October 12, 2008

Working Back in Time

Stepping across the threshold into David Hart's silversmith's workshop is a truly remarkable experience.

This is the evocative start to a foreword by the Earl of Harrowby to a new book The Harts of Chipping Campden.

The work, penned by Richard Russell, charts a centenary of craftsmanship by four generations with love and awe.

The Earl, who first visited the family's bustling base, says entering the Old Silk Mill, in Sheep Street, today is 'akin to taking a step back a hundred years to 1908 when David's grandfather, George Hart, set up his silversmiths' business'.

"The building had earlier been leased for his Guild of Handicraft Limited by C R Ashbee, a leading light in a small cultural and social revolution which was to grow, with the vision of other like- minded inspirational figures and form part of what is known throughout the world as the Arts and Crafts Movement.

"The family business has occupied the same premises since 1908 and I do not believe that the workshop has changed at all since then, except that the piles of paper are deeper, and a few concessions to 21st century health and safety regulations are fixed to the walls."

Richard Russell take the reader on a journey of a family 'making lovely things in silver and gold.'

And it all might never have happened.

He says: "It was a stroke of luck that George Hart was spotted as a teenager by one of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement.

"This led to his training by the Guild of Handicraft and then his being part of the move from London's East End to Chipping Campden.

"While most of the craftsmen returned to London after only six years, there were a few survivors; but none of these ultimately had the vigour nor the staying power of the Harts.

"There can be only a few families who have lived continuously in Chipping Campden for over a hundred years and I wonder whether any of these have contributed so much to the life of the town as have the Harts."

Russell traces the Hart dynasty from young George's first metal piece, a brass dish made in 1899, to the influence of Ashbee and The Guild.

Earnest workers, sleeves rolled up and aprons on, stare out of sepia shots.

The story follows the workshop's development under George and stepbrother Reynell Huyshe, its takeover by George's son Henry and then by David.

David, son William, nephew Julian and his partner Caroline Richardson, with fellow silversmith Derek Elliott, now continue the legacy.

They continue to hand-make commissioned, one-off stunning pieces from spoons to altar sets, in sleek, shining, sinuous shapes.

They can be found in private and public collections all around the world, including abbeys, cathedrals, livery companies and museums.

Richard Russell's work is published by Loose Chippings Books. You can see Bib & Tucker pictures from the launch and exhibition at Chipping Campden Town Hall on p23.

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