C.R. Ashbee

Mention of C.R. Ashbee in connection with Trinity Green has made me want to know more about his time living and working in the east end.   He read history at King’s College, Cambridge from 1883 to 1886, where he was much influenced by Edward Carpenter and the writings of Morris and Ruskin.   He was then articled as a clerk in the firm of Bodley and Garner, the best of late Victorian gothicists, and lived in Toynbee Hall as a way of developing his socialist ideals.   On 23 June 1888 (ie when he was only 25), he established the Guild and School of Handicraft at 34, Commercial Street on the top floor of a warehouse next to Toynbee Hall.   In 1891, the Guild acquired workshops away from the densely built and poorest part of Whitechapel in Essex House at 401, Mile End Road, a fine brick eighteenth-century mansion with panelled rooms, a bachelor flat for Ashbee himself when he was not in Chelsea, and a garden with ‘a couple of good box trees, three or four pears and crabs, some cherry trees, laburnums and ash, and a number of vines’.   It was on the site of Onyx House opposite Mile End station.   There the Guild grew from a tiny operation to employing up to 40 people making furniture and other aesthetic products, mostly to Ashbee’s design.



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