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Craig Fees, 'Editor's Introduction' to

F.W. Coldicott, Memories of an Old Campdonian, edited by Craig Fees, Campden and District Historical and Archaeological Society, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, 1994

 

 

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION

Chipping Campden, the historic capital of the North Cotswolds, on the northern boundary of Gloucestershire, is one of the most famous rural towns in England. It has been the setting for countless films and television shows. Its old buildings appear regularly on magazine covers and in travel brochures. It has been home to many well-known artists and writers - novelist Graham Greene, artist/engraver F.L. Griggs, designer Sir Gordon Russell, stained-glass artist Paul Woodroffe, composer Joseph Moorat. It has been praised by Lewis Carroll, sketched by John Rennie MacKintosh, toured by George Bernard Shaw, addressed by J.R.R. Tolkien, graced by the presence of royalty. It also played host to one of the most ambitious social experiments of this century: the move of 150 men, women and children, and the workshops of the Guild of Handicraft from the East End of London to Chipping Campden in 1902, as celebrated in Alan Crawford’s award-winning C.R. Ashbee: Architect, Designer and Romantic Socialist (Yale University Press, 1985), and Fiona MacCarthy’s The Simple Life: C.R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds (Lund Humphries, 1981). The town and its history feature in doctoral dissertations and masters’ theses, dozens of books and literally hundreds (if not thousands) of articles, popular and academic.

This is the first time, however, that the story of 20th century Campden has been told by someone born and bred in the town. Indeed, I know of only two other books about Campden which have been written by local people: Josephine Griffiths’s ChippinCampden: Today and Yesterday, published in 1931; and Jack Horne’s Chipping Campden From the Grassroots published privately in 1982. Both are well worth reading, but neither weaves together history and personal experience as Mr. Coldicott does, illuminating this beautiful and celebrated town from the inside, as it were, for the first time. Some who thought they knew Chipping Campden will be surprised by what they find here. Others, coming to Campden for the first time through this book, will experience a sense of recognition and a deepening understanding of rural England.

 

THE AUTHOR

Mr. Coldicott was born in 1910 in the house next to what is now the County Library in the High Street, and apart from military service during World War II has lived his entire life in the town. He is related to farming families throughout the Vale of Evesham and the Cotswolds. He is cousin to the Campden Izods whose ancestors erected the famous Four Cross Hands finger-post on the main Broadway to Oxford Road in 1669, and cousin to the Haines who were among the most powerful farmers in Campden at the turn of the century, and farm there still. He started work at fourteen first for his father on the land and then as a labourer, graduated by chance to become lorry driver for a local builder, by good fortune and judgement trained as and became a mason at the end of World War II, and finally, with his friend Val Hobbs, and with the help of Lord and Lady Gainsborough, established his own firm of local builders in 1968. He retired in 1979.

 

CAMPDEN’S RECENT HISTORY: B.G. (Before the Guild)

The story of Campden which goes on within and behind Mr. Coldicott’s narrative is one of extraordinary social and economic change. It began in one sense with the industrial revolution and the progressive shifting of the weight of public life and culture from rural England to its cities during the 19th century. As far as Campden is concerned it can probably be traced more specifically to the great Agricultural Depression which began in the late 1870s, and the crisis in local life which it brought on. Campden was an agricultural town, the centre of a reasonably prosperous agricultural district: Her economy and her social and political life turned on farming. Consequently, when the Agricultural Depression hit, it was devastating: Between the censuses of 1871 and 1901 the town lost nearly a quarter of its population - not just the agricultural labourers and the maids, going elsewhere to try to find work, but the middle classes whose homes and businesses employed so many women and men and kept local shops and growers in prosperity.

By the 1880s there was no question that the local economy and local life were in danger of cycling into fundamental decline, and that something had to be done to create jobs and to attract and to hold people in the town. That something would now be called tourism, and in the 1880s and 1890s people in Campden and outsiders with a personal and financial interest there (such as Percy Rushen, absentee landlord and author of The History and Antiquities of ChippinCampden,first published by the author in 1899) made a concerted effort to attract visitors, summer residents, group tours and conferences. The town was cleaned and trimmed and publicised, and in general terms the effort was a success. Campden is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful towns in England, and around the turn of the century, in a process that began to pick up pace in the 1920s and 1930s and has snowballed since the 1960s, Campden was “discovered” by the press and by people of influence, such as architect E. Guy Dawber and writer Laurence Housman. Increasing numbers visited, and increasing numbers decided it was a place in which they would like to live. The centre of the local economy began its gradual shift from agriculture towards what would today be called the leisure industry.

 

CAMPDEN’S RECENT HISTORY: THE GUILD OE HANDICRAFT

The single greatest “discovery” of Campden was that made by the Guild of Handicraft in 1902. The Guild of Handicraft was a company of Art and Craft workshops founded in the East End of London in 1888. It had developed from a class devoted to the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris which had been led by visionary architect/designer C.R. Ashbee. Ashbee - who remained the director of and main spokesman for the Guild throughout its history - saw the Guild as a social and educational tool through which the living and working world of the British workman could be humanised and revolutionised, and the British Empire thereby revitalised from within. Founded on Guild Socialist principles, the men had a say in the running of the company, were encouraged to mingle, learn from and work with their fellow Guildsmen in the other workshops (silversmiths with woodworkers, jewellery makers with blacksmiths, bookbinders with printers), and were encouraged to develop and exploit an ethos of shared, self-improving leisure - plays, sports, educational travel.

Out of this vision came the idea of moving the men and the workshops from the soul-destroying, mechanistic City to the beautiful, history-rich and healthful surroundings of the Country, where creativity, community, and the hand-based skills of the Guildsmen could blossom. Just before Christmas 1901 the majority of the men in the London workshops voted to move to Chipping Campden, and in the Spring of 1902 the men and their families and tools began to arrive. There were some 150 of them, counting wives and children, and they represented one in ten of the population of Campden. So profound was their impact that the recent history of Campden continues to be dated from their coming.

For a variety of reasons the Guild as a commercial enterprise did not flourish after the move to Campden; indeed, profits declined and as it moved towards bankruptcy the company itself was wound up, in 1907/1908. Most of the workmen and their families then left Campden, but a sizeable rump remained, and while pursuing individual careers they continued to pursue the Guild’s fundamentally liberal, artistic and educational aims within the town. Indeed, this “rump” formed a nucleus for a growing community of like-minded newcomers, some of whom had been attracted to the area by the Guild. Elements and successors of the Guild and of this community can be found in the town to this day, and appear regularly in Mr. Coldicott’s Memories.

 

CAMPDEN’S RECENT HISTORY: A.G. (After the Guild)

The upheavals which followed the coming of the Guild to Campden can perhaps be imagined. In an agricultural town run largely by Conservatives, however progressive, a set of workshops run on socialist lines and sincerely believing they were pioneering the aesthetic, intellectual and industrial shape of the future, did not sit entirely easily. At the same time, the Guild was undeniably an economic asset, both in its own right, and because it attracted internationally-known artists and thinkers, and lesser known idealists - cultural tourists - who brought money in and spread the message of Campden abroad. The town, which was already known, benefitted greatly from the publicity generated by the Guild.

Inevitably, however, as the area became better known it also became a place in which more and more people wanted to live, or at least to have homes. Up to a point this is precisely what people in the town had been aiming to achieve. Past that point the balance changed. Rents which had gone up with the coming of the well-paid Guildsmen, displacing a small number of labourers who could not meet the new rent, continued to rise. Property prices entered an accelerating upward spiral, and between the wars local surveyors watched in surprise as the prices people were willing to pay for houses in the area skyrocketed. Outsiders coming in escalated pressures for amenities they were used to taking for granted in their cities and suburbs: continuous supplies of piped water, sewers, electricity, roads paved to take cars. Ideas about how the town should look took on a political dimension, as newer residents and visitors argued among themselves over issues of change and development from which many Campden people began to feel themselves excluded.

With the shift in balance of economic and social weight from local to newcomer, an increasing number of local people began to find themselves displaced from the heart of Campden, both physically and politically. It is a process which can be seen clearly between the wars, but it began to pick up momentum after World War II, and in the late 60s and early 70s local people began to talk openly and seriously of the extinction of the Campden native: With so many properties taken by people from outside, with property prices rising too high for young people starting out in married life to afford, and with fewer and fewer “real” jobs in an increasingly tourist and leisure-based economy, it was wondered where the future generation of Campden children would come from. It was for this future generation that Mr. Coldicott began writing his Memories, and for whom he originally set out to describe the Campden in which he was born and in which he was raised.

 

*

 

Campden and the world have changed dramatically in the time covered by Mr. Coldicott’s memories. All of this appears in the book, thrown up in the matter-of-fact way that a life is lived. Two of the former Guild cabinet makers teach schoolboy Fred Coldicott woodwork, one of whom, Jim Pyment, also gives him a lesson in practical jokesmanship. The firm of builders which Pyment built out of the collapse of the Guild later employs Mr. Coldicott and gives him his boost into the world of full-time, life-time work. Alec Miller, a sculptor who came to Campden with the Guild and stayed when the Guild broke up, employs Mr. Coldicott to take pieces to an exhibition in London, stopping off in Oxford to visit Miller’s son. Artist F. L. Griggs, who pioneered the preservation movement in Campden between the wars, appears. Here are the first airplane, the first mains sewers, the coming of the telephone and the wireless (with its dance band broadcast from London): two world wars and all the many bringers and harbingers of change which have transformed Campden in the 20th century. It was the centre of its own agricultural district. It has become a satellite of the urban/international electronic economy, the centres of culture of which are diffused in cities around the world - in all of which Campden may be found in memories and in photographs in magazines and brochures promoting tourism to Britain. It is all here, quietly, like fragments of mirror, making up the history of the town as lived by one man, for whom the rhythm and the history of the town lie in the town’s people and the things they did and that happened to them: the marriages, the haircuts, the insanity and the suicide, the narrow escapes and the practical jokes, and the crimes and courting and celebrations and fun which, for those who lived it, Campden was and is. It is a surprisingly candid book, with its story vividly told.

 

A NOTE ON THE TEXT

I met Mr. Coldicott in 1985 after giving a talk in the Town Hall. Dorrie Ellis pointed him out to me, and my initial reaction was frankly one of apprehension: I saw a towering man in an army greatcoat, in a town in which, as an outsider researching it, I tended to feel myself intruding the best of times. Had Mrs. Ellis not been there 1 would probably never have met him. But she introduced us, and to my relief and pleasure I discovered as gentle, generous and welcoming a person as I have met, in Campden or elsewhere. I asked him then if I might come over and record him, and without hesitating he said yes. After several visits he showed me some writing he had been doing in a notebook: the first pages of his memories of Campden, which he had started for his grandchildren. I don’t remember now how far into his story he had written. I do remember that by the time he reached his schooldays so many earlier memories had come up that he scrapped the whole thing and started again. Then he didn’t stop. Each time I came up to record our conversations about Campden he had another twenty pages or so waiting, in the order in which they appear in this book. This book is almost how he wrote it - something discussed in a bit more detail below.

For me, the book was an ongoing revelation. Despite the volumes which have been written about Campden, nothing like it had previously been published. I asked him whether he had considered publishing it, and would he mind if it were. In fact he had been writing it only with his family and grandchildren in mind; but if one or two changes were made he would be quite happy to see it published. That was the beginning.

The changes he felt necessary had to do with a handful of remarks or memories which might embarrass or hurt certain living individuals; the changes, which are very minimal, were easily made. Other changes, which I have made, involve spelling, punctuation, the making of paragraphs, and artificially dividing the text into headed sections. In one or two instances I have inserted material into the text (as opposed to footnoting it), in which case it has been placed between square brackets, [like this]. There have been several corrections of historical detail - such as the name of a particular regiment mentioned during the course of Mr. Coldicott’s reminiscences of World War II - which were suggested by members of the Historical Society Committee. There have been relatively few changes, however, and these have been with Mr. Coldicott’s approval. Any mistakes which remain must really be considered my responsibility.

Mr. Coldicott completed his “Memories of an Old Campdonian” (the title he gave his notebook in 1985) about eight years ago. The adventures of the text since then - which have included quotation on television and rejection by one publisher because it was too risque - would fill a chapter. That it is being published now is to the greatest credit of the Campden and District Historical and Archaeological Society. A century after Campden first began to be written about in earnest, the Society has had the vision to break new ground: it publishes for the first time the full reminiscence of Campden by a Campden man. 1 think they have reason to be proud, and I hope the reader, having shared Mr. Coldicott’s world and the Campden in which he has lived, will concur.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

It will be clear from the above that many thanks are due to the Committee of the Campden and District Historical and Archaeological Society for their vision, and for making the publication of this book possible. They have also given considerable practical support - many hours reading and re-reading the text, pointing out editorial mistakes andinconsistencies, suggesting possible clarifications and indicating potential footnotes. Peter Gordon, Chairman of the Society at the time the decision to publish the book was taken, has been extremely positive and supportive throughout; Felicity and Geoffrey Powell have put in a great deal of time and thought, and Felicity prepared the foundation of the index; Allan Warmington has been a friend in need and deed, and has seen to the practical details of publication; and other members of the Committee have anonymously offered their notes and insights.

 

The photographs of Chipping Campden Market Hall on page iv and of “Teapot” Williams on page 52 are by Roland Dyer, and are published here with the kind permission of the Guild of Handicraft Trust and Mrs. Rosemary Chapman.

The Evesham Journal (The Journal Series) have kindly given their permission to use the photograph of Mr. Coldicott which appears on the back cover.

I would also like to thank my wife, Fiona, for tireless proofreading. She and Mr. Coldicott’s wife Nancy, must also be thanked for their patience and support, which have made the book possible.