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Charles Robert Ashbee

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Charles Robert Ashbee (17 May 1863 – 23 May 1942) was a British architect, designer and social reformer, who was a prime mover of the Arts and Crafts movement.

1863 Born in Isleworth, son of Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834–1900), merchant and book collector, and his wife, Elizabeth Josephine Jenny Lavy (1841–1919).

Educated at Wellington College, and then at King's College, Cambridge. He decided to train as an architect, with the intention of doing good in the world.

1886 Ashbee began work as an articled pupil of Bodley and Garner, church architects. He took up residence at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, a university settlement where graduates from Oxford and Cambridge could live among the poor while carrying on their own professional work. Residents were expected to do some educational or social work in the area: Ashbee ran a Ruskin reading class.

1888 From his experience at Toynbee Hall he conceived of a workshop which would double as a craft school in the evening; the Guild and School of Handicraft was opened on the top floor of a warehouse at 34 Commercial Street, next to Toynbee Hall. Initially they made furniture, metalwork, and painted decorations.

1891 Ashbee moved the workshops to Essex House, Mile End Road.

1895 The School of Handicraft had to close.

1890s He designed several houses on Cheyne Walk, using the language of a jumbled, riverside street-scape to evoke a romantic sense of Chelsea's past. He and his mother and sisters lived in one.

1898 The Guild took over the staff and presses of William Morris's Kelmscott Press to form the Essex House Press. The Guild was registered as a limited company.

1898 Ashbee married Janet Elizabeth Forbes (1877–1961). At first she was something of an acolyte to him, wondering at the sophistication of their life in Chelsea; but she soon learned the value of her freedom.

By 1900 the Guild was employing about forty men. Although Ashbee designed most of the Guild's products, he worked hard to nurture the craftsmen's own creativity. He was known as C. R. A. in the Guild, reflecting that to some he was just the boss, while to others he could be as much friend or mentor as employer.

1902 Ashbee moved the Guild workshops again, to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. About 150 men, women, and children were involved in the move. After some early tensions, the guild's new home began to seem at least a bit like the workshop paradise that visiting journalists described. In addition, Ashbee found welcome architectural work, repairing and adding to the buildings of the town.

From 1905 the Guild began to lose money.

1907 Despite attempts to remedy the situation it was decided that the Guild of Handicraft Limited should go into liquidation. Ashbee did not want to return to London although most of the guildsmen were obliged to do so. A skeletal organization of the Guild survived linking together a few of the craftsmen who remained in Chipping Campden, working independently.

Ashbee wrote and lectured more, pushed his architectural practice, and played an active part in the new town planning movement.

1911 Janet Ashbee gave birth to to their first child, followed by 3 more in the next six years

WWI Unable to find work connected with the war, Ashbee spent a good deal of time lecturing in the United States, and then as lecturer in English at a training college in Cairo.

1918 Ashbee was invited to Jerusalem by the military governor to report on the planning and repair of the city, and on the possibility of reviving traditional crafts and industries.

1919 He took up a post as civic adviser in Jerusalem. His family moved to Palestine. He cleared out and repaired the finest of the old market halls, and started a weaving school there, brought in glass-blowers from Hebron and tile makers from Turkey and Armenia, drew up a development plan for the city as a whole, laid out gardens round the citadel, and began to repair the sixteenth-century walls of the old city, so that tourists could walk along the ramparts where Turkish guards had gone before.

1919 The Guild met for the last time.

1922 Resigned his post in Jerusalem and settled near Sevenoaks, Kent

1942 Died at Godden Green, Kent.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Wikipedia
  • Biography of Charles Robert Ashbee, ODNB