The Arts and Craft movement in Chipping Campden is renowned internationally. The town has two histories. There is a long history of wool and wealth and wonderful stone buildings, lasting more than a thousand years. And there is a short history, about a hundred years long, of the skill and creativity of artists and designers who have worked in Chipping Campden and the surrounding area. Stand in Church Street and you will see the long history spreading gloriously around you, in the towering church of St James, the remains of Old Campden House, and the seventeenth-century almshouses.
In the middle of Church Street is a modest building, Court Barn Museum. Open the door and the short history will unfold before you in a glittering display of silver, jewellery, printing, bookbinding, sculpture, furniture, pottery and industrial design, all created in and around Chipping Campden since about 1900. The Arts and Crafts movement flourished in Britain in the years around 1900 and its followers valued old skills, work done by hand, and the simpler, pre-industrial life of the countryside.
It was in this spirit that the architect and designer C. R. Ashbee moved the workshops of his Guild of Handicraft – silversmiths, jewellers, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, printers – from the East End of London to Chipping Campden in 1902. He felt that he was bringing them home to the land. They set up workshops in an Old Silk Mill in Sheep Street, and produced beautiful things, though the experiment was short-lived. It closed down in 1908 and most of the craftsmen went back to the towns. Ashbee’s country experiment was a turning point in the history of Campden.
Some of his best craftsmen stayed on, like the silversmith George Hart, whose grandson and great-grandsons are still running the family silversmithing business in Old Silk Mill today. (Visitors are always welcome in the Hart workshop.) And other artists and craftspeople settled in the town, notably F. L. Griggs, an artist and etcher, who loved the town with a passion and did all he could to save it from modernisation.