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Chipping Campden Businesses

PUBLISHED: 09:43 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

Independent traders in old buildings that line the main street at Campden

Independent traders in old buildings that line the main street at Campden

Behind the tourist-friendly frontage of beautiful Chipping Campden is a strata of business people who really make the place tick. Mark Child met some of them and also tool their pictures.

Chipping Campden has two obvious and inescapable links with its past. One of these is the history of its fabric, made omnipresent by its wealth of historic buildings. The town was accorded its status by medieval merchants with a sense of patronage and civic pride, and was given its dignity by local masons working with local stone. The other link is that spirit of the arts and crafts movement that remains manifested in the professionals currently working there. The first preceded the second by centuries, but, since Edwardian times, these two elements have by no means been mutually exclusive.


Craftsmen who settled here at the beginning of the 20th century rekindled the slumbering spirits of Campden's past. It may be argued that by preserving much of its fabric from decay and eschewing commercialism in their chosen trades, they gave a future to Campden that was entirely contrary to their own ideals. It is, of course, a future we must live with now; one in which, every year, visitors come in their thousands from all over the world to point their cameras at the buildings wherein worked the ex-patriot Guild of Handicraft and other disciples of the arts and crafts, and the places in which they lived.


Whilst the spirits of these men and women might be discomfited at the prospect of mass intrusion upon their secluded corner of the Cotswolds, it is likely that those of the town's great benefactors will swell with pride. These are men like Hugh de Gondeville, who secured Campden's first charter; William Grevel, the supreme wool merchant whose money must be somewhere in St James's church; John Fereby, founder of the old grammar school; Robert Calf, who built Woolstapler's Hall; Sir Baptist Hicks, financier of the manor house, almshouses, and market hall, and Royalist Sir Edward Noel, the troop-raiser. Their money, and that of other, anonymous, wool merchants put Campden together from its great wool church to its humblest old cottage.


These are the people who made a Campden which so appealed to C.R. Ashbee and his craftspeople, that they wanted to live and work there, and preserve the place. Along came F.L. Griggs, artist, architect, engraver and visionary who was devoted to restoring the town's old buildings, and preserving the aesthetic qualities of the place, as well as the natural beauty of its surroundings. Whilst he worked towards these aims, so were Ashbee and his Guild saving many buildings that had fallen into disrepair. They, and architect Norman Jewson, took on Campden and, between them, gave it a build future wherein it could become the centre for arts and crafts that it continues to be today.


These continue in their purest form: the craftspeople still work in Campden behind the scenes and what they produce can be admired and bought in their adjacent showrooms. Often, what they sell from their showrooms and shops is supplemented by other high-quality work, brought in from artists and craftspeople working in the UK or - in the case of gifts, clothes and ceramics - from abroad. There is a subtlety in Campden that is rarely experienced elsewhere; one can look along rows of buildings and be hardly aware that there are little shops at ground level. Their signage is beautifully underwhelming, and the town is all the better for it.


Trade in Chipping Campden has suffered over the last year, having never properly recovered from the national problems earlier in the millennium that kept visitors away. Several shops have closed down because fewer buying visitors came to Campden in 2007, one or two businesses have not re-opened since they were flooded, Christmas trade was relatively poor and, as I write in mid-April, shopkeepers say that an indifferent, cold spring has done nothing to kick-start the 2008 season. Several complain, in a resigned sort of way, that the cessation of coach trips to Campden is partly to blame, and so too is the cost of car parking in the centre. (Although this is actually cheaper than at many other Cotswold towns and there is free parking available, so visitors with cars should not be put off.) All of this is a great shame, for Campden is one of the most attractive small towns in the Cotswolds, its range of shops is as comprehensive as you are likely to find anywhere, and it has a long tradition of craftsmanship that simply does not exist to a similar extent elsewhere.


It is sometimes difficult to see beyond the town's old buildings, and to delve into a place that the average visitor meets only superficially, or takes for granted. I have written many times for Cotswold Life on the history of Chipping Campden and its architecture, and what the place has to offer the visitor. Each time I do so, a friend who lives in Campden calls to admonish me. He mentions, in a very nice way, that there is a layer of most towns that magazines like Cotswold Life fail to address. This is the strata of business people who provide services, commerce and trade that make the place tick along on a day-to-day basis. These are people who provide for the resident community, and who subtly underpin that great day out for the contemporary visitor.


Chipping Campden has two obvious and inescapable links with its past. One of these is the history of its fabric, made omnipresent by its wealth of historic buildings. The town was accorded its status by medieval merchants with a sense of patronage and civic pride, and was given its dignity by local masons working with local stone. The other link is that spirit of the arts and crafts movement that remains manifested in the professionals currently working there. The first preceded the second by centuries, but, since Edwardian times, these two elements have by no means been mutually exclusive.


Craftsmen who settled here at the beginning of the 20th century rekindled the slumbering spirits of Campden's past. It may be argued that by preserving much of its fabric from decay and eschewing commercialism in their chosen trades, they gave a future to Campden that was entirely contrary to their own ideals. It is, of course, a future we must live with now; one in which, every year, visitors come in their thousands from all over the world to point their cameras at the buildings wherein worked the ex-patriot Guild of Handicraft and other disciples of the arts and crafts, and the places in which they lived.


Whilst the spirits of these men and women might be discomfited at the prospect of mass intrusion upon their secluded corner of the Cotswolds, it is likely that those of the town's great benefactors will swell with pride. These are men like Hugh de Gondeville, who secured Campden's first charter; William Grevel, the supreme wool merchant whose money must be somewhere in St James's church; John Fereby, founder of the old grammar school; Robert Calf, who built Woolstapler's Hall; Sir Baptist Hicks, financier of the manor house, almshouses, and market hall, and Royalist Sir Edward Noel, the troop-raiser. Their money, and that of other, anonymous, wool merchants put Campden together from its great wool church to its humblest old cottage.


These are the people who made a Campden which so appealed to C.R. Ashbee and his craftspeople, that they wanted to live and work there, and preserve the place. Along came F.L. Griggs, artist, architect, engraver and visionary who was devoted to restoring the town's old buildings, and preserving the aesthetic qualities of the place, as well as the natural beauty of its surroundings. Whilst he worked towards these aims, so were Ashbee and his Guild saving many buildings that had fallen into disrepair. They, and architect Norman Jewson, took on Campden and, between them, gave it a build future wherein it could become the centre for arts and crafts that it continues to be today.


These continue in their purest form: the craftspeople still work in Campden behind the scenes and what they produce can be admired and bought in their adjacent showrooms. Often, what they sell from their showrooms and shops is supplemented by other high-quality work, brought in from artists and craftspeople working in the UK or - in the case of gifts, clothes and ceramics - from abroad. There is a subtlety in Campden that is rarely experienced elsewhere; one can look along rows of buildings and be hardly aware that there are little shops at ground level. Their signage is beautifully underwhelming, and the town is all the better for it.


Trade in Chipping Campden has suffered over the last year, having never properly recovered from the national problems earlier in the millennium that kept visitors away. Several shops have closed down because fewer buying visitors came to Campden in 2007, one or two businesses have not re-opened since they were flooded, Christmas trade was relatively poor and, as I write in mid-April, shopkeepers say that an indifferent, cold spring has done nothing to kick-start the 2008 season. Several complain, in a resigned sort of way, that the cessation of coach trips to Campden is partly to blame, and so too is the cost of car parking in the centre. (Although this is actually cheaper than at many other Cotswold towns and there is free parking available, so visitors with cars should not be put off.) All of this is a great shame, for Campden is one of the most attractive small towns in the Cotswolds, its range of shops is as comprehensive as you are likely to find anywhere, and it has a long tradition of craftsmanship that simply does not exist to a similar extent elsewhere.


It is sometimes difficult to see beyond the town's old buildings, and to delve into a place that the average visitor meets only superficially, or takes for granted. I have written many times for Cotswold Life on the history of Chipping Campden and its architecture, and what the place has to offer the visitor. Each time I do so, a friend who lives in Campden calls to admonish me. He mentions, in a very nice way, that there is a layer of most towns that magazines like Cotswold Life fail to address. This is the strata of business people who provide services, commerce and trade that make the place tick along on a day-to-day basis. These are people who provide for the resident community, and who subtly underpin that great day out for the contemporary visitor.

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