Move to Chipping Campden

Lantern slide of C.R. Ashbee outside the Norman Chapel, Broad Campden. [CRA/21/7]
Lantern slide of C.R. Ashbee outside the Norman Chapel, Broad Campden. [CRA/21/7]

The final years of the nineteenth century saw great changes in C.R. Ashbee’s life and in that of his Guild. Some of the changes which took place in 1898 could be seen on the previous page but of similar importance was a development in his personal life. On 8 September 1898, Ashbee married Janet Elizabeth Forbes (1877-1961), the daughter of a stockbroker. Their marriage was not without problems, not least because C.R. Ashbee was gay. Despite this, in terms of intellect and the Guild lifestyle, he and his wife were well matched and he considered her a ‘comrade’. It was not until March 1911 that their first daughter, named Mary, was born.

C.R. Ashbee was soon drawn to the ideal of life in the countryside and the creative opportunities it allowed. In 1902, he moved the Guild workshops to Chipping Campden, in the Cotswolds. About 150 people were involved in the move, increasing the population of the village by approximately 10%. The Ashbees rented a property called the Norman Chapel from Ananda Coomaraswamy.

Initially, the Guild continued to thrive but in 1905 they started showing losses. The Essex House Press ceased their printing and in the autumn of 1907 the Guild of Handicraft went into liquidation. It was possibly the end of the Guild that prompted Ashbee to share his experiences in a book entitled Craftsmanship in competitive industry: being a record of the workshops of the Guild of Handicraft, and some deductions from their twenty-one years' experience, which was published by the Essex House Press the following year but had to be printed by Messrs. Grant & Co., Ltd.

Joseph Fels (an American millionaire with an interest in rural life) purchased the landed estate, a deed of trust was drawn up in October 1909 and new rules were written to allow the continuation of the Guild. These were published with a short preface describing the Guild’s decline to that point. Guildsmen continued to work in Chipping Campden but they were no longer a limited company and they were working under their own names. The reality ceased to match Ashbee’s Idea. Their last meeting was held on 25 January 1919.