Undiscovered Britain: Heart of England – The Industrious Cotswolds
To celebrate the launch of the 2016 Best Loved Hotel & Travel Guide, we are pleased to bring you a series of stories on Undiscovered Britain by leading travel writers.
The Industrious Cotswolds
by Harriet O’Brien
Historical re-enactment has nothing on this, I’ve
timewarped into the genuine article. Stepping through
an open doorway on the first floor of an old silk mill in
Chipping Campden, I’m suddenly in a 1902 silversmiths’
The beams are darkened with soot and almost every
inch of wall space is fabulously cluttered with hammers,
mallets, anvils and more. Other than a clock and an
anachronistic radio (a large, 1950s model), there’s not a
machine in sight. Two men are pummelling and shaping
pieces of silver at wonderfully worn work benches, a
third stands in a canopied section (they call it the forge,
I’m later told) where he fires a gas torch at a delicate-looking
David Hart finishes manipulating the heated metal,
wipes his hands and ushers me further into the studio –
which is freely open to all visitors. “Our filing system,” he
laughs as I peer quizzically at bundles of curled papers
on skewers hanging from the ceiling. He shows me a
photograph, taken in about 1904 and revealing the
workshop much as it is today, only tidier and featuring
David is the third generation of the family line of
silversmiths here – with his son William and nephew
Julian working alongside. They continue quite some
legacy. In 1902, architect, designer and socialist Charles
Robert Ashbee brought his branch of the Arts and Crafts
Movement to the old silk mill, setting up the silver section
in this room. Ashbee relocated from industrial London
to offer his workers a better life in the country. Among
them was David’s grandfather, George Hart. David tells
me that sadly Ashbee’s enterprise, The Guild and School
of Handicrafts, failed by 1908. But George subsequently
made a great go of the silversmith workshop.
So Ashbee’s vision was by no means lost. Today, the
silk mill remains very much an arts and crafts centre,
with stone carver, woodturner, jeweller and others.
What might appear as just a pleasant place to pick up
an unusual souvenir to the many visitors who are drawn
to the Cotswolds’ quintessential rural idyll, is, in fact,
continuing a little-known artisan tradition at the heart of
the English countryside.
I stroll through Chipping Campden’s honeystone
streets to find out more. At Court Barn, once a threshing
centre and now home to an Arts and Crafts museum, I
learn about bookbinder Katharine Adams, woodcarver
Alec Miller, stained-glass artist Paul Woodroffe and others
who also came to this handsome town. They may be
part of its history, but this postcard-pretty place retains
its integrity as a proper, working town complete with
butcher, baker and at Hart’s, a candlestick maker.
Hart Gold and Silversmiths:
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Harriet O’Brien is an award-winning journalist and author, and writes regularly on the Cotswolds for the Daily Telegraph.