When Nikolaus Pevsner wrote the first Suffolk edition of Buildings of England he had spent just six weeks in the county, driven around in his Wolsey Hornet by his long suffering wife, Lola. Despite this brief visit, Pevsner's guide has become the definitive work when searching for historical or architecturally important property in Suffolk. Originally published in 1961 it was revised by Enid Radcliffe in 1974 and has just been updated, extended and rewritten by Essex-based James Bettley. This time it has taken six years of detailed research, interviews and inspections to produce the latest edition. The result is two volumes, Suffolk East and Suffolk West, not split along the old county boundary but divided by the A140.
The new edition has been extended to some five hundred properties in a detailed gazetteer with a compelling introduction and telling, quality photographs. Furthermore the research has been Dr Bettley's own work. Pevsner had assistants to prepare schedules for his visits and to write preliminary notes. Pevsner also used local historians, notable amongst them H. Munro Cautley with his knowledge of Suffolk churches to provide expert descriptions.
James Bettley lives near Maldon and completed the Essex guide in 2007. Like all busy people he has numerous responsibilities and commitments: librarian at Chevening House in Kent, a member of the Church Buildings Council (CBC), and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians. The finished volumes are the result of extensive research and visits to the buildings listed (in almost every case he attended by invitation and was able to talk to the owner and look around the inside). Bettley took 40,000 photographs for his own use, a reference and reminder for when he turned his notes into manuscript, but these are not the published images.
When pressed for a favourite place James, not surprisingly, opts for Lavenham, Long Melford and Glemsford - not because they are full of the listed buildings that make them tourist 'hot spots' but because they were industrial towns, both in the Middle Ages and in Victorian times. Glemsford had mills producing horse hair matting; Long Melford - a foundry and extensive maltings; Lavenham, like Long Melford, produced horse hair chair seats and coconut matting. All three were involved in the wool and cloth trade, evidenced in their fine churches. It is because of discoveries like this that James Bettley suggests that the practical research was great fun: going to new places, unsure who you would meet or what you would find.
These two volumes are fascinating, in places more readable than the original and certainly much more comprehensive (and I suspect more accurate). They include some of the recently built properties I have been to inspect for the Suffolk Association of Architects: the Wilderness at Darsham, the Sliding House at Huntingfield and the Balancing Barn at Thorington are all included - a truly comprehensive encyclopaedia of Suffolk buildings.