Context 163 - March 2020

C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 19 Ireland much more significant fact is that, with the pub- lication on Cork, The Buildings of Ireland reaches half way. There are 32 counties in Ireland and Cork is the 16th county to be completed. The notion of a Buildings of Ireland series, to complement Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s cel- ebrated Buildings of England , arose at a lunch in St Stephen’sTavern, close toWestminster Bridge, beside the Houses of Parliament, where I had agreed to meet Pevsner. At that time, I worked as an architectural editor at Country Life magazine and he, among many jobs, was joint editor with Jim Richards of The Architectural Review . The pub was Pevsner’s suggestion since it was close to the ‘Archi Rev offices’. It was April or May 1967. I was a 28-year old architectural historian and conservationist, anxious to do something to halt the reckless destruction of historic buildings in my native Ulster; NP, as we all called him, was 65 and clearly pleased that anyone would want to copy and extend to Ireland, the type of architectural guides which he had pioneered for England, with Allen Lane of Penguin Books. We knew each other slightly: I had attended Pevsner’s lectures in Cambridge where as Slate Professor of Fine Art he was a celebrity with huge numbers attending his lectures every week in Mill Lane. Pevsner had advised me on aspects of my PhD and, when we later discovered we had a mutual friend in Mrs Georgie Bathurst, who lived near the Pevsners in Hampstead, we often met socially. NP liked young people and liked to encourage them. He published two arti- cles of mine on Italian neo-gothic architecture, written while I held an Italian research bursary in Padua. So at our springtime pub-lunch we met as people who knew a fair bit about each other: NP, the experienced art historian and in many ways a father figure for younger genera- tions; I, a young writer keen to make my way in architectural history. I had just been appointed to a lectureship in fine art at the University of Edinburgh, a post which began that September, and I believed that academic vacations might provide more free time than journalism in which to start working on The Buildings of Ireland . Pevsner was enthusiastic about my idea and immediately explained how his own volumes were funded. The first and cardinal point was that he took no payment from Penguin Books for doing the visiting and writing his texts, only a royalty once the books were published. He assumed that as a university lecturer I would have a reasonable salary and that I would be happy with the same arrangement. Essentially the costs for a Buildings of England volume amounted to the expenses for travelling and accommodation while visiting a county, plus the preparatory cost of a research assistant, paid on an hourly rate, who drew up and then worked through a bibliography, extracting the relevant information which Pevsner used when travelling. In those far-off days, when my Edinburgh salary was just £1,600 a year, digs in a modest B&B might cost about seven shillings a night and four gallons of petrol cost less than a pound. On NP’s suggestion I worked out what we might need to make a start on the Irish series, allowing me to write, perhaps, two volumes. £5,000 seemed to be the likely sum. When not teaching or writing articles for Country Life , I spent much of my first year in Edinburgh casting about to raise the money for the Buildings of Ireland. When I had reached £3,000, I had a response from NP. ‘Alistair,’ he wrote, ‘you are the cat’s pyjamas!’ We had enough to start. At the end of my first academic year, I was married to Ann Martha Wrinch, a keeper at the National Portrait Gallery in London, who joined me in Edinburgh and quickly became the most essential recruit to the Buildings of Ireland project. ‘Ireland is a very different sort of place from England.’ That statement, in the foreword to the first volume in 1979, rather amused Maurice Craig, then the doyen of Irish architectural his- torians. However, the great difference between the two countries is very real and has imposed a different arrangement for the books. While the physical area of Ireland is just under two thirds that of England, the population in the two countries is radically different: England today has more than 66 million inhabitants while in both parts of Ireland (the Republic and Northern A sketch plan of Devenish Abbey with details of characteristic 15th-century stonework, from the author’s notebook. He always made precise notes of details, particularly of medieval remains, so that he would recognise character, likely dates and local ways of doing things while he went about visiting.