The last decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a proliferation of organisations concerned with protecting various aspects of the environment such as open spaces, historic buildings, and scenic countryside. The Commons Preservation Society, the Kyrle Society, the Lake District Defence Society, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, were just a few of the groups that were spawned within a few years of each other.
In parallel with this concern for the external environment was an increasing awareness that traditional skills and ways of life were being swept aside by the same forces that brought the above organisations into being. As was the norm in Victorian society, socially-minded individuals banded themselves into groups to counter the pernicious effects of modern developments. Groups such as the Guild of St. George, the Home Arts and Industries Association, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts (KSIA), and the Guild of School and Handicraft, were just a few of the organisations that sprang up in the 1880s and 1890s.
In his years in London and Bristol, Hardwicke witnessed at first hand the harsh and brutal living conditions that many families were forced to endure. He knew what often happened when men were unemployed and left to fend for themselves. Hardwicke was not only concerned about the destruction of his beloved scenery, he had seen enough to know that people, and their ways of life, were in danger of being destroyed.
In the 1870s and 1880s a key figure in the social and environmental protests was John Ruskin, and Hardwicke used every opportunity to highlight this fact and pay reverence to a man whom he had come to regard as a prophet. In 1871, John Ruskin purchased Brantwood, a house on the shore of Lake Coniston. It was from Brantwood that Ruskin began to translate his theoretical concerns about the malaise affecting modern society into practical action. One result was the Guild of St. George, a name deliberately chosen to emphasise the spirit of protector of the country. The Guild was to consist of members, called companions, who would help to regenerate Britain from its decline into an industrial, money-centred country. One of the ways it would do this was by the ‘acquisition, by gift, purchase, or otherwise, of plots or tracts of land in different parts of Great Britain and Ireland’. This idea would become a central plank in the newly-formed National Trust twenty years later. The companions would shun all machinery, live off the land, and educate themselves and their children in the ways of sustainable living.
The Guild was meant to be the start of the revolution that would show the nation the errors of its current rush towards modernisation and a capitalist economy. The Memorandum of Association of the Guild is dated 14 October 1878, only a few months after Hardwicke had moved to Wray.
The physical presence of Ruskin living in the Lake District to those who espoused his views cannot be over-estimated. After moving to Wray in early 1878, Hardwicke availed himself of Ruskin’s nearby presence by making frequent visits. Being in the company of the ‘Master’ had an invigorating effect on Hardwicke who rapidly became a convert to most of Ruskin’s teachings. Edith accompanied Hardwicke on some of his visits to Brantwood, and her later life showed that she too became an ardent Ruskinian. By 1880 Hardwicke and Edith were ready to put into practice some of Ruskin’s teachings.
Ruskin believed that for work to be enjoyable the worker must learn new skills and have control over the work being undertaken. Many men living in and around Wray were unskilled and, in winter, unemployed. In the winter of 1880 Hardwicke and Edith launched an effort to teach such men woodcarving skills. Whether the driving force was experimentation of the kind advocated by Ruskin to revive traditional skills and highlight the value of manual work, or whether it was Hardwicke’s keenness to ensure that local people had something to occupy their time during winter months is not certain. Maybe it was a mixture of the two. The classes proved popular and over the course of the next couple of years expanded to take in Grasmere and Ambleside. Hardwicke does not say why they chose wood-carving. Neither does it appear that either he or Edith had any professed skills in this craft.
During 1882-83, the last winter spent at Wray, Edith was encouraged by a friend to begin experimenting in metal repoussé, the idea being that, if successful, this would be an additional craft for their winter students. Impromptu lessons were given to a Swiss butler, employed by Edith’s mother, who quickly turned out some effective metalwork. Hardwicke wrote:
I like to think this man’s experiment as part of the seed from which our Keswick School of Industrial Arts sprang.1
The Rawnsleys were by no means the only people who came under the influence of Ruskin in the Lake District during the years after the latter moved to Brantwood. Albert Fleming, a London-based solicitor, had been an admirer of Ruskin for some time, both corresponding with, and visiting, his mentor. Ruskin’s views on the simplicity of earlier modes of life chimed with the socially conscious Fleming, who had become disillusioned with modern society. Early in the 1880s, Fleming bought a house, Neaum Crag, at the entrance to Langdale, to use as a base whenever he visited the area. During his discussions with Ruskin he became intrigued by the possibility of reviving the tradition skill of linen manufacture, a once common local industry that had largely died out. Not only would this provide much needed work for the women folk in the surrounding areas but it would enable Fleming to implement some of Ruskin’s theories. Ruskin himself had financially supported a linen project in the Isle of Man in the early 1880s and had a strong penchant for the old skills of hand spinning and weaving.
Exact chronologies of what happened when are difficult to establish. Hardwicke and Fleming must have become acquainted early in 1883 since the two joined forces in the campaign to defeat the Braithwaite and Borrowdale railway proposal. Fleming became secretary of the Defence Fund fighting the project and worked alongside Hardwicke on many other preservation campaigns until his death in 1923. With Ruskin’s approval and joy, Fleming set about reviving the local craft of linen production, in the process creating what became known as the Langdale Linen Industry. He taught himself the basics of spinning flax to produce linen and set about acquiring wheels and a loom for the later threading processes. Every aspect of the process was to done by hand and to be totally natural. Dyes for colouring, for example, were produced locally with no artificial additives, and the spun linen was dried by placing it outside in the sunshine. The initial output, even according to Fleming, was not of a high merit, but everyone was learning fast.
After purchasing Neaum Crag, Fleming installed his housekeeper, Marian Twelves. This turned out to a shrewd move, for along with Fleming, Miss Twelves became the embodiment of the Langdale Linen Industry and a deep devotee of Ruskin’s philosophies. Whilst Fleming might have supplied the business and legal acumen to ensure the Industry was able to survive, Miss Twelves provided the management and artistic skills to keep it going on an everyday basis. A small cottage, named St. Martin’s, was rented in Elterwater to act as a workshop were local women could be trained in the arts of spinning. It was not until the early part of 1884 that the first products were produced. Simple, everyday items such as sheets and handkerchiefs were the first set of products. In 1885, the Langdale Linen Industry affiliated itself to the Home Arts & Industries Association.
Hardwicke and Edith took up residence in Crosthwaite Vicarage in August 1883. They are known to have been in touch with Fleming and Miss Twelves when they lived at Wray. Their wood-carving and metal repoussé experiments at Wray, together with the early efforts of Fleming and Miss Twelves in Langdale, had whetted their appetites to do more. They quickly saw that there could be no better opportunity given to them than the town of Keswick and its surrounding areas.
Edith and Hardwicke must have acted quickly in getting their ideas off the ground since the Keswick School of Industrial Arts was opened on 1 November 1884, just over a year after moving to Crosthwaite. KSIA was a much larger and more ambitious scheme than their classes at Wray. During the early months of 1884 they got together a group of local people to help plan the school, draw up publicity and advertising material, find space to run classes, buy equipment, and raise funds to support the endeavour.
The aims of KSIA were to teach workers new skills, to enable them to produce hand-crafted products from beginning to end, and demonstrate that such activities produced greater joy and pleasure for the workers than industrial operatives doing repetitive machine tasks. Such workmen were thus less likely to leave their country villages for larger towns and would be less likely to spend idle hours in the public house. This would benefit both the man and his family. The workers would relish the benefits of producing useful, satisfying products for themselves and for others to buy.
Local newspapers were used to advertise the school classes which for the first winter season of 1884-85 ran on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. Classes were free, and equipment provided, for those men and boys who enrolled as members of the school. All the products made were the property of the school, but each member was paid a proportion of the product’s selling price when it was sold. The initial classes were held in the Parish Room and consisted of wood-carving and brass repoussé. Initial products were simple such as door knockers and candle holders. This soon expanded to include a much wider variety of products with greater design detail. Within a couple of years commissions were coming in to the school. The commercial side of KSIA was so successful that within three years the school was self-supporting and had upwards of 60 pupils. Products were exhibited initially in local shops and at its own annual Keswick Exhibition which began in 1885. KSIA became affiliated to the Home Arts and Industries Association in November of that year, and started to show its products at exhibitions organised by the Association throughout the country.
Edith was the driving force behind the day-to-day activities of running KSIA. Hardwicke referred to her as the ‘presiding genius’. Hardwicke did not get involved in the teaching or design work, his main role being that of chief publicist. Within a short space of time, additional premises were rented near the Parish Room to house blow-pipes, anvils and other similar equipment.
Hardwicke had always seen the benefits of KSA in educational, moral and patriotic terms. It was, he said, the ‘grandest temperance agent in the place’. Echoing Ruskin, Hardwicke continued that the experience of KSIA had shown that ‘machine-made England is not a happy England’ and:
That the leisure hours of the artisan, if only his eyes can be taught to perceive beauty, and his hand trained to execute his perception may be filled with a recreative happiness, on terms that insist on effort, and which with effort bring restful change of task and of thought, and the joy of permanent result.2
He exhorted the government to learn from their experience and to teach youngsters to become more observant, with drawing becoming a compulsory subject in schools. He believed that children should be given weekly lessons by local craftsmen in manual skills, and that vocational training should be expanded nationally.
By the late 1880s students at KSIA were turning out a wide array of goods whose sales were more than enough to keep the School financially sound. It had also branched out into taking commissions, especially ecclesiastical ones. Over the years, items produced at KSIA were also used to repair and beautify St. Kentigern’s Church. These included reredos, altar panels, the churchyard gate, copper light fittings, and many others.
Both the Langdale Linen Industry under Fleming and Miss Twelves, and KSIA under the Rawnsleys, flourished side-by-side.
For whatever reasons, however, Marian Twelves decided to break away from Langdale and in 1889 she signed Terms of Agreement with the management committee of KSIA that her linen work would be a branch of the school. Miss Twelves moved to Keswick to supervise spinners working from their own homes. A building on the Penrith Road was acquired and operated as a weaving centre for the homespun linen. At exhibitions held over the next few years, KSIA output included linen and embroidery produced under the direction of Marian Twelves.
Differences of opinion between Marian Twelves and Edith surfaced over the next few years and by 1894 the former was ready to branch out on her own. Miss Twelves resigned from her position on the KSIA management committee. She set up her own linen industry which became known as the Ruskin Linen Industry after Ruskin agreed she could use his name. Marian Twelves continued her work for the rest of her life in premises in Keswick that were purchased by the Guild of St. George.
The success of KSIA and its rapid growth in student numbers meant that the premises in and around the Parish Room soon became inadequate. Serious fund-raising and a search for a suitable site on which to build a purpose-built school started in 1889. It was estimated that £1,500 would be required to fund a new building. In May 1893, on their way to Switzerland, Hardwicke and Edith stopped before going to the railway station to cut the first turf of the new building. The new school was built on land leased from the trustees of the High School. The official opening was a lavish affair.
Built of Borrowdale stone, the new building was two storeys linked by a balcony. The upper storey comprised a showroom, large enough to house a few hundred exhibits, offices and library. The lower floor housed the rooms used by the students, of which there were now about 100. On the beam supporting the balcony between the two floors was the inscription: ‘A loving eye and patient hand shall work with joy and bless the land’.
Of all the many thousands of products that were produced by KSIA, two stand out in terms of publicity given to them. These are the funeral palls for Alfred Tennyson and John Ruskin. Both were hand-spun and hand-woven from unbleached linen and lovingly embroidered. Edith was the designer in both cases with Marian Twelves supervising and working on their production. Both palls embodied the essence of Hardwicke and Edith’s belief in what KSIA was all about. They were hand-made products from first to last, used nature as a source of design inspiration, were crafted using a fusion of traditional skills, and involved workers who took pride in creating the products.
The new enlarged KSIA necessitated a change in its management. Classes were now run throughout the year rather than being restricted to the winter months. The first fulltime teacher was employed in October 1898 and the first director of the School appointed in March 1900. Clearly this meant a different approach to involvement with the school for Hardwicke and Edith, especially the latter. Disagreements broke out over time about the direction the school should take. Although still involved in the years that followed, Edith and Hardwicke had to take a less hands-on approach. After Hardwicke’s death in 1920, Eleanor was appointed Chairman of the Trustees and continued to support the school for many years. In the 1960s it adopted the title of Keswick Industrial Arts and dropped evening classes. Eventually it was forced to close in December 1984, one hundred years after its founding. It had been decided during its early years that if the School should cease then monies would be used for educational purposes:
At the final meeting of the trustees in May, 1987, following the sale of the School, the remaining funds were presented to [Keswick Grammar School] to equip what was to become the Rawnsley Design and Technology Department.3
So was KSIA a success? Clearly it could not stop the juggernaut of mass, factory-produced goods and ensure a return to earlier ways of working. However, its achievements were not insignificant. It certainly gained a successful status in the Arts and Crafts movement although this did not lead to similar schools springing up around the country. It stood the test of time and lasted for 100 years. It did bring valuable employment and joy to a small community, and it equipped many people with new and valuable skills. Ruskin’s philosophies, whether underpinning the Guild of St George or a return to rural crafts, were never going to persuade people at large to change their habits and thoughts. Hardwicke and Edith were both more practically motivated and saw that any implementation of Ruskin principles had to be modified to survive. Advertising, selling and making a profit had to be embraced if KSIA was to succeed. Hardwicke always saw the school in educational terms, and over the lifetime of its existence it educated many, many people. It is a success story they can be proud of.
1 Rawnsley, Hardwicke Drummond. Ruskin and the English Lakes. Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1902, p. 119.
2 Rawnsley, Hardwicke Drummond. ‘Our Industrial Art Experiment at Keswick’. Murray’s magazine, 1887, vol. 2, December, p. 765.
3 Bruce, Ian. The Loving Eye and Skilful Hand: the Keswick School of Industrial Arts. Carlisle: Bookcase, 2001.