Colonel Pevsner

Colonel PevsnerPevsner’s wardrobe will be the subject of another post – but one of his more improbable outfits was the uniform of a British colonel. ‘I like my uniform,’ he wrote, ‘it is comfortable, sensible and roomy – I wouldn’t mind always wearing battle dress.’ He wore it as the leader of a team sent in 1946 to the British Zone of Occupied Germany by the Council on Industrial Design. British exports needed to improve in order to compete in post-war Europe and the COID had been charged by the Board of Trade with discovering the secrets of the opposition’s success. Pevsner’s mission was to establish the current state of German design.

Wuppertal, 1946He spent his time, he said, ‘looking at Bakelite and hoovers’. But he was also in touch with the British Political Intelligence Department, for whom he was ostensibly writing an article on ‘German Folk Art’. And, perhaps nearest to his own heart, he was consulting on the rebuilding of historic monuments in Germany.

It was the devastation to Germany’s towns and cities rather than the superiority of their plastics that, not surprisingly, struck him most forcibly. ‘Germany remains a disturbing and dreadful spectacle .… It’s enough to make one weep – and believe me, at times I can hardly stop myself…. I know of course “they asked for it and they got it”, but…..’

One of the COID team’s principal destinations was Frankfurt am Main. The photographs below show Römerberg, the central square of the old town, with the late-Gothic Alte Nikolaikirche – at the turn of the century, and at the time of Pevsner’s visit two years after the Allied bombing of March 1944 (in the team’s own photograph, with Pevsner in the centreground).

    • Greg Michaelson
    • November 7th, 2011

    Thank you! I never got your email: maybe I gave a bad address. But I did browse your enticing looking book at the weekend and found your very nice references to Kitty. Your book’s now on the Xmas list…

    I have boxes of parental stuff in the garage and next time I feel strong I will look for any relevant NP memorabilia as there might be letters.

    A minor point is that Kitty, like Colin McWilliam and John Gifford of Buildings of Scotland, worked for Edinburgh College of Art, not the University of Edinburgh. Incidentally, the novelist Candia McWilliam is Colin’s daughter and has just published an autobiographical memoir.

  1. Yes, she is mentioned three times – although not in as much detail as I should have liked, as little of their correspondence survives in Pevsner’s personal or professional papers. She is mentioned briefly as his principal researcher between 1947 and 1951, specifically for London. She is credited with having spotted one of the best (anonymous) shots at a parody of the Buildings of England style –
    ‘Heartbreak House. Grade XVI. Period uncertain; largely rubble …. Interior: … ancient rusticated inhabitant with chamfered head and quint …. OUTBUILDING to last item. Elsan period; of mean aspect; interesting graffiti; note devastated telephone directory (London A-K 1951).’
    And she is credited with having had a great deal to do with the organisation of The Buildings of Scotland. (Professor David Walker emphasised to me how important her contribution was.)
    I have emailed the relevant extracts to you, but I’m afraid there isn’t a great deal more than that.

    • Greg Michaelson
    • August 7th, 2011

    My mum, Kitty (Katherine) Michaelson worked with NP from at least 1947-53 and is acknowledged in the Forwards to Lond (ex City/Westminister) BE 5 and London City/Westminister BE12. Is she mentioned in your book please? Strangely, my copy of the earlier London has BE6 on the spine and BE5 on the frontpiece.

  1. February 1st, 2012

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