F.L. Griggs (1876-1938) – Visions of England

Publication: Broadway Newsletter Issue 60 May/June 2016

F.L. Griggs is best remembered in Broadway as the designer of the War Memorial near the green, but that is only part of his story. Grigg’s contemporary reputation as an etcher was unsurpassed as acknowledged by his election to the Royal Academy in 1931. Demonstrating an equal mastery of meticulous architectural details and poetic effects of light and atmosphere, he created images of compelling visionary intensity. These were so accomplished that one devotee wrote to him assuming his etching of Sarras – the home of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend – depicted an actual geographical feature.

The son of a Hitchin baker, Griggs trained as an architect. He moved permanently to Chipping Campden in 1905, renting Dover’s House for 20 years before designing and constructing his final home, New Dover’s House, which almost bankrupted him and remained unfinished at his death. Griggs collaborated with the renowned Arts & Crafts architect and designer, Ernest Gimson, on various projects, including the Broadway War Memorial. In 1929, he founded the Campden Trust together with Gimson’s pupil Norman Jewson, the preserver of Owlpen Manor.

Griggs had a deep seated love of the countryside and medieval architecture and increasingly lamented England’s lost identity as a result of the Reformation of the 16th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and the modern dissolution of community, accelerated by the horrors of the First World War. Writing to his friend, the poet Russell Alexander, on 20 September 1911, he proclaimed “Damn everything and especially change”.

Yet his work offered refuge, resisting change by reforming the past through imagination and memory. Through the V&A’s 1926 Palmer exhibition, Griggs was instrumental in introducing Samuel Palmer to a new generation of artists, among them Graham Sutherland, whom Griggs instructed in print-making.

The Ashmolean Museum’s collection of Griggs’s work is unrivalled and includes volumes of Highways and Byways, etchings (over one third of the 57 he produced), fascinating preparatory drawings and superb watercolours.