Book Review: Landmark: A History of Britain in 50 Buildings

Anna Keay and Caroline Stanford

Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, 2015

Reviewed by Mike Fox


Lord Dunmore’s folly, the Falkirk Pineapple, is one of Landmark’s most iconic properties


Marking 50 years of the Landmark Trust in 2015, this is a bold undertaking, recounting not only the history of Landmark, but also a wider architectural and social history of Britain since 1250, as told through a selection of Landmark’s properties.

Beginning with a short background to Landmark, the introduction considers the charity’s foundation by Sir John Smith and his wife Christian in 1965, its methods and approaches, some of the major challenges faced and overcome, and the way it has developed and expanded into the organisation it is today.

The Smiths were dismayed at the high number of demolitions of historic buildings during the 1950s and 1960s. With a particular interest in vernacular and industrial architecture, and in modest sized buildings unsuitable for acquisition by organisations such as the National Trust, they founded Landmark in 1965 as a new organisation to save threatened buildings.

The plan was simple – save buildings by finding suitable uses for them, with preservation and use to have parity of importance. From the outset holiday lets were the preferred end use. 50 years on the Smiths’ creation has gone on to restore and rescue some 200 buildings, which are now enjoyed by over 50,000 people each year.

The real substance of the book however, are the 50 detailed case studies of their properties, which demonstrate Landmark’s methods and approaches.

Grouped together in five chronological time periods, each case study gives first and foremost a detailed history of the building, its owners, and its evolution, before explaining Landmark’s involvement. Each is beautifully illustrated with archival and recent imagery, and places the examples within a national context, adding to their individual histories.

Starting with Purton Green in Suffolk, a country manor house dating from 1250, the examples range from town houses to country estates, to follies and water towers, to lighthouses, train stations, hospitals, and many more in between.

Notable examples include Auchinleck House in Ayrshire, a grand Palladian villa of 1760; ‘The Pineapple’ in Falkirk, a 1770s folly of unique design (see cover image); and the Martello Tower in Suffolk, built to repel Napoleon but which now welcomes visitors from all over the world.

The book concludes with Astley Castle in Warwickshire, a ruined fifteenth century fortified manor house revived with delicate new insertions in 2012. More than any other this sums up the Landmark’s unique approach to restoration and reuse – not being afraid to take on the most challenging of buildings, and attempting something that others within the conservation world might shy away from. Astley Castle deservedly won the 2013 Stirling Prize, making it the first conservation project to do so, and is witness to the success of the Landmark Trust.

‘Good enough is not good enough’ was one of the mottoes John Smith and his teams at Landmark lived by. Landmark: A history of Britain in 50 buildings is fitting testament to this, a tremendous publication, marking 50 years of dedication to historic buildings, their individual histories, and unique charms.

SAVE Friends can order Landmark at the discounted price of £20 including p&p (RRP: £25)

To order please telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG352. 


One thought on “Book Review: Landmark: A History of Britain in 50 Buildings

  1. Heritage is so important to the cultural makeup of Britain and therefore should be given a great deal of respect and conservation. With the recent Brexit decision it seems uncertain as to how previous EU funding will now be replaced for heritage projects and where some new money is found. However, I’m sure we will find new ways, as we always do. This sounds a wonderful testament to Britains heritage, advocating the unique charms and history we must protect.


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