Modern Buildings in Wessex by Stewart Brayne, 1968

Modern Buildings in Wessex.

Here’s the story: I like rummaging through boxes of ephemera in bookshops and antiques markets, which is how I came across my original copy of the 1968 booklet Modern Buildings in Wessex by the architectural critic Stewart Brayne.

I bought it for 50p because of my interest in post-war buildings but soon discovered that there’s a lot more to it than that.

Among notes on schools and civic centres, there are entries concerning the work of émigré architect Hälmar Pölzig who built extensively in Wessex:

Gordon House Higher Brent, nr. Tonborough Hälmar Pölzig, 1957 The first of the nine and by no means a great work. A domestic house built on commission for the Scottish artist Cecil Gordon, it must have felt like a relic when new, its suntrap roof, white rendering and banded windows speak of Mitteleuropa between the wars more than Britain Today! as the newsreels used to call it. There are distinctive touches, however, such as the abstract stained glass dividers that break up the single large room on the ground floor. Designed by Pölzig himself, they cast colourful, moving shadows that play thrilling tricks on the eyes. If you can stand in that room at sunset without spinning on your heels to see who’s standing behind you, you’re a better man than I.

And that’s just the start…

* * *

I really do like ephemera.

UK Atomic Energy pamphlets from the 1970s

And I really do like post-war buildings, especially as described by Ian Nairn.

Nairn’s London from 1966 is one of my very favourite books, especially this entry:

"Sheer horror..."

I also love the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, Universal horror films, folk horror and all that eerie Scarred for Life TV from the 1970s and 80s.

I first wrote a version of this story 15 or more years ago, with a character inspired by Nikolaus Pevsner exploring the buildings of a backwater Somerset town. It was a rewrite of ‘Shadows over Innsmouth’, essentially, and didn’t quite click.

Somehow, though, it must have been locked away in the back of my brain, evolving and ripening, until a few weeks ago, I suddenly thought, oh, yeah, that’s how to do it.

It’s not just a short story – it’s an object, a work of pastiche.

I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, from the typography (like Nairn’s London, the body copy is set in Plantin) to the photos to the cover design.

I’ve only had 50 copies printed because, honestly, when you draw a Venn diagram of people who like Ian Nairn and those who like creeping horror, I don’t think the overlap is huge.

If you want a copy, get in touch. It’s got 20 pages and costs £5 delivered. Email me (raymondnewman@gmail.com) or DM via Twitter (@MrRayNewman) to sort out payment and postage.

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