C.R. Ashbee and the Guild
C.R. Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft
In May 1902 C.R. Ashbee and the younger Guildsmen arrived at the train station in Moreton-in-Marsh from London and cycled the last five miles across the hills to Chipping Campden. In total 50 Guildsmen and their families arrived from the East End of London that summer, along with their workshop equipment.
The Arts and Crafts movement set great store by handwork and at its height around 1900 it stimulated a wealth of individual creativity in silversmithing, stained glass work, book binding, embroidery, furniture making, printing and many other crafts. Ashbee was a leading figure in the movement but for him it was not just about creating beautiful things. It was about giving people satisfying work.
Ashbee moved the Guildsmen to Chipping Campden to give his craftsmen a healthier life. They took over a disused silk mill in Sheep Street as their workshops and at first things went well. Business was good and Ashbee went about the town in his eager, improving way, building a swimming pool, starting a craft school and staging Elizabethan plays. But sales began to drop in about 1904. The Guild, more suited economically to the city rather than the country, could not respond. In 1908 it went into liquidation.
Some of the Guildsmen stayed on, working under their own names and the silk mill has housed craft workshops ever since. But most of them had to go back to the city and look for work. In this sense the Guild in Campden was both a beginning and an end. It was pretty much the end of Ashbee’s creative project. But it was the beginning of the story of craft and design in Chipping Campden.