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