On Saturday, 16th October 2021, a blue plaque was unveiled at 38-42 College Green, to celebrate the life of Crofton Gane, 1878-1967, whose business stood on the site of the present building.
The plaque is in the very heart of Bristol. This is very appropriate, as not only does the location have a direct link with Crofton Gane, it symbolises how much he was at the heart of the city’s life.
Now a student accommodation building, 38-42 College Green is built on the site of the showroom of P. E. Gane, furniture manufacturers and retailers, which was destroyed in the Blitz.
Crofton Gane was a leading citizen in a number of respects. He joined the family furniture firm in 1896 and after serving in the Friends’ Ambulance Division in the First World War, for which he received the Croix de Guerre, he returned to Bristol and became passionate about Modernist design, becoming a patron of the movement’s architects and designers.
In 1947 he was part of a group of five prominent Bristol citizens who visited Hannover to deliver shoes to the children in the very bad winter of that year. They were unable to go to school because they had no footwear. From this grew the formal Bristol-Hannover twinning that continues and thrives to the present day. It was one of the very first city twinnings.
Crofton Gane was a Quaker, a very important influence on his life, governing much of his activities. As well as his achievements in business and design, he was also a co-founder in the rebirth of the Bristol Folk House and established and endowed the Gane Trust to promote design, craftsmanship and social welfare.
Crofton Gane’s granddaughter Penny Gane, unveiled the plaque. Before the unveiling cord was pulled, we heard about Gane’s role in the re-founding of the Folk House and the 1947 visit to Hannover.
This was followed by Chris Yeo the former curator of the Ken Stradling Collection and one of the experts from the ‘Antiques Roadshow’, who described how Gane’s relationship with the famous modernist architect Marcel Breuer put Bristol on the ‘design map’. He explained how Breuer, a member of the Bauhaus group, left Germany with the rise of the Nazis and that Gane employed him as a consultant designer.
While in Bristol Breuer designed a temporary pavilion in Ashton Court Park for Crofton Gane to display Gane furniture. Chris Yeo noted how in later life Breuer had remarked that the Gane pavilion was one of his two favourite commissions, the other being the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Finally, before carrying out the unveiling, Penny Gane gave us an insight into the man himself, growing up with him and living in a house full of modernist furniture.
After the unveiling we enjoyed refreshments in the students’ common room courtesy of the Gane Trust and the building’s owners Hello Student.
Many thanks must go to Byron Thomas, the Chair of the Gane Trust, for proposing the plaque and to Rosemary Silvester for her support. Also many thanks to the building owner, Hello Student, particularly Ste Harris and Sian Torres, as well as the Gane Trust for their funding.
In the pantheon of Bristol Civic Society blue plaques, it is fair to say that this is in the most prominent location, with the highest footfall and will probably be the most seen.