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This Guide describes briefly those collections of topographical illustrations - that is, drawings, prints and photographs - to be found in public repositories, and also in a few private collections, in Britain.
Since the appearance of the first edition of William Camden's Britannia in 1586 and of William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire in 1656, writers on antiquarian, topographical and local historical subjects have taken it for granted that their work required illustration. The fashion for travelling for travel's sake began, by the 18th century, to produce journals with illustrations and also drawings without verbal description. The English took particularly to the use of water colours for drawings since that medium was especially suited to work in the open air. English antiquaries also led the way in working out what would now be called a typology of medieval building styles-the familiar sequence of early English, Decorated, Perpendicular-as Nikolaus Pevsner has shown in his Some Architectural Historians of the Nineteenth Century (1972). Behind the evident scholarship of Victorian Gothic buildings lies a great body of sketchbooks, many of which survive in national and local repositories.
Britain therefore possesses a unique heritage of drawings of places and buildings whose scale, value and location has been unknown and which therefore could not be systematically used. In the most comprehensive work on water colours, Martin Hardie (Water Colour Painting in Britain, 3 vols, 1966-8) wrote of the two streams in the British tradition, 'the one relying for its main interest on a careful and realistic recording of places and buildings; the other depending not so much on topographical interest as on the sentiments aroused by the painter's personal interpretation of some aspect of nature seen or imagined'. He was more interested in the latter, and only a small minority of the artists named in this Guide achieve a mention in his three volumes. Other art historians, less judicious in their approach, may use the word topographical in a pejorative sense: for example 'most of the drawings Hilton did along the road are executed in a very topographical style and none have any great artistic merit' (J Warburg and Courtauld Inst 35 (1972), p 353). For the student of the past, whether of the landscape or of the buildings, the values of a Martin Hardie are reversed. Indeed, there is a growing realisation of the value of pictorial evidence, as may be seen from two such different publications as the volume on City of York (11) The Defences (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, HMSO 1973) and G L Fairs, History of the Hay [on Wye] (London 1972).
In 1958 a research committee of the Council for British Archaeology, whose members included H M Colvin, J T Smith and the writer, resolved to prepare a guide to collections of topographical illustrations. A questionnaire was compiled and the returns collected by J T Smith. There was a gratifyingly high rate of return, and only one major group of repositories - cathedral libraries - was overlooked. Nevertheless it was evident from a scrutiny of the returns that to produce a guide of reasonably uniform quality would require further correspondence with librarians, curators and the like, or else personal visits to the places in question. It was not until 1969 that the writer was free to start on a programme of visits - indeed a series of itineraries - which were completed in the spring of 1973.
|A guide to British topographical collections (CBA Occassional Papers 6)||2 Mb|