met him then. I wasn’t heavily involved at that point, but we did provide his assistant with a lot of background materials when the next edition was released in about 1970. His research assistant, Bridget, came up when I had moved from the library, but was at the college in St George’s Avenue and we were put in touch. I worked very closely with her and was doing lots of architectural research with Sir Gyles Isham of Lamport.
“With this edition, I have been in charge of the whole thing, I’m the co-ordinating editor. I have been around the county to every parish church, all the village churches, I have been all over the place and collected much more information. The last time we weren’t allowed to expand it very much, but this time I have been able to include a lot more information. The original was quite snappy and short.
“In 1970 it was about the time when the Grosvenor Centre in Northampton was being built and the Market Square was being devastated, so I have had to do a major rewrite on some passages.”
He added: “Pevsner’s achievement – to think he did every county in England – that is a fantastic thing to have done. He went around Northamptonshire in six weeks, it took me 18 months. It is a tribute to what he saw.
“I wasn’t doing it full-time, although it became like a full-time occupation. I went out with a notebook and pencil and wrote down what I saw. Then I tried to write it up. It took me 18 months to visit every single village. I would go out in one day and try to write everything up on the same evening.
“I spent a lot of time in the records office and tried to draw in all sorts of people I know. Having lived in Northamptonshire all my life and having been interested in the history of buildings, I knew a lot of people I could go to if I wanted to know more about a village.”
The new edition of Buildings of England: Northamptonshire guides readers through the highlights of buildings ranging from industrial and commercial properties, such as shoe factories and pubs in town centres, to country estates (lived in or uninhabited). Some of the names mentioned include Althorp House, Kirby Hall near Corby, Rushton’s Triangular Lodge, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 78 Derngate in Northampton, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton.
Bruce said: “There are some good buildings in the county. Northamptonshire is always called the county of spires and squires.
“In a lot of the country houses in Northamptonshire, a lot of the families are still there. The houses that are lived in are always more rewarding to go around than the houses not lived in. Lord Spencer is always making changes and things are always getting moved about, but it is beautifully done. Althorp has the fin