Craig Fees, 'Editor's Note to the Second Edition' and 'Introduction'


H.T. Osborn, A Child in Arcadia: The Chipping Campden Boyhood of H. T. Osborn 1902-1907, edited by Craig Fees, Campden and District Historical and Archaeological Society, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, 1986, 1997




The publication of the first edition of this book in 1986 marked a watershed in the literature about the Guild of Handicraft and about Chipping Campden. Nothing written about Campden or the Guild since this little book appeared, if it wished to be serious, could afford to ignore it.

Mr Osborn was the last living person who could write of the Guild and of its move to Campden from personal experience, and with the quiet authority of a child’s eye unobscured by adult romanticism he punctured the dream picture which has underlain almost all of the writing and broadcasting about Campden in this century.

He could do this because Mr. Osborn belonged simultaneously to two traditions in Campden, which, as far as publication goes, have tended to run separate and apart for most of the century. One of course is the Guild tradition, the origin of which goes back to C.R. Ashbee and his writings about Campden; indeed, much of what has been written about Campden, whether by journalists or historians, springs directly or indirectly from the Guild tradition, and takes at face value the Guild myth that Campden was a backward rural village which had fallen into moral and physical decay until it was transformed by the coming of the Guild. The other is made up of the oral tradition of Campden itself, supported by the stories and experiences of the people born or raised in Campden. In that tradition the Guild is simply one part of a rich and colourful history filled with local men and women who travelled the world, fought in England’s wars, went mad, struggled through recessions, played tennis, built roads, and generally lived the daily life of a vital small country town, going back beyond human memory. Mr Osborn belonged to both traditions, and his memories have a unique quality and an irreplaceable authority because of it.

Ten years after the first edition nothing has been changed in Mr. Osborn’s text. Thanks, however, to the generosity of the Historical Society we have been able to add a number of photographs and illustrations, to bring several of the end notes up to date, and to improve the typeface and layout.

Craig Fees

November 1996




First a few words about myself, necessary to establish a background for our conversation. I am in my 90th year but still in good health, have an excellent memory and keen interest in the scenes of my bygone days.

My years in Campden were not many. We moved there in 1902 and left at the end of 1907, so all I have to relate is what I observed during that period.

-CF 20.7.83


Perhaps this curious little fact may be of interest - 1 am the last living person who worked at the Guild of Handicraft. My father was a member and my Uncle was General Manager until 1905.

-CF 10.8.83


When Harry Osborn died in his home in Ottawa, Canada, on July 15, 1984 at the beginning of his 91st year, he was indeed the last direct link to the workshop of that extraordinary social experiment, which profoundly changed Campden, called the Guild of Handicraft.

Formed in London in 1887 by architect/designer Charles Robert Ashbee, the Guild and School of Handicraft (as it was then) intended to carry out in practice the theoretical visions of John Ruskin and William Morris. Out of the working class slums of East London, feeding cheap labour into vast factories dominated by machine production, was to arise a new kind of workman in a new kind of workshop. He was to be a craftsman, and the items he produced were to be handmade. Machines would be used for the repetitive and brute tasks, but each cup or cabinet, each lamp bracket or crucifix would reflect the skills and humanity of the individual craftsman. Instead of the impersonal and competitive factory floor, there would be a group of inter-related workshops, working together on complete projects. The men would learn from each other, be represented on the Board of Directors, take responsibility for decisions in the workplace, and share an after-hours culture of sports, singsongs and further education. The quality of life of the producer, C.R. Ashbee argued, would reflect in the quality of the items produced. Raising this quality, would raise the quality of English life generally. The goal of the Guild of Handicraft was no less than the re-generation of English Culture, through the revitalisation of the workplace.

It was for this reason that C.R. Ashbee cast about for a way to get his Guildsmen out of the city of London with its smoke and crowding, and its man-made ugliness. In 1901 he discovered Chipping Campden, which he called “the little, forgotten town of the Age of Arts and Crafts where industrialism had never touched, where there was an old silk mill and empty cottages ready to hand, left almost as when the Arts and Crafts ended in the 18th century.” A vote in the workshops at Christmas 1901 carried the decision to move the Guild of Handicraft to this country town, and in the Spring and Summer of 1902 one hundred and fifty men, wives and children made the move out of London to Campden. Harry Osborn was one of the children. Ashbee called Campden ‘Arcadia' - in classical mythology a district in ancient Greece, surrounded by mountains, named ‘Arcadia’ because it was ‘older than the moon’. The Arcadians maintained their independence from the Spartans, and lived simple lives devoted to dance and song among their flocks. Campden was to be the idyllic setting for a new age of industry.

As a limited liability company, however, the Guild of Handicraft gradually collapsed, and in 1907 was finally wound up. Many of the Guildsmen, including the Osborn family, lost their jobs and had to leave Campden (the Boys’ School logbook of November 22, 1907 reads: “Owing to the Guild of Handicraft closing its works, several children have left the school. The majority of these were bright and intelligent”). The Guild principles, however, survived the collapse of the trading company, and the dozen or so Guildsmen who decided to remain in Campden (including C.R. Ashbee) formed themselves into the Guild of Handicraft Trust. A farm was bought, to enable individual craftsmen to support themselves when trade was slack. The workshops were held by the Trust, and business that still came in for the Guild was shared out among its members. A number of decisions were still taken jointly, and different shops cooperated on certain projects. In many ways it was business as usual.

The 1914-18 War put an end to much that remained of the Guild’s formal organisation, including the School of Arts and Crafts (which Mr. Osborn describes in some detail below), and the Guild Trust itself. The Ashbees left the area in 1919. A core of Guildsmen, however, remained, or returned to Campden after the war. Though beyond the period 1902- 1907 to which Mr. Osborn's memories mainly refer, the success of these Guildsmen in the life of Campden, and therefore the vindication of much that C.R. Ashbee set out to achieve for English Culture and the working man, can be felt throughout the memories that follow.

This book is largely the outcome of Mr. Osborn’s own initiative.

He was born in London on May 16, 1894, and was 90 years old when he died in 1984. When the family came to Campden in 1902, he was just eight years old, and when he left with his family in 1907 he had turned thirteen. His ties to Campden were not cut by the move: as he tells in his own words, the Cotswold town wove itself in and out of the rest of his life. A letter from Campden friend Wilf Merriman enticed the Osborn family to Canada in 1914. Harry came back to England in 1919 to marry Kathleen Grace Warmington in Campden Church and take her back to Canada, and when his wife died in 1978, Mr. Osborn drew Campden increasingly to him. He began an extensive correspondence with his nephew Allan Warmington, a native of Campden, in which memories of family and old Campden naturally cropped up. When Fiona MacCarthy’s book The Simple Life (on the history of the Guild in Campden) appeared in 1981, Allan Warmington sent it to his uncle, who immediately wrote to the publishers, Lund Humphries in London, asking them to put him in contact with Fiona MacCarthy “as I am connected with some of the events and would like to share my knowledge with the author”. This started a detailed correspondence. Ms. MacCarthy shared these letters with Alan Crawford, whose definitive biography of C.R. Ashbee (Yale University Press, 1985) was then in preparation. Alan Crawford asked Mr. Osborn’s advice on several chapters of his manuscript, and a fruitful correspondence ensued. It was through Ms. MacCarthy also that a leading student of English folk dance traditions contacted Mr. Osborn, and it was through this scholar, Keith Chandler, that I came to know him. Quite independently, Mr. Osborn had also struck up a correspondence with Col. Geoffrey Powell, author of The Book of Campden (Barracuda Books, 1982). Mr. Osborn was, to say the least, a prolific letter-writer, and very generous with his memories as well as his photographs, several of which appear here for the first time. In telling me of his death, Mr. Osborn’s daughter Mrs. Norah Goodman, wrote the following:


Dad was very active, both mentally and physically, right to the end and extremely knowledgeable on almost any subject. He carried on a correspondence with at least four authors who, like yourself, were doing research or writing books. He seemed able to hold his own with these learned types, in spite of not having had any formal education beyond the elementary grades. We often urged him to enroll at the local universities as there is no charge for senior citizens and we felt he would have added to the interest of the other students. But he never did, I think he was afraid of being ‘found lacking’. He was a whiz at mathematics too, what a great pity he was never able to continue his schooling, but as you know grammar schools weren't free in those days.

He managed quite well, living alone after Mother died in 1978. His house was so neat the coroner wondered who the housekeeper was, but he would never let anyone help him with anything. The neighbours offered to clear his lane in the winter with their snowblowers, but he was highly indignant and liked to do it himself. He rose about 4 a.m., though on occasion it could be earlier. Once he was out shovelling at 2.30 and the police patrol car stopped, thinking it was someone breaking in at that hour. After Mother passed away he said it was the first time in his life he hadn’t had to account to somebody, family or employer, and was going to do as he pleased for a change. And he did. We saw him once or twice a week as we lived quite close, but for the most part he had his own friends and made his own plans.


This extraordinary man was answering questions to the end. A half-finished letter trying to explain Heavenly Corner to me (see page 34) was started on July 13, two days before his death.

Fiona MacCarthy, Allan Warmington, Alan Crawford, Keith Chandler and Col. Powell have all turned their letters from Mr. Osborn over to me, and I have left out very little. Surprisingly enough, in going over similar ground with the five of us Mr. Osborn rarely repeated himself - perhaps because he himself had so many interests, and we had so many different questions. Once or twice he has given two accounts of the same event which fit nicely together, and I have decided to put them together as one. For the most part, however, my task has been to select rather than edit, trusting Mr. Osborn himself to tell his story. To help give a sense of when and to whom Mr. Osborn wrote each selection, I have put initials and date after each one.

AC means the letter was written to Alan Crawford, KC to Keith Chandler, CF to Craig Fees, FMc to Fiona MacCarthy, GP to Geoffrey Powell, and AW to Allan Warmington.

At the end of Mr. Osborn’s reminiscences there is a section of footnotes. These are meant to complement, provide a background, and in one or two cases to correct Mr. Osborn’s narrative. When I have added anything to Mr. Osborn’s text itself, it is in italics, inside square brackets, like this: [the rest is Mr. Osborn]

In a letter to his nephew Allan Warmington dated 31.1.1983. Mr. Osborn wrote: “Life as it used to be when we were young is of little interest today.” All those who have given their letters to this memorial disagree, and we hope, in this small way, to share with others the privilege of Mr. Osborn’s memory.


Craig Fees

October 1985/November 1996