L.N.Cottingham? Forrest Reid? These are hardly household names and the recent double exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum—showing architectural designs by the former and a selection from the collection of the 1860s wood-engravings amassed by the latter—was not going to shatter attendance records. However, it had the useful effect of focusing interest on two books, both admirably produced and full of interesting, hitherto unpublished, information. Specialists in Victorian architecture take exception to the notion that Cottingham is an unknown figure, citing pioneering studies of his involvement in some of Pugin’s schemes, which show him to have been in the mainstream of Gothic Revival studies. In his day he was regarded as one of the leading architects of the Revival and Dr Myles’s book returns him to his lifetime position. For once, the black-and-white plates are printed really clearly and the archive photos in particular have come out exceptionally well. Forrest Reid, too, is a cult figure among admirers of his sensitive literary works—a number of these people feature in the essays collected in this new publication (but, oddly, not John Sparrow, former Warden of All Souls, who toyed with the notion of a Forrest Reid biography for many years)—and among those who know him as an important collector and historian of Victorian illustrative wood-engravings. But for a wider public this book will serve as an introduction to the books and the beautiful prints that Reid wrote about with such feeling. In the present publishing climate, I think it is not entirely out of order to regard the issue of these two titles as little short of a miracle.
Janet Myles, L.N. Cottingham, 1787-1874: architect of the Gothic Revival (Lund Humphries, London, 1996), 176 pp, 151 b/w ills, 8 col. ills, £18.95 (hb) ISBN 0853316783