Thorn­ton and Downer were skilled crafts­men from up in the Cotswolds

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS - » with Kirsty Hart­si­o­tis from The Wil­son Art Gallery & Mu­seum, Chel­tenham


THE Cotswolds has be­come a cen­tre for craft in England, in part due to the men and women of the Arts and Crafts Move­ment who moved here in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury.

We of­ten hear about the big names – in­deed, we’ll be cel­e­brat­ing de­signer and ar­chi­tect Ernest Gim­son in a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion later this year – but many of those who stayed in Glouces­ter­shire all their lives are less well known.

Over the next few months I’ll be ex­plor­ing a few of those lesser known crafts­peo­ple.

Up in the north Cotswolds a num­ber of crafts­peo­ple stayed on in Chip­ping Cam­p­den af­ter CR Ash­bee’s Guild of Hand­i­craft was closed in 1908.

Two of those were Bill Thorn­ton and Charley Downer, who had been the Guild black­smiths.

Thorn­ton and Downer had been re­cruited from the East End of Lon­don, where the young ar­chi­tect CR Ash­bee founded the Guild in the Uni­ver­sity Set­tle­ment House, Toyn­bee Hall.

When Ash­bee de­cided to move the Guild to Chip­ping Cam­p­den in 1902, they both elected to join him.

Fa­mously stolid and in­com­mu­nica­tive, Thorn­ton was moved enough by the town to say he was ‘very agree­ably sur­prised’.

They can be seen, with a younger worker, in the pho­to­graph of the Guild work­shops in the Silk Mill in Chip­ping Cam­p­den in about 1906 – Thorn­ton is at the back and Downer at the front.

In the photo you can see the range of work they were do­ing, from the or­na­men­tal gates to­wards the back of the work­shop, to the del­i­cately dec­o­rated fender in the fore­ground.

You can also see that that they con­trib­uted to the fur­ni­ture made by the Guild, too, as there is a long and dec­o­ra­tive strap hinge wait­ing to go on a writ­ing desk or maybe a piano sim­i­lar to those you can see in the Arts and Crafts Move­ment Gallery.

When the Guild closed, they con­tin­ued rent­ing the work­shop in the Silk Mill, and do­ing some ar­chi­tec­tural and church work, but their stock in trade was small do­mes­tic items like fire irons.

The steel log rake is typ­i­cal, with elab­o­rately twisted metal and stamped dec­o­ra­tion, but they did make plainer pieces.

They worked to­gether all their lives, with a brief hia­tus dur­ing the First World War when they worked in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries – so you would ex­pect them to have got on. Ap­par­ently not - they were fa­mously grumpy and iras­ci­ble with each other. Charley Downer did have a comic side, tak­ing part in the Guild’s the­atri­cals.

You can see their work in the Arts and Crafts Move­ment Gallery along­side that of other Guilds­men and women.

The Wil­son runs tours of the Gallery on Thurs­days and Saturdays at 2pm.

Bill Thorn­ton and Charley Downer at work in 1909

A Thorn­ton and Downer log rake

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