Portrait by William Strang, 1903
Our family has roots in both the South Lake District and the North Cotswolds, so I am always delighted when I find links between these two beautiful parts of the country.
One strong connection is the Arts and Crafts movement and, within that, a true craftsman, Alec Miller. At the age of 23, he joined CR Ashbee’s experiment of the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Campden in 1902 – already a trained and working sculptor. When the Guild folded in 1908, Miller stayed on in Campden and formed a partnership with his younger brother, Fred, and a fellow carver, Will Hart, calling themselves: “Messrs. Miller & Hart, Architectural Sculptors and Carvers” at “The Studio, Campden, Glos.”
Around 1910, Alec was commissioned to do the woodcarving at the Parish Church of St Mary & St Michael, Great Urswick, just south of Ulverston. The work is fairly unusual because it is the work of one man and includes the rood screen, the choir stalls, the pews and statues of St James and St John. The wood carving here is delicate and approachable; it has a warmth and vitality which makes you like Miller very much. (South of Ulverston on the A590, past Swarthmoor, left turn to Great Urswick. About 25 minutes drive from Sykehouse Cottage.)
He was also responsible for the decoration in the Coronation Hall, Ulverston, some 3 miles away. The building is a traditional proscenium arched theatre built between 1911 and 1918 to commemorate the Coronation of King George V. Miller designed the extraordinary ornate plasterwork, foliage and putti, with a “Britannia and the Empire” allegorical frieze. All of this was originally cast in cement, then hand finished with carving by Alec Miller. (About 20 minutes drive from Sykehouse Cottage.)
In addition, Alec Miller also carved several war memorials in the South Lakes area: at Dalton-in-Furness – with a carved flame on the top, found opposite the Town Hall; at Millom – a very tall war memorial the central feature of which is a statue of St Michael overcoming a dragon; at Seascale – in front of St Cuthbert’s Church, a Celtic cross in red sandstone carved with vine tendrils and traditional Celtic patterns; finally, further North, at St. Bees – a large St George and the Dragon war memorial with curving side panels.
In Jane Wilgress’s biography of her father she writes ‘in the years of the first World War, … The Ulverston work must have kept the wolf from the door in these difficult years for the arts.’
My thanks goes to Carol Jackson of CADHAS for the detailed information. Further information can be found on their website: chippingcampdenhistory.org.uk