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Leather panel
  • Leather panel
    Ashbee, Charles Robert, born 1863 - died 1942
  • Enlarge image

Leather panel

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)
    Mile End (made)

  • Date:

    1893-1894 (designed)
    1893-1894 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Ashbee, Charles Robert, born 1863 - died 1942 (designer)
    Hardiman, Bill (maker)
    Guild of Handicraft Ltd. (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Embossed, gilded leather

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Wates Ltd.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125, Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case WS

Object Type
Decorative leather panels were fashionable wall coverings in the 16th and 17th centuries, and were revived in the 1890s. Tooled leather was popular for small items such as boxes and dress accessories, as well as for larger objects such as trunks. Leather wall panels are the largest expression of the craft and were particularly popular in The Netherlands. They offered insulation and were seen as hygienic coverings for eating rooms, as well as being highly decorative. This fragment is part of a scheme that covered the wall of a staircase hall.

Materials & Making
The panels were embossed by hand and several pieces of leather were stitched together to form the wall covering. Originally these panels would have been in even deeper relief.

The panels are from a house designed by the architect and designer Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) for his mother and sisters in 1893. Bill Hardiman, a member of the Guild of Handicraft, made the panels. Ashbee had founded the Guild in 1888 to promote craft skills.

The house stood on the site of the Magpie and Stump Inn by the river Thames, a notorious Chelsea public house that dated back to at least the 16th century. The inn burned down in 1886, but Ashbee commemorated it by keeping the name for the new house, which was itself demolished in 1969.

Subjects Depicted
The panels depict magpies cavorting in branches of foliage, referring to the name of the house and its infamous forebear, the inn.

Physical description

Leather panel with embossed decoration of intertwining stems and seed heads

Place of Origin

London (designed)
Mile End (made)


1893-1894 (designed)
1893-1894 (made)


Ashbee, Charles Robert, born 1863 - died 1942 (designer)
Hardiman, Bill (maker)
Guild of Handicraft Ltd. (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Embossed, gilded leather


Height: 835 mm maximum, Width: 465 mm

Object history note

This panel was part of a set designed by CR Ashbee to decorate the walls of the staircase in the front hall of the Magpie and Stump, 37 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. The leather panels covered the back wall of the hall; the staircase ran up alongside this wall, under an arcade.

CR Ashbee's mother, Mrs Elizabeth Ashbee bought the freehold of 37 Cheyne Walk in 1893. Ashbee built the Magpie and Stump for her and her two younger daughters, Agnes and Elsa to live in. They moved there in Spring 1894. He also had an office in the house. It is named after a pub, the Magpie and Stump Inn, which had stood on the site since the sixteenth century; the last building having burnt down in 1886. Much of the interior decoration of the new house, including this panel, was made by the Guild of Handicraft to Ashbee's designs.

Ashbee's Magpie and Stump was demolished and the site redeveloped in 1966, at which time the V&A was invited to salvage decorative elements of the house, including this piece.

Historical significance: The Magpie and Stump panels were the Guild's most ambitious work in leather to date. Ashbee was attempting to revive traditional techniques, although the decoration is entirely contemporary, its swirling forms are close to the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau.
The panels are decorated with a pattern of intertwined briar-branches, interspersed with flower and seed heads and birds. Above the larger panels was a freize with Tudor rose and wheel of fortune motifs.

Historical context note

Ashbee founded the Guild and School of Handicraft in 1888. Originally based in Whitechapel, East London, occupying Essex House in Mile End from 1891, the Guild was founded in line with the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement. Based on the model of the medieval workshop, the Guild was meant to be a co-operative environment with menbers expected to take part in extra-curricular social and leisure activities - river trips, plays and sports.
The Guild produced leather, furniture,interior design, metalwork , jewellery and books, with much of the work based on Ashbee's designs. Revival of traditional techniques, education of working people and encouraging satisfaction through labour are key Arts and Crafts features of the Guild's work .

The move to Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire in 1902 was one of the most radical aspects of the Guild's existence, with 150 people, the Guildsmen and their families moving from the East End to the Cotswolds. Ashbee believed that living a simple, collective life in rural surroundings would add to the health and well-being of the craftsmen and consequently the work they produced.

Although the work of the Guild was widely exhibited, increasing financial difficulties from 1905 eventually resulted in the voluntary liquidation of the Guild in 1908.

Decorative leather panels were fashionable wall coverings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and were revived in the 1890s. They were embossed by hand and several pieces of leather were stitched together to form the wall covering. Ashbee had become interested in leather in about 1890, using tools imported from Germany where, he believed, the best leather was being produced at the time. Embossing involves pressing a pattern onto the surface of the leather, resulting in a three-dimensional effect. Due to their age, these panels are now considerably flatter than they were intended to be.

Descriptive line

Leather panels from the staircase at the Magpie and Stump

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

"The New "Magpie and Stump" - a successful experiment in domestic architectture" in THE STUDIO, number V, 1895, pp.67-74.
Alan Crawford: 'Changes on Cheyne Walk' in ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW, number 1039, September 1983, pp.77-80




Embossed; Gilding



Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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