Success of the Guild

Essex House, Mile End. [Ashbee (1890) ‘Transactions of the Guild & School of Handicraft, vol. I., 1890’, p.28]
Essex House, Mile End. [Ashbee (1890) ‘Transactions of the Guild & School of Handicraft, vol. I., 1890’, p.28]

The success of the Guild and School of Handicraft in its early years came amidst the development of relevant resources and movements. The City and Guilds of London Institute, established in 1878, was funding trade classes. In 1884, the Art Worker’s Guild was formed. On 25 May 1887, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson coined the term ‘Arts and Crafts’; and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed the following year (the same year as the Guild and School of Handicraft). Guilds had been popular in medieval times but Ashbee’s approach was new and his timing allowed it to thrive in its early years.

In January 1889, Ashbee’s Guild formed a committee, enabling the establishment of rules and the sharing of profits. The first twenty pounds of any member’s wages were used as a capital investment in the Guild. Idealogically, Ashbee moved away from the form of philanthropy associated with Toynbee Hall, which led to a gradual physical move. After the Easter of the year, Ashbee moved to 49 Beaumont Square but his Guild remained in Commercial Street temporarily. In 1891, the Guild moved eastwards to Essex House in Mile End, London, where it was to remain for the next eleven years.

An application for a grant, made to the Technical Education Board in October 1893, proved unsuccessful. After being cut to just Friday evenings and Saturday mornings in September 1894, the School closed down completely on 30 January 1895.

In April 1898, Ashbee established the Essex House Press. For this purpose, he had bought the Kelmscott Press presses from the estate of William Morris. Not only did the quality of the materials used, the print and the woodcuts demonstrate the craftsmanship of the Guild; the choice of books which were published either reflected Ashbee’s longstanding interests or acted as a vehicle through which to spread the word about his Guild. The Essex House Press developed the very distinctive pica typeface, which was first used in An endeavour towards the teaching of John Ruskin and William Morris, published in 1901.

In July 1898, the Guild was registered as a limited company and the following spring saw them opening a shop at 16A Brook St, in the West End of London. The end of the School appears to have allowed the Guild to become even more successful.