History & Culture

2021 is the centenary of Michael Ayrton, a famous neo-romantic artist, sculptor and writer who lived at Bradfields (now adjoined by Toppesfield Vineyard) between 1951 and 1975. Ayrton’s work became characterised by a fascination for Greek myths, notably those of the Minotaur, Daedulus and Icarus. This was reflected in his series of powerful Minotaur and maze sculptures, drawings and etchings, with which the artist closely identified himself. Ayrton explored the rage, frustration and despair of the Minotaur creature, half-man and half-beast, trapped in its double identity and imprisoned in the darkness of the labyrinth. 

The photographs below show one of his biggest personal triumphs, the Arkville Minotaur, which was sculpted in the Tudor barn at Bradfields. The Minotaur is now situated in London Wall Place, in the heart of the City of London.

While we would have loved to bring the Minotaur back to his birthplace at Bradfields, the price was prohibitive so we commissioned a local company to photograph him ‘in the raw’ and to transpose this image onto a contemporary acrylic display which now has pride of place in our luxury guest accommodation.

We worked closely with the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden and with Justine Hopkins, Ayrton’s step granddaughter and biographer, to compile an extensive photographic collection of Ayrton works which are on display in the original Tudor barn that was Michael Ayrton’s studio. 

To celebrate Michael Ayrton’s centenary in 2021, Justine will be publishing a new book entitled Michael Ayrton Centenary: Ideas, Images, Reflections and launching a new website: michaelayrton.com.  The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden is working closely with Justine to curate and host an exhibition entitled ‘A Singular Obsession’ which will bring together an unprecedented loan from the Ayrton Estate of 12 bronze sculptures and paintings, some of which have not been displayed since his death. The exhibition opens on 29th May, subject to Government guidelines.

Bradfields is a truly unique and inspirational location; the house was built in the late 1300s and has been home to many creative residents over the years. Every generation brings something new.  Justine Hopkins told us that Michael Ayrton was a bon-viveur and always had a very well stocked wine cellar: she believes he would have been delighted that our contribution to the history of Bradfields was the creation of an award-winning vineyard. The latest addition of luxury self-catering accommodation enables guests to combine the peace and tranquillity of staying on a boutique vineyard with 10 minutes’ drive to the beautiful villages of Finchingfield and Castle Hedingham, 30 minutes to Saffron Walden and just over an hour’s drive to North London.  For those who love to paint, Toppesfield vineyard offers the ideal location to cut off from the world, drink delicious wine and create new masterpieces.