Like Main Street, its American equivalent, the British High Street is the traditional center of town, a busy thoroughfare lined with small shops and businesses. The painter Eric Ravilious
, best known for his charming scenes of English country life, celebrated the centuries-old institution in High Street
, a book of 24 delicately-colored lithographs that was first published in 1938 in an edition of 2000. The book's life span was cut short when its original plates were destroyed during a German bombing in 1941. (Ravilious, a Royal Air Force pilot, died the next year, on a rescue mission.) The few existing copies fetch astronomical prices, making it a kind of holy grail for fans of mid-century British book illustration. In this age of the big box retailer, the Victoria and Albert Museum
's new facsimile edition, with its crisp reproductions of Ravilious's work, couldn't come at a more appropriate time. In this time capsule, the butcher, the baker, and the undertaker are all present, as is the taxidermist, the submarine engineer, the clerical outfitter, and, of course, what no English town would be without—the public house.
High Street: A Facsimile edition, by J.M. Richards, illustrated by Eric Ravilious, Victoria and Albert Museum, $31;
Click here to see illustrations and excerpts from High Street.