It has been the softest wintery weekend in Dorset – still air, freezing temperature, brilliant sunshine. Snow still lies on the shadows of the hills. Beautiful January days. The shadows are still long – these photos were taken at midday, when the sun is at its highest. The remaining snow is frozen, covered in ice crystals, almost like coral.
Bridehead in all her beauty. This morning, the air was different – a hard frost overnight, a pale yellow sunrise, the landscape was like stepping into a painting by John Nash.
Earlier in the week, we’d had our wonderful studio Christmas party at the Art Workers Guild. We never really get around to a Christmas party before Christmas, because everyone is so busy, but in these dark days of January there’s nothing nicer than a big party. The room looked so beautiful, lit entirely by candlelight.
A few words from that evening. “I promise I’m not going to go on too long, but a brief word about this room which some of you will be sitting in for the first time. The Art Workers Guild was founded in the late 19th century, in 1884, by a small group of young English artists and architects, who were then about the sort of age that most of you are now. It was set up partly as a members’ club, and partly, an institution to promote the union of art, architecture and the building crafts. It was an immediate success – as Professor Gavin Stamp writes in his brilliant history of the Art Workers Guild, “It was right for the times: within 5 years there were 150 members, and it is fair to say that these included some of the best artists and craftsman in the land”. The Guild first met in the rooms of the Century Club in Pall Mall in 1888. A temporary home was initially found in the hall of Barnards Inn, then Cliffords Inn became its home, until the house at 6 Queen Square, where we are today, was acquired in 1913. I think it’s true to say that unless the Guild had bought this wonderful old building, it wouldn’t have survived the tastes and turmoils of the post-world war period – and by the early 70s, the membership had dwindled to an aging group of architects and artists who were at the time as deeply unfashionable and out of touch as it would be possible to be, and the guild had retreated to just this one room in the whole building – everything else was just rented out. It was around then that a group of younger designers, craftspeople and makers, led by Roddy Gradidge, Glynn Boyd Hart, Ian Archie Beck, Gavin Stamp and many others, began to rediscover the power of the ideas of those young Edwardian architects who had created the Guild. Today the guild is flourishing, with a huge number of events and meetings happening every week. This beautiful room was designed by F.W. Troupe and built in 1913-1914. Around us on boards are the names of all brothers (incidentally, even the female members, at their choosing, are called brothers) since 1884, those no longer with us gilded; and portraits of the great and good of the architectural and artistic world of this country for at least half a century – the Masters of the Guild, elected every year, and including amongst their number great names that will be familiar to us all – Lutyens, Voysey, Lethaby, W.A.S. Benson, Ernest Gimson, Walter Crane, Ernest Newton and so many more.
Here we are then, sitting here together, designers, collaborators, creators – 108 years after this room was first christened. And here’s an interesting thing to think about – 108 years before that is 1806, and just another108 years before that sweeps us all the way back to January 1698. St. Paul’s Cathedral was still under construction – consecrated as it was just a month before, on 2nd December 1697, with the lantern completed twelve years after that, in 1710.
So I wonder, where will the world be if we leap forward, 324 years from today, in 2346? Of course, none of us can tell, except to say that with absolute certainty it will be a very different place from today, whether for better or worse, we don’t know, and probably can’t do very much about. But I can’t help but feel that this beautiful room will still be here, filled with people gathering by candlelight for a supper on a cold winters’ evening, and I also feel that some of the projects that you are working on, in our office, at this very moment, will still be around, loved and admired and looked after by people. We are together making our own tiny mark in history, in the new towns of Poundbury or Tornagrain, or in the beautiful houses you’re working on, even, in our way, in the furniture and in some of the rooms that we’re creating, and for that thought – we should all be very proud. Thank you for everything we do together – really, that’s what this evening is all about”.