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From the 1840s three leading weekly journals were produced in Britain with news and information for the architectural and building trades. As the second half of the 19th century progressed their format, especially of illustrations, became much richer and more extensive providing a fascinating insight into the development of not just techniques and the buildings themselves, but also the man–made landscape of many parts of U.K.
The earliest journal was The Builder established in 1843 and still published today as Building. Building News followed in 1855 with probably a wider geographical coverage of the country, especially outside of the Home Counties. In 1869 The Architect & Contract Reporter appeared with a similar emphasis to Building News and some 60 years later these two journals merged and continued until 1980.
The most elusive publication The British Architect, an oversize journal, Manchester based with emphasis on northern Britain, emerged in 1874 and ran to 1919 before being absorbed by The Builder. Finally in 1895 the Builders Journal appeared and continued until about 1910 before being renamed Architects & Builders Journal. This later became known just as the Architects Journal & remains one of the most vibrant journals of today.
All of these publications produced bi-annual indexes of varying degrees of detail and thoroughness, and it is these that may well be of use to local historians.
The weekly magazines varied in length from about 15 to 40 pages with copious advertisements, though very few exist in their original form today. Invariably only the text was bound, where they have been preserved, and apart from public libraries their bulk and storage space meant few exist in private hands.
Initially they were bound by the year, but from the late 1870’s by the half-year with corresponding indexes. The main ones are approx A4 size & quite handleable, though as they got thicker, the task of exploring and checking them can be time consuming, and on occasions quite frustrating. However a lot of building-related information is there.
The journals are considerably enhanced, nevertheless, with many splendid lithographic illustrations which grew in number from 1-2 per issue at the beginning to 7- 8 by the late 19th century.
There are generally detailed indexes sometimes broken down into categories, and all have a separate illustration index. However, frustratingly, they may list by subject or theme rather than location – e.g- hotel in Sussex rather than e.g. Brighton – Hotel [Victoria'>more..., hospital in Malvern or theatre in Ipswich , so careful inspection is vital.
While visual material is always prized, there is a vast source of miscellaneous local information, but this can mean trawling through hundreds of entries to find a particular location. Obviously if the date of a particular event or building is known, this should help in the search, but if one is less precise it may involve checking several years; at two bound volumes a year and using three or four journals it can be very time consuming. Some journals also index by architect, but unfortunately there is no cumulative index for any journal, apart from one for illustrations in The Builder covering 1843 when it began to 1883. This is very useful with considerable cross-referencing. Another possible source is The guide to Victorian architectural competitions with indexes by place as well as subjects & architects.
I have felt for years that a cumulative index by journal would yield a massive amount of local history material, but alas I’m unaware of any such project, but maybe one day these will be created. An exception, but based on the Antipodes, is Guy Murphy’s index which he has painstakingly created after manually checking every page of virtually all of these journals over a 2 year period at the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Library at Portland Place in London. This library is probably the best in U.K. and now gives access to the public with most of the journals on open shelves. The other I know of is the Cambridge University architectural department, though this is less extensive. No doubt research will reveal which other cities and possibly universities hold collections though where they exist they may only have microfiche copies.
However, having been fascinated by these publications for over 16 yrs, I have been fortunate to build up my own collection which has among other things, enhanced my local history knowledge of the places I’ve lived. In trying to achieve complete runs, one has often had to purchase several volumes for example at auction. Spare copies have enabled me to supply notes and particularly illustrations to other enthusiasts, history societies, museums, libraries etc throughout U.K. and even abroad. Ebay has been an invaluable medium through which to do this, and I now have a vast list of contacts and enthusiasts keen to add to their knowledge and collections of local material. A friend of mine who regularly advertises this type of material has such a site under the name ‘yelesomniloc’.
My main activity now is in researching indexes predominantly for illustrations, but also notes on particular locations, but this can be exceedingly time consuming. However it is very rewarding and always fulfilling to discover another piece in the jig saw of local history.
I have mentioned the idea of creating a national database of indexes based on these journals to various individuals and organisations, but as far as I am aware nothing has ever been attempted in this field, so until this is done, architectural journals will probably remain an unknown or underused source for local historians.
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