Frederick Etchells and West Challow’s Link to British Modernism/Cubism

Jim Trotter writes: Hello – firstly I must give all credit to Caroline (Ball) at Challow Mead for lighting this fuse. Caroline’s asked me if I knew anything about the history of The Thatched Cottage. Being interested in architectural history I know the basics about it’s likely time of construction, but frankly nothing about it’s history beyond that. Caroline sent me some information which subsequently set me running on the matter of two notable village residents: Frederick Etchells and his wife Margaret Hester (nee Sainsbury) – who were connected to the Bloomsbury Group through Etchell’s friendship with Roger Fry. It is not entirely clear if he was a member or not, but he certainly contributed to the Omega Workshops which was a design enterprise founded by members of the Bloomsbury Group. Etchells, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1886, moving to London to attend the Royal College of Art. He was a notable painter, architect and translator of Le Corbusier and mentor to Sir John Betjeman who opened our village hall in 1951. Frederick and Hester wanted a weekend retreat in the countryside and moved to West Challow in the 1930’s buying Challow Mead, then known as Holme Lea. The second world war broke out and Etchells, by then, had given up painting dedicating his time to his (mainly) London architectural profession. The war essentially left Etchells broke and after restoring Holme Lea, (which they then sold to Mollie Fletcher and her husband in 1943), they bought a ‘cottage’ for £37 over the little stream – saving it from being condemned. This cottage, then nameless, was The Thatched Cottage. Etchells was one of the founders of British Cubism – a group known as the Vorticists. He spent time with Picasso, Modigliani and Bracque and some of his art is in Tate Modern. He and Betjeman saved Letcombe Bassett from being destroyed. He lived at The Thatched Cottage from 1944 until at least 1967 when Hester died. He really was quite a man. Who said West Challow wasn’t interesting!