Friday, 9 October 2009

Paul Nash: how to write a guidebook

They don't write them like this any more. In 1935 Paul Nash edited the Shell Guide to Dorset under the general editorship of John Betjeman. His erudite, informative and opinionated essay on the county focuses on the primeval and picturesque, and he has this to say about Maiden Castle:

It is a phenomenon which must be seen to be believed if you consider that it was constructed throughout a series of occupations, the earliest of which can be ascribed to a period approaching 2000BC. Its presence today, after the immense passage of time, is miraculously undisturbed; the huge contours strike into even the most vulgar mind; the impervious nitwits who climbed on to the megaliths of Stonehenge to be photographed slink out of the shadow of the Maiden uneasily.

Perhaps he had been given some style pointers by Betjeman.


  1. Have you read John Cowper Powys's novel Maiden Castle - one of his better ones, as I recall, not having read any of his work for probably 30 years, but I had a period of enthusiasm for him. It was an important place for Hardy, too.

  2. I never have, but I'll look him up. Thanks, Neil

  3. I really like Geoffrey Grigson's writing in the Shell Country Book. And I love the pictures in it too... I continue to hope to find Betjeman's Shell Guides in charity shops. In vain, so far. Lucky you, apparently!

  4. My Dorset book is actually the 1960s edition that my grandparents bought when they moved there. I nabbed it when all their books were sent off to the charity shop...