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Favourite British Heritage Books

Posted: 2009-05-12

Favourite British Heritage Books

You've probably listened to programmes like Desert Island Disks, where celebrities are asked to think about what they'd do if they were marooned on a desert island, with a choice of only a few favourite CDs to take with them. I was thinking the other day that, while CDs would be nice, and add a bit of variety to life in a tropical paradise, a selection of my favourite books would give me more lasting satisfaction. And while my own personal choice of books would definitely include the Lord of the Rings, that's perhaps less appropriate for a blog focussed on British heritage and travel! Many of my old favourites are just that ... old, and your best bet of finding a copy is a good second-hand bookstore. But I've saved a treat for last; one that you can easily get at any good bookshop. I've included links to Amazon.co.uk where appropriate.

So what books would I bring for my desert island sojourn? Hmmm ...

First up, a real classic, Doreen Yarwood's 'Encyclopaedia of Architecture' (out of print, so only available used). This large volume lives beside my office desk, and whenever I feel the need to renew my connection with the delight I feel in British historic architecture, I can dive in and enjoy a browse. I picked my copy up at the bookstore of the Roman Baths in Bath many years ago, and I can honesty say I've seldom enjoyed a book more. What makes it so wonderful are the proliferation of fabulous line drawings illustrating British buildings, from medeval cruck-framed cottages to the grand churches of Christopher Wren. Its all here, its all beautifully illustrated, and totally inspiring.

Next up is a remarkable book by Eric S wood, titled 'Historical Britain'. My copy is printed in 1997 and published by The Harvill Press. This astonshing book covers the landscape, the geology, the social history, architecture, archaeology, gosh - practically every aspect of what makes Britain so ... British! Like the Encyclopaedia of Architecture the bok is illustrated with wonderful line drawings that really bring home the flavour of Britain. Here you wil find such diverse subjects as different patterns of medieval village growth, how medieval tiles were made, how thatched cottages are roofed, how traditional cottage industries and crafts were performed, vernacular house patterns in different parts of the country, and on, and on. It may sound dry from the description, but believe me, it isn't dry in the slightest; its an absolute masterpiece.

Now, what could follow up 'Historical Britain'? How about something a bit more practical? I'd vote for Louise Nicholson's 'London Companion'. Aimed squarely at visitors to London who want to dig beneath the surface, this wonderful book was also titled 'Fodor's London Companion. Drat - its also out of print. Are there no worthy books that ARE in print?

Er, well, not my next choice, I'm afraid. Its English Country Churches, by Derry Brabbs. Brabbs is best known for his popular photo book, James Herriott's Yorkshire, but this little volumn is a treasure. Its full of great photographs of some of the finest historic churches around England. Every time I look at it I get all misty-eyed and sigh a lot. That's a good sign, I assure you.

Am I done? Not quite, and I've saved a special treat for last, and this one is very much in print. It is Hudson's Historic Houses and Gardens, or, more properly, 'Hudson's Historic Houses and Gardens, Castles and Heritage Sites'. In my house we just call it Hudson's, and everyone knows what you mean. Its the Bible of exploring British heritage. Included in this phone-book sized tome are a plethora (isn't language wonderful?) of the best of British historic sites to visit, including fabulous photographs, opening times, directions, visitor details, facilities, and, oh, just about anything you could ever want to know about historic houses, buildings, gardens, castles, abbeys, and other heritage sites in the UK. You know that old American Express slogan, "Don't leave home without it?". Well, don't go on a trip without Hudson's!

There you have it, my desert island books. What would you bring?


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