Chipping Camden still has the tell tale signs of a market town, the significant one being the Market Hall in the centre which was built in 1647 by Sir Baptist Hicks to provide shelter for traders & craftsmen. Like many Cotswold towns, it has become a desirable destination for day trippers and a hub for locals. However, the craftsmen here are still alive and well, doing extraordinary things. I saw this first-hand when my mother (Liz Elliot) told me about Hart Silver Smith in Chipping Camden. Their studio is in an old silk mill in Sheep Street, up some winding stairs. As you walk up, there is nothing that will prepare you for what you will see when you reach your destination, although I was somewhat dismayed on my arrival. On the first floor, I come to a bright little showroom glistening with silver goods, necklaces, bracelets and a few necklaces - all smartly on show. I thought to myself, Liz probably thought I was in need of a little gift; Harts might not be for Tat but very good for me. That was until I saw a little sign with thick black handwritten writing saying 'HART SILVERSMITH, Next Left', So as I rocked around the corner, I saw the next sign 'Hart's Craftsmen In Hand-Made Silver Visitors Welcome'. So I, as a visitor, popped my head in. I don't want to gawp, but this small team of craftsmen are no strangers to the gawping folk. In my defence, it's hard not to gawp; the workshop is extraordinary. One of those places where a person like me, who laments the passing of time and feels a certain queasiness at just the idea of a robot, can feel at home.
I was not the only Londoner who was made to feel at home in this wood-panelled room; C.R. Ashbee, who started the Guild in 1888, was looking to relocate from their London workshop. As a man who enjoyed country pursuits, he decided to move the workshop lock stock and barrel from London to Chipping Camden in May 1902. He believed the move meant that his employees could delight in the countryside and hoped it would influence their designs.
The Chipping Camden vicar had a boys club where he put on a show of their craft work. Mr Ashbee saw the work of George Hart and invited him to join his Guild. In 1908 Mr Ashbee went into voluntary liquidation. And George Hart took over the workshop. It is George's grandson David who runs the business today, alongside the fourth generation; his son William and nephew Julian, to whom David has passed down his skills in the true tradition of the Guild. I overheard David saying to some visitors, 'If you don't get the knack of the hammer in the first month, you're a goner' thankfully, all the family seem to have the nack (and then some). Also working with the Harts is Derek Elliott, who was 19 when he started in 1987 as David's apprentice; he 'finish school on Friday & started on Monday'.
They are an extraordinary team of people whose work is kept going by commissions from people who don't want mass-produced pieces, who are looking to make the heirlooms of the future and who appreciate the craftsmanship and history of Hart Silversmiths.
THE GUILD OF HANDICRAFT