Great Bardfield is a village seven miles north west of Braintree. At one time it was a small town and the Town Hall, built in 1859, is in the centre of the village, together with the village Cage. This is a 19th century lock-up, where petty criminals and drunks were kept until they could appear before the magistrate. The thatched Cottage Museum in the High Street, dates from the 16th century and features displays of rural life and village crafts.
The village came to be known as the artists' village in the 1950s, due to the number of notable artists who lived there. In 1951, to support the Festival of Britain, several Essex villages, including Great Bardfield, organised a village festival. The idea of holding summer art exhibitions evolved. Edward Bowden (1903-1989) lived in Great Bardfield from the 1930s until 1970 in the 'Brick House'. He was an important member of "Great Bardfield Artists", a group of artists, diverse in style, who not only shared a love of figurative art, but also living in Great Bardfield.
In the 1950s, they organised a series of large "open house" exhibitions. The novelty of seeing works of art in the artists'own homes, attracted thousands of visitors to this remote village during the summer exhibitions held in 1954, 1955 and 1958. In 1958, 9,000 visitors passed through 'Brick House'. In all, nine artists displayed their work in seven houses.
Michael Rothenstein lived in Ethel House, High Street and built the studio next to the house. Marianne Straub lived in Trinity Cottage, High Street, from 1950 until the late 1960s. John Aldridge lived in Place House, which dates from 1564. Eric Ravilious lived in Great Bardfield, but was killed in a flying accident in 1942, whilst acting as a war artist. He was a close friend of Edward Bowden, both of them having been taught by Paul Nash.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin is mainly 14th century and has a notable stone screen across the chancel arch. To the east of Great Bardfield is a brick tower windmill, Gibraltar Mill, which was built in 1661. Its graceful white sails are prominent from many parts of the village. It is now part of a private house.
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