About us

Our Story

The permanent display celebrates nine lives or workshops that were established in the north Cotswolds. It starts with C.R. Ashbee and then continues with former members of Ashbee’s Guild who remained working in Chipping Campden following the dissolution of the Guild of Handicraft in 1908:

Alec Miller (wood carver & sculptor) and the Hart family (silversmiths).

Throughout the 20th century many other designers and makers were drawn to the area:

Gordon Russell (furniture)

Katharine Adams (bookbinding)

Paul Woodroffe (stained glass & book illustration)

F.L. Griggs (etching & engraving)

Michael Cardew (Winchcombe Pottery)

Robert Welch (silversmith & product designer)

Our Story: Timeline

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1888

C. R. Ashbee set up the Guild and School of Handicraft in London’s East End.
The aim of the Guild was to provide an alternative to soulless factory work for young local men, to encourage creativity and create a new type of community. Ashbee was part of a groundswell movement in London inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris. Also in 1888, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society held its first exhibition in London. This was the first use of the phrase ‘Arts and Crafts’ which gave its name to the movement. The following year, 1899, Ashbee’s Guild had 36 exhibits at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition including furniture, metalwork, decorative plaster and leatherwork.

1900

C. R. Ashbee was one of only two British designers invited to exhibit at the Vienna Secession.
The prestigious exhibition was devoted to showing the foremost contemporary European decorative arts. There were 53 items of furniture, jewellery and metalwork from Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft, making it the second largest exhibitor. A writing cabinet had pride of place. It was bought by a Viennese family and is now at The Wilson, Cheltenham. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow designer, was the only other British exhibitor.
Katharine Adams

1901

Katharine Adams set up the Eadburgha Bindery on the High Street in Broadway.
Adams grew up at Little Faringdon and was a childhood friend of William and Jane Morris’s daughters, Jenny and May, at Kelmscott Manor. She was largely self-taught as a bookbinder, a luxury trade at a time when most books were bound by machine. In 1898 she set up business in Lechlade before moving to Broadway in 1901 where she was soon able to train and employ two women assistants. One of the foremost bookbinders of the early 20th century, she was a favourite of both Emery Walker and Sydney Cockerell and received commissions from the Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene Presses. Following her marriage, she left Broadway in 1915 having completed more than 200 bindings which represent her finest work.
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1902

The Guild of Handicraft moved from London’s East End to Chipping Campden.
Ashbee had visited this market town which was suffering from two decades of agricultural depression, and was entranced by its architecture and the sense of history it offered. His Guildsmen voted 22 to 11 in favour of his scheme to move from the crowded poverty of the East End to what he called ‘the City of the Sun’. Other makers, such as Alec Miller from Glasgow and George and Will Hart from Hitchin, were attracted to join so that about 150 people – craftsmen and their families – joined the existing population of about 1750. Ashbee leased the Silk Mill for £40 a year as workshops and installed the first electric power plant in the town.
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1903

Ashbee’s Essex House Press produced The Prayer Book of King Edward VII.
In 1898, Ashbee bought two of the Albion Presses that had belonged to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press for the use of his newly-founded Essex House Press and employed three of the former staff. The Press had a very diverse style and all the books produced were chosen by Ashbee himself. The highlight was a special version of The Book of Common Prayer for the new monarch. 400 copies were printed on handmade paper and 9 on vellum in Ashbee’s ‘Endeavour’ and the specially designed ‘Prayer Book’ typefaces. Court Barn has Ashbee’s own collection of Essex House Press books and ephemera. It is the most comprehensive collection relating to the Press.
Griggs-Almhouses

1904

Fred Griggs and Paul Woodroffe settled in Chipping Campden.
Griggs, an illustrator and printmaker, was working on the Cotswold volume of Macmillan’s Highways and Byways series when he came to Chipping Campden in 1904. He fell in love with the town and took a lease on Dover’s House in the High Street. Woodroffe, a stained-glass artist, moved from London to Chipping Campden where his sister and brother-in-law, the composer Joseph Moorat, were already living. Ashbee enlarged and adapted the Thatched Cottage at Westington for him. Woodroffe was Catholic and worked particularly for Catholic churches including St Catharine’s in Chipping Campden.
GofH circular June 1908

1908

Financial pressures forced The Guild of Handicraft Ltd into liquidation.
Various issues were blamed including the competition from firms who adapted Ashbee’s designs for machine production but economically the Guild’s work was more suited to the city. A number of craftsmen stayed on in Chipping Campden including wood carvers Alec Miller and Will Hart, silversmith George Hart, blacksmiths Charley Downer and Bill Thornton, and cabinet-maker and foreman of the business, Jim Pyment. Ashbee wasn’t too down-hearted. He persuaded an American soap millionaire, Joseph Fels, to finance the purchase of a 70-acre farm near Broad Campden to be held by the newly formed Guild of Handicraft Trust as well as the Silk Mill. He then embarked on a lecture tour to the USA and never settled back in Chipping Campden although his wife Janet remained in the town till 1919.
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1917

Jim Pyment bought the Silk Mill premises in Sheep Street, Chipping Campden.
Records of the Silk Mill first appear in a directory of 1784. It was used for silk spinning; the silk thread was probably taken to Coventry to be woven into material and ribbons. It had employed 50 spinners but was out of business by 1860. It was more or less empty until the arrival of Ashbee and the Guild in 1902. Pyment was one of the longest-serving Guild members, a cabinet maker and foreman of the Guild. He continued to rent out workshops in the building to the remaining Guild members. His business, Pyment & Co., was also based there, specialising in building and joinery.
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1919

Gordon Russell joined the family business in Broadway, after demobilization.
He was 27-year-old and before the First World War he had been restoring furniture and making new pieces for the Lygon Arms, owned and run by his father. After the war the business was renamed Russell & Sons and Gordon began designing furniture and metalwork. The first exhibition of his designs in Cheltenham in 1923 was seen by Major A. A. Longden of the Department of Overseas Trade who then invited him to exhibit later that year at the V&A in London. This was the start of a successful career.
Jesse Taylor Glass Plate Negs No 91-120-111.tif-04511

1923

Fred Griggs persuaded the Post Office to carry the town’s telephone cables underground.
When electricity came to Chipping Campden in 1928, he was again able to persuade the company to bury its cables underground as well. He had a strong vision of what the town should be like and worked hard to make his vision a reality. He founded the Campden Society, subsequently the Campden Trust, in 1924. Through the Society he promoted sympathetic renovations and protected the character of the town. In 1926 he bought Dover’s Hill to save it from development and subsequently gave the land to the National Trust.
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1926

Michael Cardew reopened the derelict pottery at Winchcombe.
There had been a pottery on the site since at least 1800. Most recently Beckett’s Pottery had made useful wares such as pitchers and washing pans for the local community until 1914. Cardew had moved on from the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall because he wanted to reinvent the slipware pottery that had inspired him on family holidays to North Devon. Elijah Comfort, the former chief thrower at Beckett’s, was persuaded out of retirement to work with Cardew and was joined by a young local lad, Sidney Tustin, making slipware pots based on traditional forms and with simple decoration.
Gordon Russell Ltd 40 Wigmore Street Showroom, London, opened in 1935

1929

Russell & Sons was renamed Gordon Russell Ltd.
Under Gordon Russell’s direction the firm opened a London showroom in Wigmore Street. His younger brother Dick, who had trained at the Architectural Association in London, took over as head of the drawing office in Broadway. A few years later in 1935 the showrooms moved a few doors down to larger premises. A very contemporary shopfront designed by Geoffrey Jellico with blue neon fascia lettering and room set displays established the firm at the forefront of modern design.
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1931

Gordon Russell Ltd began to design and manufacture radio cabinets for Murphy.
The Wall Street crash in 1929 and the worldwide economic downturn was a difficult time for the firm. They had to embrace machine production and look for new markets. The radio was becoming a fixture in people’s homes and Frank Murphy, whose firm made radio sets, wanted to source cabinets which were both simple in design and well-made. Dick Russell produced designs that are now considered classics of the period. They were so successful that a second factory was opened in Park Royal, London, in 1935 to make the cabinets.
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1934

Paul Woodroffe’s commission for 15 windows for St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, was completed.
Woodroffe employed about eight craftsmen at Chipping Campden. He won an important competition in 1908 to design fifteen large windows for the new Lady Chapel of St Patrick’s (Catholic) Cathedral in New York, USA. The completion of the commission was halted by the First World War and Woodroffe’s illness and finally restarted in 1926. He also undertook graphic work including an emblem for Gordon Russell Ltd, illustrations for the Essex House Press and other book designs.
Ray Finch

1939

Ray Finch took over management of Winchcombe Pottery.
He had joined as an assistant in 1936 and stepped up when Cardew moved to Cornwall. He introduced stoneware in 1952 responding to the requirement for a more durable body. In 1961 Winchcombe’s modern domestic ware was adopted by Cranks, a new vegetarian restaurant in London. He continued to make and decorate one-off ‘specials’ and oversaw the pottery’s growing international profile. Many potters spent time at Winchcombe before setting up their own pottery including Colin Pearson, John Leach and Toff Milway.
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1943

Gordon Russell Ltd joined the Utility Furniture programme.
By 1941 the factory at Broadway was completely given over to war work. But furniture was still required for newly-weds and those whose homes had been bombed. The government decided that production had to be state-controlled because of the shortage of skilled labour and raw materials. Russell was invited onto the Advisory Committee, became Chairman of the Design Panel and saw the opportunity to introduce modern designs that were both simple, functional and well made.
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1955

Robert Welch set up a studio and workshop in Chipping Campden.
He had been a student at the Royal College of Art in London from 1952, working alongside David Mellor and Gerald Benney under the Professor of Silversmithing, Robert Godden. When he became interested in designing in stainless steel, he looked for premises convenient for both London and potential manufacturers in the Midlands. Gordon Russell suggested the Silk Mill in Chipping Campden and Welch moved into the top floor of the building. The Robert Welch design studio is still working from the same premises.
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1956

David Hart started an apprenticeship in silverwork.
He worked alongside his father Henry and grandfather George on the first floor of the Silk Mill. The workshop has hardly changed since it was first taken over by the Guild silversmiths in 1902. David Hart has been the senior silversmith in the workshop since his father’s death in 1990 and has seen a huge growth of interest in the craft and its history in Chipping Campden.
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1958

In partnership with David Mellor, Robert Welch was awarded a Silver Medal at the Twelfth Triennale in Milan for the Campden cutlery range.
Welch designed both one-off pieces in silver and mass-produced work in stainless steel throughout his career. The Campden cutlery was an early design, inspired by contemporary Scandinavian design and developed together with Mellor, his former fellow-student at the Royal College of Art. It was produced by J. & J. Wiggin in Sheffield for their Old Hall range and remained in production until the 1980s. John Limbrey, a trained silversmith, joined the workshop the same year. As a draughtsman and maker, he played a major role in realising many hundreds of designs.
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1969

The first Robert Welch Studio Shop opened in Chipping Campden.
The shop was an unusual and brave venture and an opportunity to introduce the public to a single designer’s wide-ranging work. The shop enabled him to show one-off pieces in silver, his designs in stainless steel and wrought iron, as well as his industrial designs including bathroom fittings, door handles, lighting, and clocks. It was also an opportunity for him to meet the public and receive their comments on his designs. The Studio Shop continues to attract visitors and new designs continue to be developed. The business is now run by Welch’s son and daughter, Rupert and Alice Welch.
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1982

David Hart became a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company.
In the same year Derek Elliott joined Harts Silversmiths as an apprentice. He was followed a few years later by William Hart, David’s son, and then by William’s cousin Julian. They make pieces for churches, institutions and individuals based on both Guild of Handicraft and their own designs.
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2007

The Guild of Handicraft Trust opened Court Barn, in Chipping Campden.
This museum focuses on craft and design in the north Cotswolds. It was funded largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund and opened by Sir Christopher Frayling. As well as a permanent display centred on C.R. Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft and eight other important designer-makers, we put on temporary exhibitions, and organise related events and selling shows of contemporary craft. Our aim is to support local makers and designers and to encourage people of all ages to experience the rewards of handwork.
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2008

The Gordon Russell Design Museum opened in the firm’s first workshop in Broadway.
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum was opened by Sir Terence Conran. It provides a visual introduction to the work of Gordon Russell and the company as well as an overview of 20th-century furniture design. It is run largely by volunteers, many of whom are ex-employees and are keen to share their knowledge and expertise.
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2016

Matt Grimmitt took over running of Winchcombe Pottery.
This followed the retirement of Mike Finch, Ray’s son, and marked a circular history as Matt is a descendant of Elijah Comfort, Cardew’s first and very experienced thrower. He is on the left of the photo with his colleague, Joseph Fuller, on the right. Winchcombe Pottery makes wood-fired domestic stoneware and is one of the longest running craft potteries in the country.
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