Review of A Compendium of Pevsner's Buildings of England [CD=-ROM]

Reviewed by Malcolm Airs

Oxford University Department for Continuing Education 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA. Email:

Cite this as: Airs, M. 1999 Review of A Compendium of Pevsner's Buildings of England[CD=-ROM], Internet Archaeology 7.

Compact Disc, compiled by Michael Good. ISBN 0-19-268221-0. Oxford University Press, 1995. Designed for PCs running Windows 3.1 upwards with CD-ROM drive. Now available from Michael Good, 11 Australia Court, Cambridge, CB3 0JA (tel. 01223-316382). Price £100.

Misleading titles might seem a good idea to the marketing department of a publishing house but by raising expectations that cannot be fulfilled they run the risk of concealing the real merits of a publication. Thus this very useful CD was launched in 1995 by Oxford University Press at an extraordinarily high price under the guise of providing something very much more comprehensive than it could deliver. Not surprisingly, it failed to sell in sufficient numbers and was dropped from the publisher's list but thankfully it has been rescued by the enterprising compiler and the remaining copies are available directly from him at less than a third of the original price. For the serious student of above-ground archaeology in its widest meaning, it is well worth purchasing at the new price provided that its limitations are recognised at the outset.

It is not a compendium in any meaningful sense of that word. At the very least, that would suggest elements of the text and some of the plans and photographs and it contains none of these. Quite simply, it is a text-only index to the Buildings of England and I calculate that if it had been available thirty years ago when I was embarking on my doctoral dissertation it would have saved me something like a year of research time. It is not a substitute for the text of the series, whose strengths and weaknesses are well enough known not to need rehearsing here, but it is the key to unlocking the vast amount of information that is contained in each volume and ordering that information into patterns that are both useful and illuminating.

Screengrab - Searching by category
Searching the CD-Rom by category

The CD can be searched both by category - building types, features and periods - and by name. The results pinpoint the page numbers in the relevant volumes which then need to be separately consulted. Four-figure grid references with the appropriate prefix have been added for all the place names and this is a great improvement on the original volumes.

Screengrab - Searching by name
Searching the CD-Rom by name

Information from the second editions has been included, up to the date of the publication of the CD. As more and more of these scholarly revisions appear, the usefulness of the index will increasingly diminish but this is partly compensated for by the improved indices in the books themselves. Curiously the revised volumes for Greater London, of which three out of four had already been published by 1995, are not included. This is a major gap, although partial coverage is provided by the pre-GLC county volumes which are now seriously out of date.

Screengrab - Search results
Search results and individual record

For the technically nervous user, the software is not particularly easy to explore but the accompanying handbook is clearly written and commendably frank about the limitations of the information available. It gives practical examples to guide the user through the various stages and any experienced student should soon master the intricacies of the system.

Anyone who possesses the books or who has easy access to them will find this CD a valuable research tool. It can only be regretted that it was not as widely accessible to individual users on its original publication. Four years on, the field is changing rapidly. Already the text of the statutory lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest has been computerised and it is only a matter of time (and government will) before it will be available on-line. By 2002, the "Images of England" project will start to provide a photograph library of every listed building to complement the written description, and this will be available free of charge on the internet or to purchase as a CD-ROM. In the meantime, The British Heritage Database is due to be commercially published very soon with both text and pictures of the most significant monuments in the United Kingdom. None of these is a direct rival to the specific service offered by the Buildings of England index. However, current negotiations with Chadwyck-Healey promise to put the whole text of the series on-line and when that happens this CD will be obsolete. Nevertheless, in the interim, it remains excellent value for money and worthy of a place in the library of any individual or organisation wanting to exploit Pevsner's towering achievement to the full.

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