At Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum Arts and Crafts Museum

C R Ashbee

C R Ashbee, 1910, photographed by Frank Lloyd Wright After leaving university, a career in architecture seemed to offer Charles Robert Ashbee the opportunity to combine his passion for art and social change. The joined the London office of G F Bodley and took up residence in the pioneering university settlement at Toynee Hall in the East End. As part of his community work, he read and discussed the works of John Ruskin with a group of young local men.

They formed the nucleus of the Guild and School of Handicraft founded by Asbee in 1888. The enterprise was inspired by the medieval idea of a closely-knit group of craftsmen working for the greater good. The Guild undertook a wide range of work with the building and domestic arts. By 1901, the reputation of Ashbee and the Guild was well-established with a shop in Brook Street in London`s West End as well as workshops in Essex House in the East End.

When the lease to Essex House ran out in 1902, Ashbee decided to bring his long-held dream of moving `back to the land` to fruition. Over that summer the Guild moved to Chipping Campden taking advantage of readily-available space for workshops and accomodation as well as the medieval beauty of the small town in its specularly attractive rural setting. A number of new Guildsmen joined the enterprise including Alec Miller and Fred Partridge. Ashbee and his wife, Janet put a huge amount of energy into communal activities such as theatricals, physical sports and the Campden School of Arts & Crafts.

The Guild`s business went into decline after the highpoint of 1901 and in 1908 the Limited Company of the Guild of Handicraft was forced to close because of lack of capital. A number of Guildsmen carried on working in Chipping Campden including Alec Miller and George Hart. Ashbee himself published `Modern English Silverwork`in 1909, a remarkable record of his achievement as a designer of silver and jewellery. From 1917-22 he worked in Egypt and Jerusalem before retiring to Janet Ashbee`s family home in Kent. 

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