The Guild of Handicraft was established by Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) in 1888. It was designed as a cooperative of craftsmen and women based on the structure of a medieval guild. The key principle was to liberate the working man from a life of pure subsistence, removing the need to undertake dehumanizing, monotonous and unhealthy work to survive.
Ashbee believed that work itself should be intrinsically good, rewarding workers with skills, a community and a sense of purpose.
It was crucial that the worker should not be separated from the products of their labor. The touch of their hand and the unique decisions they make when crafting an object brought it a particular beauty.
The Guild became famous not only as an extraordinary social experiment, but also for the beautiful and distinctive designs they created. The instantly recognizable tendrilous silver which Ashbee conceived have become poster pieces for the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, each one crafted by hand by one of The Guild’s silversmiths.
The Guild of Handicraft moved from Essex House on the Mile End Road in London to the medieval town of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds in 1902. The silver workshop was taken over by guildsman George Hart when The Guild closed in 1907 and continues to be run by his descendants. Extraordinarily the work benches and tools used to craft this piece of silver remain in situ to this day.