Photograph of Guild members camping in Monmouthshire. [CRA/12/35]
Photograph of Guild members camping in Monmouthshire. [CRA/12/35]

Ashbee’s notion of comradeship could not be achieved through work alone so the Guild also carried out a variety of recreational activities.
From 1891 onwards, the apprentices of the Guild of Handicraft were taken on river trips, combining rowing and camping. In 1899, this involved a weekend of rowing down the River Wye, Monmouthshire. This trip, which Janet Ashbee is said to have enjoyed tremendously, included a visit to Tintern Abbey.

After Wednesday suppers in Mile End, they used to sing a repertoire of Guild songs, which was subsequently turned into The Essex House Song Book, edited by Janet Ashbee and published in December 1903. C.R. Ashbee’s creativity also led him to write poetry, with themes dear to his heart such as philosophy and labour appearing alongside mythology and religion. Janet Ashbee also wrote poetry, with one noteworthy poem of hers having been written after the birth of their daughter Mary. They had three further daughters, named Felicity, Helen and Prudence.

The Guild of Handicrafts and friends also performed plays, most of which were late Elizabethan or early Jacobean. C.R. Ashbee was their producer and manager, as well as acting in key roles. The Guild’s first play was The Masque of Narcissus, produced in 1897. The last of their plays in London and the first of their plays to be performed in Chipping Campden was New Inn by Ben Jonson, in 1902 and 1903 respectively. The Chipping Campden performance attracted such guests as Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and William Strang to the audience. The plays became an annual tradition, attracting large audiences from the village.

In the Cotswolds, the Guild enjoyed various outdoor events, often sporting ones, with the local community. Mayday was a significant date in their calendar. Sporting activities included a tug of war between the Guild and the residents of Chipping Campden, as well as swimming competitions.