Monday, July 10, 2023

Discovering Arts & Crafts Movement Treasures in England's West Midlands

Trellis, by William Morris.

Winning a gold medal at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, the Morris & Co garden by Ruth Wilmott highlighted the continuing fascination and renewed interest in William Morris designs. 

Victorian era wallpaper and textile designer William Morris was the champion of the Arts & Crafts Movement, an anti-industrial art movement (1860 – 1910) devoted to returning to traditional methods of craftsmanship. 

Inspired by a love of nature, his designs feature flowers, trees and birds. Two of his iconic patterns were the basis of the award-winning garden – Trellis (1862) and Willow Boughs (1887). Shades of green blue, reds and earthy tones predominate in the designs.  Morris patterns  also starred in fashion designs – Next produced a summer range – as well as the evergreen iconic home furnishings.

I'd been visiting some of the Arts & Crafts treasures in the West Midlands and the Cotswolds and I was already hooked. The movement focused on central England, particularly the Birmingham School of Art. Also, the Guild and School of Handicraft, based on the structure of the medieval craft guilds, was relocated from London’s East End to Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, by architect and designer C.R. Ashbee, famous for his silverware.

There are just so many aspects, from the floral fabulousness of a Morris Design fabric or wallpaper to Burne-Jones tapestries and stained glass. There's beautiful silver and wood carving, Arts & Crafts gardens, houses and churches. And what better way to view them than on a drive through the glorious countryside, especially at the height of summer?

All Saints Church, Brockhampton, Herefordshire. ©AP

I made just such a journey to Herefordshire, in search of All Saints Church, Brockhampton (above). I'd read that it is recognised as one of the most important Arts & Crafts buildings of the early 20th century, so I had to see it. Driving via Little Malvern (the gorgeous Little Malvern Court and garden is open just now), British Camp on the stunning Malvern Hills and Ledbury, I headed to Much Marcle and headed past the Westons Cider Factory down narrow lanes to Brockhampton. I was rewarded with this and a churchyard filled with wildflowers.

Broadway Tower, Broadway, Worcestershire

I particularly like the idea that Broadway Tower, a landmark folly high on the Cotswold hills above the village of Broadway, was once a holiday retreat for Arts and Crafts Movement artists including pre-Raphaelites William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. 

Broadway Tower. ©AP

Broadway Tower

Gordon Russell Museum, Broadway, Worcestershire:

Furniture designer Russell was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in his early career. 

Snowshill Manor Garden, Snowshill, near Broadway, Worcestershire:

This Tudor manor house is packed with memorabilia collected by eccentric Charles Wade – so much so that he lived in a house in the garden. The Arts & Crafts garden was created by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, an Arts & Crafts architect. 

The West Window, St Peter’s Church, Binton, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire: 

A memorial to Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, installed in 1908 by the vicar of Binton who was Scott’s  father-in-law. Four scenes by Charles Eamer Kempe are amongst Gothic works and include a scene of Captain Oates’ farewell.  (Kempe worked with  Arts & Crafts Movement projects but didn’t buy into their socialist ideas.) 

Winterbourne House, Birmingham:

Housing and town planning reform pioneer John Nettlefold and his wife Margaret built their villa in Birmingham in 1903. They chose the Edwardian Arts & Crafts style and John used elements of the home in designs for housing in poorer areas of Birmingham. The Grade ll listed garden was designed by Margaret, inspired by Gertrude Jekyll. The garden is now the University of Birmingham’s Botanic Garden. Inside the house are exhibition rooms with William Morris wallpaper, Edwardian furnishings and family memorabilia.

Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire:

The house and furniture were built/made by local craftspeople according to Arts and Crafts ideals, in the old traditional style. Everything was created by hand using local stone and timber and the gardens are beautiful. 

Bourton House Garden, Gloucestershire:

Award-winning garden with a Renaissance structure, Arts & Crafts-style planting.

Bourton House Garden. ©AP

Owlpen Manor, Dursley Gloucestershire: 

Arts & Crafts repairs were made to an ancient manor house. Includes Sidney Barnsley A&C furniture, setting and gardens to die for. Said to be one of England’s most haunted houses! (Group tours only.)

Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire:

Hart Silversmiths workshop and The Guild of Handicraft Gallery

Court Barn Museum dedicated to Arts & Crafts; Silversmithing/industrial design in the Old Silk Mill 

Robert Welch, Sheep Street, silversmithing/design and flatware/cutlery sold worldwide.

Hidcote Gardens, Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire, Morris’s famous family home

Kiftsgate Gardens, Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden

Pugin’s St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, near Birmingham

For Arts & Crafts aficionados, Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum’s Wilson Gallery has an impressive collection with a dedicated Arts & Crafts Archive.  

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