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History of Kettle's Yard

Learn more about the house and collection

About Kettle’s Yard

Kettle’s Yard can be found in a quiet corner of Cambridge, overlooking St Peter’s Church. The house was the home of H.S (Jim) Ede and his wife Helen between 1957 and 1973.

In the 1920s and 30s Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. Thanks to his friendships with artists and other like-minded people, over the years he gathered a remarkable collection, including paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

In 1954 Jim Ede envisaged creating

…a living place where works of art could be enjoyed… where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.

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In 1956 Jim and Helen came to Cambridge in search of a ‘stately home’. What they found instead were four tumbledown cottages nestling beneath the ancient church of St Peter. With the help of architect Rowland de Winton Aldridge, Ede restored and substantially remodelled them.

At Kettle’s Yard Jim carefully positioned these artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a harmonic whole. His vision was of a place that should not be:

“an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.”

In 1966 they gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge. In 1970, three years before the Edes retired to Edinburgh, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added. The house is by and large as Jim and Helen left it. There are artworks in every corner, and there are no labels.

About Jim Ede

Harold Stanley [‘Jim’] Ede was born on 7 April 1895 near Cardiff. He attended the Leys School in Cambridge, studied painting at Newlyn Art School and, after service in the First World War, attended the Slade School of Art in London. Writing about the formation of Kettle’s Yard, Ede mentions that, although the early inspiration came from his meeting with Ben and Winifred Nicholson in 1924, his love for painting and his desire to become a painter started well before that.

Leaving the Slade after one year, Jim Ede worked in the photographic department of the National Gallery, London, while continuing to paint. He was then appointed Assistant at the Tate Gallery, London, a change he describes as ‘phenomenal’:

I gave up painting and became absorbed in the work of contemporary artists. I wrote a great deal about modern painting and sculpture, and came to know most of the leading artists of the day, and also the ones who were not yet known.

It was while at the Tate that he formed important friendships with Ben Nicholson, David Jones and other artists.

In 1935-36 Ede resigned from the Tate and built a house on the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco. During the war years Jim travelled to the USA, with Helen, on lecture tours, with funds raised being contributed to Allied War Relief. They lived in Morocco until 1952 when they moved to Les Charlottières, Chailles, near Amboise in the Loire Valley, France. The Edes moved to Cambridge in 1956 and renovated four derelict cottages to create Kettle’s Yard.

Jim and Helen Ede left for Edinburgh in 1973, where Helen died in 1977; Jim spending the last years of his life as a hospital visitor until his death in 1990.

About Helen Ede

Helen Ede was born Helene Schlapp on 9 January 1894 to Otto and Anna Schlapp. The family lived at 54a George Square in Edinburgh and Helen was the eldest of three children. They were an artistic and musical family. Encouraged by her mother, Helen played piano — she later bought her love of music to Kettle’s Yard. Helen attended Edinburgh College of Art from 1911, studying drawing, painting, sculpture and the history of art. It was there in 1913 that Helen first met Jim Ede.

Jim and Helen Ede were married on 6 January 1921 at Chelsea Register Office and lived first at 15 Denman Drive in North London. Their first daughter, Elisabeth, was born on 18 November 1921 and their second daughter, Mary, was born on 18 August 1924. In April 1925 they moved to a larger house on Elm Row in Hampstead, aided financially by Jim’s parents. There they kept an open house on Sunday afternoons and hosting diverse guests, among them artists, politicians and aristocrats.

Helen was a resourceful cook, operating within their often slender means and Jim’s particularly ascetic tastes. At Kettle’s Yard, Helen contributed not just food but also, significantly, music. She loved Schubert, Beethoven and J S Bach above all. Her Bechstein piano, located in the sitting area outside her bedroom, was used for performances at Kettle’s Yard before the purchase of the Steinway piano for the extension, and in the evenings Helen would select records to listen to with Jim.

A woman in a long white dress in a black and white photograph
Helen Ede on the terrace at Whitestone, late 1930s

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