Architect, Surveyor and Lecturer

Satirical drawing of C.R. Ashbee, the ‘foreign critic’, during a visit to Chicago, 1900. [CRA/1/7, f.315a]
Satirical drawing of C.R. Ashbee, the ‘foreign critic’, during a visit to Chicago, 1900. [CRA/1/7, f.315a]

Although Ashbee left Bodley and Garner’s architectural practice, focussing more and more on his Guild and School of Handicraft, he did not cease to work as an architect.

In the early 1890s, Ashbee’s parents separated. This led to him designing a house for his mother and sisters, called the Magpie and Stump, at 37 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in 1893. Here, Roger Fry painted a mural in the drawing room. Ashbee also moved to Cheyne Walk and set up an architectural practice there, regularly cycling across London to Essex House, where he had lived before that. Between 1896 and 1913 he designed six more houses on Cheyne Walk, which were among his most highly regarded works. Only two of these survive (nos. 38 and 39).

The year before he built the Magpie and Stump, he had designed a building for the Oxford University Extension College, for whom he has also lectured. This was never built.

In the West End of London, Ashbee spent time among artistic communities. In 1893, he joined Slade, having studied at Westminster School of Art the previous year. Among his new circle of artistic contacts were members of the New English Art Club, with whom some of his works in leather were exhibited.  In 1896-7, both of the Scottish painters James Guthrie and Edward Arthur Walton lived in Ashbee’s Cheyne Walk properties. In 1897, C.R. Ashbee designed 74 Cheyne Walk for F.A. Forbes. The following year, Ashbee married Forbes’ daughter, Janet.

In 1894, Ashbee established the Committee for the Survey of the Old Memorials of Greater London (known as the London Survey Committee), in response to such losses as the demolition of an early seventeenth century manor house in Bromley by Bow. Ashbee had been held an antiquarian interest in architecture during his time at Cambridge but what he saw happening in London proved a catalyst for his involvement in building conservation campaigns.

In 1896, Ashbee became a member of Council for the National Trust, which had been founded the previous year. Also in 1896, he went to the United States to deliver lectures for the American Society for the Extension of University Teaching. In 1900, he returned to America. This time he went for a lecture tour on behalf of the National Trust. The comments he made when visiting Chicago were particularly controversial but it was there he met Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect, who became a close friend.

The increased population due to the Guild’s move to Chipping Campden offered new opportunities for Ashbee to design buildings in the Cotswolds. Not only did his architectural work there include studios and cottages, it also included the adaptation of the ruined Norman Chapel, in Broad Campden. C.R. Ashbee also planned the reconstruction and additions to Woolstaplers’ Hall, Campden, although these were only partially carried out. He received commissions for architectural work, including both residential and religious buildings, in various English counties, while maintaining links with Chelsea.

In total, Ashbee built twenty-three houses, restored or extended a similar number and restored three churches. Some of his drawings were carried out by such skilled guildsmen as Philippe Auguste Mairet.