A Return To Eden
Country Life UK|September 18, 2018
A Return To Eden

An artist and architect of the Arts-and-Crafts Movement fought to preserve the beauties of Chipping Campden and the Cotswolds. Clive Aslet tells the remarkable story of his struggle and its legacy.

FOR at least the past 100 years, Chipping Campden, in heart of the Cotswolds, has been widely regarded as a paradise. This was certainly the view of the etcher Frederick Landseer Griggs, who came to live there in 1904 and was its doughtiest defender. He sympathetically restored houses on the High Street, battled against a tide of ugliness that engulfed other towns and villages and used money he could ill afford to safeguard its surroundings.

He also strove to demonstrate the continuing viability of the domestic architecture that he admired from the past by building his own house, out of the scant income he received from his artistic projects. It was a heroic struggle against the world—perhaps an unequal one as regards his own domestic aspirations, but triumphant in respect of the continuing loveliness of Chipping Campden.

Griggs grew up in Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, the son of a Baptist baker and confectioner. At the age of 16, he became an architectural draughtsman to Walter Millard, but, three years later, he moved on to the office of C. E. Mallows, one of that golden generation of domestic architects who benefited from the prosperity of the Edwardian era.

Accomplished more than successful, Mallows loved gardens and drawing and Griggs bloomed there as a perspectivist. Later, the pair worked together on a series of architectural caprices for Studio magazine.

In 1897, Griggs set up his own studio in Hitchin. Artistically, his gods were Samuel Palmer (he later commented, apropos his etching Stoke Poges, that SP were sacred initials to him) and Turner, whose engravings he collected: he would leaf through them with friends on cosy evenings at Chipping Campden.

In 1900, the publisher Macmillan commissioned Griggs to illustrate the Hertfordshire volume of its ‘Highways and Byways’ series. This was the beginning of an association that lasted 40 years and produced a dozen books, with drawings by Griggs converted to wood engravings by other hands.

It was when researching subjects for the Oxford and the Cotswolds volume that, in November 1903, Griggs first roared into Campden—locals drop the Chipping— on his Rex motor tricycle: an unlikely advent for a man who forever deplored the influence of the internal-combustion engine. In 1918, he refused to vote Labour, as he had intended, after hearing the candidate speak of ‘improved transport facilities for the country’ (he went for a walk on Westington Hill, outside Campden, instead).

Campden was not a sleepy backwater. The year before, C. R. Ashbee had arrived at the head of 50 or so craftsmen belonging to the Guild of Handicraft, previously located in Whitechapel. In Campden, they occupied some of the cottages that the collapse of agriculture had left empty and took enthusiastically to the joys of rural life, surprising the inhabitants of Campden with Swedish exercises and swimming expeditions, amateur dramatics and marching bands.

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September 18, 2018