Son of a rich businessman, Ashbee went to Cambridge, where he came under the influence of Edward Carpenter. He then went to Toynbee Hall, a philanthropic mission in the East End of London, where he set up the School and Guild of Handicraft in 1888. The Guild made woodwork, leatherwork, metalwork and jewellery, showing at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society from 1889. In 1898 the Guild executed the furniture for Baillie Scott’s schemes for the Darmstadt Palace of the Grand Duke of Hesse. The Guild’s work was shown at the 1900 Vienna Secession Exhibition. In 1901 Ashbee moved to Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, taking some 150 people – Guildsmen and their families – with him. The Guild’s finances were overstretched and the venture failed in 1907. Ashbee had made contact with Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited America in 1896, and kept up with him later. He also admired the architecture of the brothers Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene.