Sad news that Graham Caine of Street Farm and the Bristol Gnomes died on 19th September. As well as being the Street Farmer who designed and lived in the first ecological house, Graham was responsible for distinctive Bristolian ‘Gnomework’ such as St Werburghs City Farm Café and the ‘Gnome House’ in Boiling Wells.

Graham was a great representative of the 1968 generation and spoke passionately of how the events in Paris 1968 inspired him in England. Meeting fellow Street Farmers Peter Crump and Bruce Haggart at the Architectural Association, Graham contributed to many happenings organised to promote what the anarchist collective termed ‘revolutionary urbanism’ during the early 1970s.

Graham’s design of an ‘ecological house’ was central to his ideas about revolutionary urbanism, creating community-based architecture with low-capital input and seeking to create structures free from dependence upon private or state provision. This was extremely pioneering and an early instance of what became popularised as autonomous architecture, incorporating micro-generation, methane digesters, food production and rainwater harvesting. As far as I have been able to tell, it was the first intentionally constructed ecological house, made from recycled and ‘salvaged materials’ and exploiting renewable energy. The creation was also a testament to Graham’s ability to obliterate the boundaries between work and play. It was at once a sophisticated achievement in den-building and a meticulously monitored project in which he collected data and learned from a unique experiment in off-grid living. There are rumours that the Victoria and Albert Museum are currently interested in Graham’s work.

Also in the early 1970s, Graham and a small group of like-minded comrades took off in a van and headed south to support the Portuguese revolution. They joined the jubilant demonstrations in the streets before getting stuck into their main purpose which was to meet requests to help set up solar power installations.

Graham established the Bristol Gnomes when he moved to Bristol in the 1980s. Inspired by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí and wielding a chainsaw, he set about creating charming and quirky gnomework structures and interiors in Bristol and in several other locations in the West Country. Most famously the St Werburghs City Farm Café was constructed in 1985 and opened with a launch party featuring Wild Willy Barrett and other musicians playing on a variety of ‘gnomemade’ wooden instruments.

Graham Caine’s funeral took place at Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton on Friday 12th October; a sad yet hugely celebratory event. Family and friends, including street farmers and a full donsy of Bristol Gnomes, came together with love and respect to make tributes and see him off on his final journey. He left us in a suitably eco-friendly wicker coffin, to a mighty blast of techno.

Salud comrade.

See Peter Crump’s talk on Street Farm for Bristol Radical History Group: https://www.brh.org.uk/site/contributors/peter-crump/

 

Graham Caine in the 1970s

8 Comments

  1. It is with sadness that I found out about the departure of Graham today
    I first met Graham in 1971 in Kentish Town.
    Together with Peter Crump they gave a group of people who were/able to give a lead to others who have the capability of helping to sustain our planet in a sensable way.

  2. Oh what sadness – I knew him as Woody out when he was living in Jimera de Lebar – we spent many hours drinking cocktails (sometimes on the rooftop – always a bit scary clambering back down) blasting out music, watching films into the small hours and talking about his work and his art – which were intertwined. I have a few of his Galactic Garden paintings – chosen from an amazing catalogue of work. I brought back the album he worked on with Wild Willy – and have passed this news on to him via a friend in case he hadn’t heard.
    He taught me so much about living and I always said to him he was the generation my parents warned me about – and I was so, so pleased to have known him. I will make a cocktail in his memory and raise my glass high to him.

      • if it is who I think he was my nephew with whom I had a strong relationship but even more so with his brother who was 6 years younger than me. His father was my brother and his mother was the lovliest person who had a lot to do with my upbringing.

  3. he lived in a prefab building at Milton Kenes and built a self suffient natural habitat next to it. as a boy he lived at Debden and I would stay there with the family although his father my brother was in the airforce at the time so was not often there.

  4. Thanks for posting this about my lovely and amazing dad. He is greatly missed and fondly remembered here by family and friends.
    The V&A are showing some small pieces of his work as part of their Food exhibition currently, fabulous (and funny) to see it there! Back into the belly of the beast.
    Ideas that are now ever more relevant 45 years later!

    Moira – I remember him saying what good fun he had with you, I can just picture him now on his terrace in Jimera, sipping (or rather more like glugging) his Spanish brandy, listening to music and admiring the spectacular mountains. He loved it.

    Eleanor – you must be Frank’s sister? I used to have great fun with Frank and Doris (Who I called ‘Dolly Grandma’) when Graham and I would visit – lots of card tricks and swing-ball I seem to remember!

  5. I’ve just discovered Graham has gone, just this minute, and it proves time moves relentlessly and unforgivingly onwards. We were friends at the AA in 1971/2/3 where Street Farm rung loud bells and other related avenues beckoned to wild and open minds. Nothing was impossible. A handful of us, probably four including Graham, once spent a long weekend in the depths of Norfolk bathed in the guru-like reasoning, intense humanity and intellectually liberating leadership of the great Keith Critchlow, from which we emerged with a wholly new vision of our tasks ahead. Extinction Rebellion would have been proud (Btw thanks Doug Francisco for all the redness, Graham would have loved it :)… Graham single-mindedly built his autonomous house in Eltham on only a two year planning consent then demolition. If only they knew then, even if it was a bit weak on methane production, how foresighted it was, and how nearly 50 years later, how relevant it would become. The first self sufficient autonomous house in the world as far as I know. I was, amongst others, invited rather spontaneously to speak to the city planners in Philadelphia some years ago and contribute ideas on improvements to the city. I thought of Graham. Take back the streets I said. Give them back to the people. Grow stuff. Yeahhh. Make them think. Bye Graham, have a good trip…

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