Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) came up to King’s College in 1883 and read History. The friends he made in Cambridge and the books he read contributed to his development into what biographer Alan Crawford described as an ‘Architect, Designer & Romantic Socialist’. Ashbee’s memoirs came to King’s a few years after he died, with his ‘journals’ (correspondence and scrapbooks bound together) and some genealogical papers given by his widow ten years later. With the death of their daughter Felicity in 2008, the last large tranche of Ashbee papers came to King’s, including his Jerusalem papers (for more on which see this online exhibition).
But in May we were given two more drawings by C. R. Ashbee and they’re rapidly becoming some of my favourite things. The first drawing is a design for a crucifix medallion. It’s stamped ‘This design is the property of The Guild of Handicraft Ltd … Chipping Campden, Glos. and is to be returned to them’ with the design number and date added by hand. It’s labelled ‘Silver Cross, enamelled & chased’. At 7 mm diameter, it’s probably drawn life-size.
The other drawing, which is too big for us to reproduce for the blog, is floorplans for a house that Ashbee designed for 37 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, called ‘Magpie & Stump’ after an ancient pub once run on the site (see the ‘Places’ section of the ‘Summary’ tab here). The Victoria and Albert Museum holds in its collection the elevation of that building.
Ashbee’s parents separated in 1893, his mother bought the freehold of 37 Cheyne Walk and he designed the house for her and her unmarried daughters. Ashbee lived there as well, doing a fair business as an architect (he built 6 more houses on Cheyne Walk over the next 20 years, but only 2 survive) while also managing the Guild he had begun in 1888.
If you’re in Cambridge you can see the drawings themselves during the Long Vacation 2017, displayed in the exhibition cases in the Archives Centre Reading Room. See Getting to the Archive Centre. There is no need to book an appointment just to look at the exhibition. More permanently, and to learn more about C. R. Ashbee and see more of his papers, visit our on-line exhibitions page about him. And when the Chapel is open to visitors you can see the frame Ashbee designed for a painting he gave to the College in the 1930s, Madonna in the Rosary which can also be seen in the Chapel virtual tour (Click ‘Navigate the Chapel’ and then click on the link to ‘Visit St Edward’s Chapel’ in the top right/northeast corner).
To satisfy patient readers who have come this far, there is another Cheyne link with King’s which was brought to my attention by a colleague. T. S. Eliot lived with John Davy Hayward (1905-65, King’s College 1923) in 19 Carlyle Mansions at 122 Cheyne Walk, for ten years after WW2. Because of this friendship and co-habitation, Hayward collected many Eliot drafts, some letters, ephemeral publications, first editions and proof copies of Eliot’s works, which form the Hayward Bequest of T. S. Eliot material.