Bromsgrove Guild

Above: “In 1905 the Guild was commissioned to work on Aston Webb’s project to provide railings and gates enclosing Buckingham Palace. The Guild’s employees designed and made the gates and the Queen Victoria Memorial. The project was completed in 1908.”


“Other names: Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts in 1898, Bromsgrove Guild Limited (registered as a limited company on June 1922)
Foundation date: 26 November 1898
Dissolution date: 1966

Function: Designers, manufacturers

Policy: Walter Gilbert described the aims of the Guild in ‘The Craftsman’ magazine (1903): ‘The members of the Guild are individuals who have advanced beyond the limits of ‘professionalism’, that they might adopt the more prolific method of thinking and working in their media. These men and women, while they stand pledged to co-operation and mutual support, have individual studios and workshops altogether independent. Each department is financed and controlled separately by the guildsmen of the same department who train their apprentices: choosing and employing only those who are capable of developing the main idea of the master craftsman.’

History or description: The Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts was founded on the 26 November 1898. It grew out of the Bromsgrove School of Art which moved to new premises in 1895. In February 1898 Walter Henry Gilbert was appointed Headmaster. The School’s Committee hoped that Gilbert’s expertise in metal work would attract students to the school. They also wanted a ‘guild of technical art’ that would ‘develop into a significant commercial enterprise, where skilled craftsmen could find well paid work’. It is unclear whether the idea to found a Guild came from Gilbert, or was already in the minds of the Committee.

Work on the Guild began in November 1898, and in 1899 a cottage and land was purchased in Station Street. Gilbert also negotiated with the art school to use some of their rooms in the Crescent. The Guild was established through a formal partnership between Gilbert, William Whitehouse (a local landowner) and the firm Crouch and Butler (Birmingham-based architects). The Guild premises were built in 1899 by John Bowen ‘to plans drawn up by Crouch and Butler’.

In the early years of the Guild its members worked from individual workshops and studios in Bromsgrove, Birmingham, London, etc. Walter Gilbert organised the work from the central premises in Station Street, Bromsgrove, which was the location of the main metalwork department.

Richard Tapp ran the woodshop that produced furniture and later became the woodcarving shop. This was located at Moat Mill, Bromsgrove. In 1901 the guild bought equipment for jewellery making and rented an enamelling shop in Bromsgrove where gem and fine metal work was produced. The Guild also set up a plaster workshop in Puddle Wharf, Stoke Heath, which was run by Henry Ludlow.

George Percy Bankart joined the business in partnership with Henry Ludlow in 1899. In 1903 the plaster workshop was expanded and an associated lead workshop was established. The lead shop was initially based in rooms rented from the Bromsgrove School of Art and then later moved to Station Street. At this time the Guild bought the shop from Ludlow and Bankart. The Guild participated in the 1900 Paris Exposition and was awarded nine medals.

In 1901 the metal workshop was expanded. By 1902 representatives of the Guild were based in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Newcastle and the West Country. They also frequently exhibited their members’ works in Liverpool, Leeds, Bolton, Bristol and London at the 1903 Arts and Craft Exhibition Society exhibition in London.

In 1905 the Guild was commissioned to work on Aston Webb’s project to provide railings and gates enclosing Buckingham Palace. The Guild’s employees designed and made the gates and the Queen Victoria Memorial. The project was completed in 1908.

By 1905 the satellite workshops in Birmingham were supplying stained glass, leaded glass, embroidery, cartoons and painted designs. All other work, including mosaic and furniture making, was being completed in Bromsgrove. A year later Archibald John Davies established a glass workshop in Bromsgrove.

The Guild executed numerous medallic works in the early 1900s although only one medal was cast, the rest being struck. In 1907 Ernest Cowper set up the Guild’s new foundry in Station Street. Walter Gilbert and Louis Weingartner produced the Guild’s garden statuary commissions from the workshop in Weaman Street, Birmingham, from c. 1913 onwards.

In December 1921 it was resolved that the company would reform as a limited company and this was registered in June 1922.

During the 1920s the metalwork department was producing decorative pieces in a wide variety of materials (bronze, iron and lead) as well as name plates and memorial tablets. The Guild also offered modelling, carving and woodwork, stained glass, and mural decoration. It opened branches in Belfast and New York. Towards the end of the decade the firm became involved in the production of standardized goods including: signs, gates, rails, casements, canopies, memorial plaques, ecclesiastical objects, sundials, pendant light fittings, etc.

The Guild’s fortunes were adversely effected by depression during the 1930s. In its final twenty years (c. 1946-1966) the company was managed by George Whewell. By this stage the firm had lost much of its specialist expertise leading Whewell to sub-contract many of the Guild’s post-war commissions. As a result the size of the workforce steadily declined until there was only a skeleton staff.”

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