C.R. Ashbee (continued)
This is the second part of an online exhibition focusing on the life and works of C.R. Ashbee.
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.
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.
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.
After the 1909 ‘Housing, Town Planning, Etc., Act’, Ashbee was one of sixty competitors who submitted plans for the development of the 6000 acre Ruislip Manor Estate. Whether he realised it or not, much of this estate had been owned by his former college, King’s. It is fitting that King’s College holds the only drawing of his scheme which is known to have survived, a birds-eye view. His submission was unsuccessful but this did not deter him from further town planning.
During the First World War, Ashbee lectured in America and then in early 1917, he went to Cairo to teach English. In December 1917, Ashbee’s book Where the Great City Stands was published. In this book, Ashbee discussed civic planning in the context of the destruction of war. The book resulted in him receiving a call from Ronald Storrs, a military governor, asking him to plan and repair the city of Jerusalem. This included reviving traditional crafts, so it suited Ashbee. After writing a long report, which connected the re-establishment of arts and crafts with town planning, he took up the post as a civic advisor in Jerusalem in 1919 and his family moved there. He resigned in March 1922.
After another lecture tour of America, C.R. Ashbee retired to Godden Green, Kent. It was there that he died, on 23 May 1942.
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), A bibliography of the Essex House Press: with notes on the designs, blocks, cuts, bindings, etc.: from the year 1898 to 1904 (Campden: Essex House Press, 1904)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Conradin: a philosophical ballad (Broad Campden: Essex House Press, 1908)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Craftsmanship in competitive industry: being a record of the workshops of the Guild of Handicraft, and some deductions from their twenty-one years' experience (Campden: Essex House Press, 1908)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Echoes from the city of the sun : being poems and songs (Campden: Essex House Press, 1905)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), An endeavour towards the teaching of John Ruskin and William Morris (London: Edward Arnold, 1901)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), The Guild of Handicraft, 1909 (Broad Campden: Essex House Press, 1909)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), The Hamptonshire Experiment in education (London: Allen, 1914)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert) (ed.), Jerusalem. 1918-1920 : being the records of the Pro-Jerusalem Council during the period of the British Military Administration (London: John Murray, 1921)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert) (ed.), Jerusalem. 1920-1922 : being the records of the Pro-Jerusalem Council during the first two years of the civic administration (London: John Murray, 1924)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert) (ed.), The Manual of the Guild and School of Handicraft: Being a guide to County Councils and Technical Teachers (London; Paris; Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1892)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Modern English silverwork: an essay (London: Batsford, 1908)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), A report by Mr. C. R. Ashbee to the Council of the National Trust for places of historic interest and natural beauty on his visit to the United States in the Council's behalf: October, 1900 to February, 1901 (Campden: Essex House Press, 1901)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Survey of London. Vol.1, Being the first volume of the register of the committee for the survey of the memorials of Greater London, containing the parish of Bromley-By-Bow (London : P.S. King, 1900)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Socialism and politics: a study in the readjustment of the values of life (London: Brimley, Johnson & Ince, 1906)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert) (ed.), Transactions of the Guild & School of Handicraft. Vol. I. (London: Essex House Press, 1890)
• Ashbee, C. R. (Charles Robert), Where the great city stands: a study in the new civics (London: Essex House Press, 1917)
• Ashbee, Felicity, Janet Ashbee: love, marriage, and the arts & crafts movement (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, c2002)
• Crawford, Alan, ‘Ashbee, Charles Robert (1863–1942)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [see below for link, accessed 1 March 2017]
• Crawford, Alan, C.R. Ashbee: Architect, Designer & Romantic Socialist (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985)
• Crawford, Alan, C.R. Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft: an exhibition organised by Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, 17 Jan - 30 May (Cheltenham: Art Gallery & Museum, 1981)
• Levine, Neil, The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1996)
• MacCarthy, Fiona, The simple life: C.R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds (London: Faber and Faber, 2009)