Thornton and Downer were skilled craftsmen from up in the Cotswolds
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