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Hudson's in a digital age
on 23 February 2013
It has never been the case that Hudson's has had a comprehensive coverage of all Britain's historic houses and gardens, but in the past there have been so many properties included that it seemed to be comprehensive. Increasingly this is not the case. This is not Hudson's choice: properties pay for their inclusion and in the internet age fewer choose to do so. Hence the latest edition has 480 pages compared to the 560 in the last edition. In that last edition Buckinghamshire, for example, had twenty properties, whereas the current one has only eight - if one excludes churches. In fact there are five churches included with details how to contact the Churches Conservation Trust in order to gain access. There are many such churches listed throughout the book, and this is a welcome new addition.
Hudson's has reacted to the fall in the number of contributors in two ways. Firstly, it has increased the number of articles. In the 2011 edition the first 55 pages were articles. In 2013 the first 117 pages are articles, beginning with "Milton: Paradise Regained" by the delightful Lucy Worsley with lots of photos of her at Milton Manor. Among the twenty articles are Simon Thurley on the history of heritage preservation, the New Wales Coast Path, Loyd Grossman on the Churches Conservation Trust, jousting, the home of Sir Walter Scott, and two articles on life below stairs in country houses. All are relatively brief and aim to be interesting rather than academic, with lots of photos.
Hudson's second method of reacting to the threat of the internet is to embrace it. One of the articles explains the reasons for setting up a website, and every page in the section on properties has the words "Review properties at [...]" at the bottom. The website enables one to quickly find properties that permit dogs, have restaurants and/or tea-rooms, have guided tours, or are open all year. It also has lists of special events in each region. It remains to be seen how useful this will prove to be, but it does at least show that Hudson's is finally reacting to the decline in the number of contributors. Of course, the danger for Hudson's is that people will see the website as an alternative to the book rather than a complement.
Is the book worth buying? Well, nothing will satisfy those who want nothing less than a virtually complete coverage of all properties. On the other hand the book is cheap (on Amazon) and the combination of twenty mostly interesting short articles and sumptuous photos of some of the properties that remain make this a coffee table book rather than a comprehensive guide to be kept in the car. Many people are likely to enjoy the new Hudson's and welcome its attempt to respond to the internet, but should be aware of its shortcomings before buying it. I would advocate one further change by the publisher. The present title is "Hudson's: Historic Houses & Gardens". I suggest that the title be changed to "A Selection of Historic Houses & Gardens" to make it clear that it is very far from being comprehensive.