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Court Farm, Broadway, Cotswolds
Tuesday, November 19th 2013

Artists and Americans in Broadway

Jane Bingham takes a tour of the ‘other Broadway’ and learns about artistic fun and games in the 1880s.

Mary Anderson, Broadway, Cotswolds

On a golden day in August we gathered at the top of Broadway hill for a tour of artists’ homes. Our guide was Jeremy Houghton, whose family has lived in the village for three generations. His grandfather arrived as a ‘boy doctor’ and stayed on all his life, becoming Broadway’s unofficial historian. Now Jeremy – a professional artist – has inherited his grandfather’s notes and photos along with a passion for Broadway (the Cotswold one, of course!).

The salon under the hill

Our tour began with the buildings that make up Court Farm. From the street, they look like a pair of handsome cottages but when seen from the rear they form a single, sprawling home, linked by a glorious Arts and Crafts garden.

Back in the 1890s, Court Farm was owned by the American actress, Mary Anderson. She was the first American to act at nearby Stratford-upon-Avon, and with her husband she created an artistic, musical and literary salon under the shadow of Broadway Hill. The names in their visitors’ book include such luminaries as Edward Elgar, George Bernard Shaw, James Barrie, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and Victor Hugo.

A colony of artists

Frank Millet, Broadway, Cotswolds

The most frequent visitors at Court Farm were the members of the ‘American colony’, a group of artists who settled in Broadway in the 1880s, under the leadership of Francis Millet. They had been introduced to the village by another artist - William Morris, who was staying at Broadway Tower (but that’s another story) - and they fell in love with its ruined splendour. At that time, Broadway had lost its role as an 18th-century service station’ (Jeremy’s phrase) and many of its fine homes and coaching inns were lying empty. Millet saw his chance to set up a studio in the ruined Abbots’ Grange, at the base of the village, close to the elegant Farnham House, which he made his home.

The colony attracted some outstanding artists and writers: Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Singer Sargent all came to stay and work. In the gardens of Farnham House, Sargent worked on his famous painting – Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose – adding a few brushstrokes at dusk each evening, when the light was a particular shade of violet.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-6, John Singer Sargent (1856‑1925)
©Tate, London 2013.

“The Americans is out again”

For a few golden years, a grand time was had by all, as artists, writers and visitors packed into Farnham House, sometimes spilling over into the Lygon Arms. This Bohemian crowd spent their days in painting, writing and conversation, and paid frequent visits to Mary Anderson’s house at the top of the hill.  One account, by the writer Edmund Gosse, describes great larks as a young artist in fancy dress was chased up the village street, while the locals looked on impassively. “Whatever we do or say or wear or sing,” Gosse concluded, “they only say,‘The Americans is out again’.”

Francis Millet was to lose his live in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Only his engraved wristwatch could identify him and allow him a final burying place in his home town of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

All this was recreated by Jeremy, who also pointed out the summer home of artist Lawrence Alma Tadema and the bindery where Kathleen Adams (a friend and student of William Morris) produced her famous book-bindings.For a couple of hours, the tourist shops melted away and we were back in the artists’ paradise that was old Broadway.

Jeremy Houghton’s website:

Pictures of Mary Anderson and Frank Millet by kind permission of Nick Daniel-Jones who publishes the book Broadway Pictorial. Click to read more

Article by Jane Bingham. Jane Bingham is the author of The Cotswolds: A Cultural History (Signal Books and Oxford University Press, 2009 - purchase on or or purchase from Cotswold Walks). A prolific writer of history books for young people, she also writes on English heritage in the national and local press. Jane gives tours and talks on the Cotswolds and has served twice as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Oxford Brookes University.

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