Broadway Tower in Worcestershire is one of the most beautiful follies in the country. A six-sided tower designed by James Wyatt at the end of the 18th century, it later became the holiday home for the Pre-Raphaelites and their families.
Cormell Price and the Pre-Raphaelites
In 1863 a lease was taken at Broadway Tower by a public school teacher named Cormell Price. He was known to his friends as Crom Price, the ‘Knight of Broadway Tower’. These friends included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, who came to stay at the tower for their holidays.
These friends were part of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of poets, painters, illustrators and designers. In the mid 19th century, the accepted consensus in Britain heralded Raphael and the Renaissance masters as the pinnacle of mankind’s artistic output. But the pre-raphaelites preferred the world pre-Raphael, before Raphael and Titian, before perspective, symmetry, proportion and carefully controlled chiaroscuro exploded in the glories of the 16th century.
“Mean, Odious, Repulsive and Revolting”
The Pre-Raphaelites jumped back in time to the quattrocento (the collective term for the cultural and artistic events of Italy during the period 1400 to 1499), creating art which was more attuned to the medieval world with flattened stained glass perspective, sharp outlines, bright colours and close attention to detail, where Arthurian knights and Biblical angels blurred what was myth or legend.
This wasn’t always received well. Charles Dickens described the movement as “the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive and revolting”.
Whilst Edward Burne Jones and Gabriel Rossetti drove the cause in the realm of art, William Morris took the helm in his designs of furniture and architecture in a movement called the Arts and Crafts. Morris was disgusted by the industrialism and mass production of the Victorian age.
Like John Ruskin, he believed industrialisation created alienation and division, and would eventually be the ruin of art and culture, and eventually, the destruction of civilisation.
Morris became a successful furniture and textile designer, and important political activist in the early days of the British Socialist League. His motto was ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ His pieces triumphed the natural, domestic, traditional sometimes ancient methods of the craftsman over the impersonal, dehumanising efficiency of the factory.
The Artists at Broadway
There could not have been a better place for these friends to gather than Crom’s Tower at Broadway. You can almost see one of Rossetti’s Raven haired muses looking down from the Juliet balcony, or Wyatts gothic gestures of castellations and arrow slit windows featuring as the setting of Burne-Jone’s Arthurian knights.
For William Morris, Broadway Tower was a heavenly retreat where he delighted in a simple way of life surrounded by English countryside. His time spent here inspired him to establish the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877.
He wrote on 4 September 1876 “I am at Crom Price’s tower among the winds and the clouds: Ned [Edward Burne-Jones] and the children are here and all are much amused”.
His daughter, May Morris, later wrote about staying at Broadway Tower with her father:
“We went by road into the Cotswold country to make out first visit to what was known as “Crom’s Tower” a squat thing with turrets that Cormell Price rented – somebody’s folly of past times – which overlooked a glorious view of many counties. …It was the inconvenient and most delightful place ever seen – to simple folk like ourselves who could do without almost everything with great cheerfulness: though on looking back it seems to me that my dear mother was rather heroic on these occasions – quietly forgoing the many little comforts that a delicate lady needs.”
“The Men Had To Bathe On The Roof”
Whilst the Tower certainly inspired Morris’ love for the English countryside, it came with it’s own charming impracticalities:
“I remember father telling us that we could see four battlefields from the hill, Evesham, Worcester, Tewkesbury and Edgehill. That touched his imagination very much, and looking back I can see his keen eye sweeping the serene stretch of country and doubtless calling up visions out of the disturbed past. The Tower itself was certainly absurd: the men had to bathe on the roof – when the wind didn’t blow thee soap away and there was water enough. The way supplies reached us I don’t quite know; but how the clean aromatic wind blew the aches out of tired bodies, and how good it all was!”