Mrs C.R.Ashbee 1877-1961

In 1947, Mrs C.R.Ashbee donated a painting of her mother-in-law Mrs H.S.Ashbee to Glasgow museums. (1) The painting was by E. A .Walton, one of the Glasgow Boys.

 

mrs H S Ashbee
Figure 1. Mrs H S Ashbee by E A Walton c CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Janet Elizabeth Forbes(2) was born on the 28 December 1877 in Sevenoaks, Kent, to Francis A. Forbes, a cultivated stockbroker and his wife, Jessie Carrick, who was of Scottish descent but had been brought up in Saint Petersburg, Russia.(3)  She was educated at home by a governess, Miss  Stoy (4 ) and she studied English literature, geography, basic Latin and languages . At the age of 15 she and Miss Stoy spent a year in Germany and the next year they spent  months in Paris. She began to keep commonplace books and diaries, a practice which she continued for some years. These with many letters are now in the Ashbee family archives and are a source for the remarkable biography written by her daughter, Felicity  Ashbee.(5) At the age of 19, on 8 September 1898(6), she married Charles Robert Ashbee, a leading light in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Since her life thereafter was linked to his, it is reasonable to discuss Charles Robert Ashbee. He was born in 1863(7) to Henry Spencer Ashbee, a rich and successful businessman and exporter, and to his wife Elizabeth Jenny Lavy, daughter of a rich merchant from Hamburg. He was educated at Winchester College and at King’s College Cambridge(8) where he read History. It is said that his father disapproved and wished him to join the family firm, Charles Lavy and Company, however with the support of his mother he went to Cambridge. His father cut him off with £1000.(9) His father had a collection of erotica(10) which he eventually gave to the British Library. It forms the major part of its collection in the “Private Case”.

While at Cambridge, Charles met Edmund Carpenter, a founding member of the Fellowship of the New Life which extolled the virtues of the simple life, manual labour and friendship. He also came under the influence of William Morris. He decided to become an architect and (11) he lived in the East End of London at Whitechapel in

C_R__Ashbee_by_William_Strang_1903.jpg
Figure 2. C R Ashbee by William Strang Wikipaedia Commons Public Domain

Toynbee Hall. There he founded Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft. The Guild had the support of Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt and Alma Tadema to name but a few. It was a decidedly masculine society and put much faith in comradeship and craftsmanship. He lived at 37 Cheyne Walk with his mother and two unmarried sisters in a house which he had designed after his parents separated in 1893.(12 ) .  E.A. Walton was a neighbour at 73 Cheyne Walk.(13)

In 1898 at the age of 35, he married Janet Forbes who was then in 19 years old.(14) His life style had been that of a homosexual but there is a touching letter (15 ) to Janet in which he asked her to be his “ comrade wife” They lived in 74 Cheyne Walk in a house which he had designed and which was paid for by Janet’s father.(16 ) She was assimilated into the Guild and took part in the fellowship and  out door life that they enjoyed. (17) For example they sailed the river Wye and camped by its banks. In 1901 they travelled to America for a lecture tour with Charles’ mother, whom they called “The Little Mother”, covering  the  east coast ofAmerica, Washington and New York, and Chicago. They met, among others Frank Lloyd Wright. (18)

Janet became a strong and resourceful woman who took responsibility for the domestic arrangements and the many moves during her married life.

Charles Ashbee continued to promote the Guild and in 1902 it moved to Chipping Camden though he retained his office in Cheyne Walk. Number 74 was rented for a time to Rex Whistler.(19)

In Chipping Camden, there were living areas, workshops and a library and museum. All kinds of crafts were there, preferably hand worked: metalwork, jewellery, woodwork, cabinetmaking and painting. In addition to his architect practice, Charles designed silver ware and metal works which can be found in museums (20) among them the Victoria and Albert in London and the Court Barn Museum in Chipping Camden. Some are in private collections and they still come up for auction from time to time. Many young artists were attracted to work there and Mrs Ashbee became the “mother figure” although she was near to their age. She was the link with the people in Chipping Camden.(21)

After 13 years of marriage, her first daughter was born. In all she and Charles had four daughters(22) and caring for them became her fulfilment. She wrote one novel which was never published but her literary output is in her letters and diaries. She spoke French and German and had “ a facility for languages “. (23 )

The Guild was very sociable and enjoyed lectures and entertainments. It attracted many notable people (24) including Beatrice and Sidney Webb, William De Morgan, A.E.Housman, John Masefield and Lloyd Wright. The Guild eventually overextended itself and was disbanded in 1907, though it was reconstituted in 1908 but never really revived. The First World War ended the dream.

In 1915, Charles went on another lecture tour in America. In 1917, he sailed to Cairo to teach English at a training College (25). In 1918, he was appointed Civic Adviser to the British Mandate in Palestine, overseeing building works and protection of religious sites (26). He and his family lived in Jerusalem from 1918 to 1923.He published the Records of the Pro-Jerusalem Society in 1924.(27) On returning to Britain, the couple moved to his wife’s family home in Sevenoaks .He died in Seven Oaks on2 May 1942.(28) Janet died in Lancaster in June 1961.(29)

 

References

  1. Minutes of Glasgow City Council 1947
  2. Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1917 Ancestry.co.uk
  3. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  4. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002. p5,7.
  5. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002. p5,7.
  6. England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index. Ancestry.co.uk
  7. Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1917 Ancestry.co.uk
  8. Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900 Ancestry.co.uk
  9. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  10. The Observer.9th February 2019. Kate Williams .What I saw in the British Library’s Dirty Book Section.
  11. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  12. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002
  13. Letter on fie in Archives of Glasgow Museums from Alan Crawford
  14. England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index. Ancestry.co.uk
  15. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002
  16. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  17. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002.p98
  18. Ibid p57
  19. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981.p77
  20. The Art Fund
  21. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  22. Ancestry.co.uk
  23. Felicity Ashbee :Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002
  24. Fiona MacCarthy: The Simple Life: C.R.Ashbee in the Cotswolds. London, Lund Humphries, 1981
  25. Felicity Ashbee: Janet Ashbee. Love , Marriage and the Arts and Crafts Movement.Syracuse University Press.2002
  26. ibid
  27. C R Ashbee .Jerusalem 1918-1920: Being the Records of the Pro-Jerusalem Council during the Period of British Military Administration. London ,John Murray.1924
  28. England and Wales Civic registration Death Index 1916-2007
  29. England and Wales Civic registration Death Index 1916-2007

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