Has the National Trust lost its way?

MAURICE GEORGE fears the heritage institution is forgetting its origins and aims

The National Trust is 125 years old, has a membership approaching 10% of the population and exists to preserve things. How can such a body lose its way? To answer that question, we have to look at the context within which it operates and its sensitivity to current trends and fashionable ideas.

My perspective of the National Trust is based on my experience of visiting properties, reading the magazine, and press coverage when things go significantly right or wrong.  A matter of particular concern has been the publicly expressed disquiet among the volunteers, upon whom the Trust is implicitly dependent to be able to open its properties to the public. At one point in the last couple of years I was getting so annoyed at the way the Trust was being run that, had I not been a life member, I might have resigned my membership in protest. In my 60 years as a member of the Trust, membership has increased five-fold and with increasing emphasis on attracting yet more visitors to its properties, I have the impression that the Trust may be losing contact with its origin and fundamental purpose.

I have a special interest in the Lake District, where an essential element in the motivation for what became the National Trust, originated. My first visit to the Lakes as a teenager was for me, a Londoner, a life-changing experience and I have devoted much time since to exploring it and studying its history and culture.  For the past 25 years I have been an active supporter of the Armitt Collection held in the museum and library at Ambleside in the Lake District and for 11 years I was Chair of the Friends.  This year marks 100 years since the death of Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley (one of the three co-founders of the National Trust – see https://brazen-head.org/2020/12/16/work-with-joy-rawnsley-ruskin-and-the-keswick-school-of-industrial-arts/) and I have spent the past two months helping to prepare an exhibition celebrating his work as ‘Defender of the Lakes’.

It was Rawnsley whom we have to thank for really starting the movement to protect the English Lake District for access and enjoyment by future generations and for enabling the creation of the National Trust. Others, including Wordsworth, had raised their voices against perceived threats, but to little effect. Most importantly, Rawnsley recognised that to succeed, his movement needed to be on a national basis and it was the coalescence of his vision and energy with the desire of Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter for a national organisation to protect open spaces that led to the foundation of the National Trust. This year is the 125th anniversary of that event and for the first 25 years of its existence, Rawnsley was the Trust’s honorary secretary.

The National Trust was set up originally to preserve the scenic value of open spaces and access to them for the inhabitants of over-crowded towns and cities. The preservation of buildings followed, with the realisation that there was also an architectural heritage that needed to be saved from neglect or destruction. The National Trust now represents around a tenth of the population of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is remarkable, that since the passing of the first National Trust Act in 1907, the governance of so large an organisation has only once been subject to significant public scrutiny, following the controversy in 1966 over the management of Enterprise Neptune, the coastal protection initiative.

Running the coastal project, which aimed to protect as much of the coastline as possible from development and loss of access, placed too much of a burden upon the existing management of the Trust and it was decided to appoint an appeals director.  Conrad Rawnsley, grandson of the founder, was, with some reluctance on the part of the Trust, engaged for the post and thus to run what he called Enterprise Neptune.  Rawnsley had radical views as to how the Trust as a whole should be run, and the organisation he set up engaged young people, a group somewhat neglected by the Trust. It also exposed the weakness in the Trust’s management to an extent that the tail (Enterprise Neptune) was wagging the dog. In an attempt to regain control of the situation, Rawnsley’s contract was terminated. At the next AGM, Rawnsley’s Reform Group failed to get any of their members elected to the Trust Council and he requisitioned an Extraordinary General Meeting, at which 4,000 members filled Church House, Westminster. My wife and I were active supporters of Rawnsley and the Neptune project and we were among the noisy hecklers who shouted down the chairman when he tried to use procedure to thwart the protest over Rawnsley’s dismissal. The Trust were forced to put a critical resolution to a poll of all members, who rejected it by a margin of two to one. At the next AGM, Rawnsley publicly tore up his membership card and walked out of the meeting.

As a result of this furore the Trust convened an advisory committee, chaired by an eminent accountant, Sir Henry Benson. The ensuing Report reviewed the constitution, organisation and responsibilities of the Trust and recommended changes, which were subsequently largely implemented. The major organisational change was for the management of properties to be devolved within a new regional organisation – a change that had been recommended in an earlier management review but not implemented.  There have been various reorganisations since the Benson Committee report but no objective review of the Trust’s purpose and function, despite the fact that the committee had recommended that the Trust should review its workings every ten years or so.  Is it perhaps now time for another such review?

There have been other moments of controversy in the life of the National Trust but nothing on the scale of the Neptune affair. However, recently we have seen significant adverse comment in newspaper articles and letters, concerning how the Trust is meeting its declared objectives and the extent to which it should pay attention to current trends of thinking. It is therefore timely to ask whether the National Trust may indeed have lost its way.

The current issue capturing the attention and evoking responses from Arts and Heritage organisations is the extent to which the profits from the slave trade enabled the philanthropy, from which we all benefit today. Attention to issues such as slavery may be inescapable, if we agree with the Director of the National Gallery that silence is construed as denial or disagreement. The fundamental issue here is the attainment of equality of opportunity for all groups in our society, and slavery is being used as an emotive element to gain popular support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. The enslavement of black Africans in America is the social focus, which has been carried forward to the present day, notwithstanding a civil war and the passage of time. If however we can detach ourselves from the American situation, and look at how societies have operated over several millennia, we have to acknowledge that slavery, in one form or another, has been an integral element of social organisation and, regretfully, still is, in the sex industry and other forms of exploitation.

However, to focus on one aspect of enslavement without reference to the wider historical perspective leads to self-indulgent attitudes of apology for the acts of our ancestors. Unfortunately, the National Trust and other cultural bodies have been drawn into seeking out historical connections to slavery, but we may ask what useful purpose does this form of navel-gazing actually serve? I believe it is an intellectual dead-end which simply diverts attention away from the object of preservation, into a discussion of the acts of our forbears, and the passing of judgement on their actions according to the standards of our own time.

Being wise after the event is prudent in respect of avoiding the repetition of potentially harmful errors, but for little else. Do we really want theoretically to punish swathes of royalty, chieftains, and religious leaders for acts of oppression, bigotry, or greed, carried out at a time when such actions were a normal aspect of society? We should surely always look forward to providing a better living environment for our successors and preserving for them the cultural wealth of our times.

Even before the current obsession with slavery, we had the Trust applying a common theme across all its properties. Examples were the emancipation of women and gay pride, which were a distortion of the perspective for viewing all those places. This was taken to extremes in some cases, for example with depictions of wartime conditions. Was it rational to store all the artworks and furniture in order to show a house in its wartime condition as the home of a bank, albeit the one of which the property’s owner was Chairman? For a whole year, anyone wishing to see any of the very fine artworks or to view the porcelain collection, the usual reasons for wanting to visit the house, was denied the opportunity to do so.

The Trust has also attracted criticism for amalgamating some of the Lake District farms bequeathed by Beatrix Potter, with the instruction that they should be maintained as she had left them. They also defeated a group of farmers seeking to purchase and maintain other Lake District farms in the traditional way. Hardwicke Rawnsley and Beatrix Potter sought to preserve land, traditional farming practice and Lakeland culture, and that should remain the objective of the National Trust today.

Rawnsley’s final book, published in the year of his death, was a valedictory tour of National Trust properties in the west of England. Only a quarter of these properties comprised buildings as well as open spaces.  How much has changed since then, and how wonderful are many of the buildings in the care of the Trust, but do we really understand the purpose of this national archive of natural and constructed beauty and interest? Moreover, the guardianship of properties that have not come into the ownership of the Trust but are deemed to be of value to the nation’s heritage, has passed from government department to public charitable support with English Heritage. All of these places attract visitors from overseas and contribute to export earnings, yet we have no overall cultural policy for this nation.  Culture matters too.

There is though some hope that common sense and rationality will ultimately prevail. The Director General has indicated that there will in future be more emphasis on the open spaces in the Trust’s care. However, she is thinking of closing some smaller properties to the public and presumably members too, and maybe in this electronic age, we will have to make do with virtual tours. She is also saying that the report on connections with slavery was an investigation and has opened the way for discussion on what should be done with its findings. There is clearly a need for a genuinely objective review of the status and function of the National Trust and what its future conservation policy should be. History is a mixture of fact and hindsight, but it is open to subjective analysis, from which this article is not exempt, but that should not be allowed to spoil the average day out at a Trust property.

Finally, here are some suggestions that might help to bring about some beneficial changes in National Trust policy. For domestic buildings, there should be a clear understanding that they represent an encapsulation of social, and often, architectural history, for the period when they came into Trust ownership. Their history should be presented in an accessible, scholarly, and unprejudiced way. Public buildings no longer fulfilling their original purpose may offer scope for exhibiting material not necessarily connected with that purpose, and which would not be easily accommodated in domestic properties, unless those properties have much unused space.

Open spaces should retain their original character wherever possible unless the pressure of public access demands changes, such as the strengthening of mountain paths to prevent more widespread damage. Grazing of upland areas should be commensurate with maintaining the character of the landscape as near to its original state as possible. Areas that were not wild when they came into the Trust’s care should remain as they were at that time, and not now be allowed to go wild. Traditional farming practice should be maintained, with as little change as possible even if uneconomic by current standards, since that practice is part of what is being preserved. Appropriate subsidy from within the Trust’s huge estate should not be an impossible burden. Tree planting and clearance should take account of the distant views that might be lost or restored. Preservation should be the driving force in decision-making.

The National Trust does not have a remit to modernise its properties in any way, other than providing satisfactory facilities for visitors. However, the use of digital aids supported by good scholarship should of course be employed to enhance the experience of visitors. At the same time, the historical perspective and the reason why properties came into the care of the Trust must not be forgotten or obscured by subjective contemporary ideas.

Work with Joy – Rawnsley, Ruskin and the Keswick School of Industrial Arts

Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley at Crosthwaite
ROSALIND RAWNSLEY pays tribute to a great idealist and reformer

Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley is usually thought of today, a century after his death, as one of the three founders of the National Trust, or, in Lakeland in particular, as the Defender of the Lakes. The National Trust, it is true, remains his most tangible memorial, but his active involvement in a multiplicity of other fields, made of Canon Rawnsley a household name during his lifetime, not just in the field of conservation – but also in education as an early advocate of co-education and equal opportunities for girls, and in the encouragement of music, nature study and the arts; in public health, local government (he became one of the first County Councillors for Cumberland and towards the end of his life was co-opted onto the Education Committee for Westmorland) and literature, to name but a few of his wide-ranging concerns. Rawnsley was what today would be called an ‘activist’ – to any of the many and varied causes which captured his interest, he would devote his wholehearted attention, leading from the front wherever possible and whenever his ecclesiastical duties permitted.

Born at Shiplake-on-Thames into an ecclesiastical family with its roots in Lincolnshire, Hardwicke, in spite of uncertain health throughout his life, was an indefatigable man of phenomenal energy and stamina. He would think nothing of tramping several miles across the fells during the night to see the sun rise over Helvellyn, catching a train to London after breakfast the next morning to attend a meeting, and returning home in the evening to deal with his correspondence or to prepare a sermon. No theologian, but a devout man of simple faith, he was much sought after as a preacher. He was blessed with a melodious voice, which he used to advantage not only in church but as a lecturer on a wide range of topics which interested him, ranging from the history, customs and archaeology of his beloved Lakeland, the influence of the Vikings, the German miners of Keswick in the time of Elizabeth I, to the archaeology of Palestine and ancient Egypt and the paintings of J.M.W. Turner, or the life and work of the Venerable Bede, and of course the application of John Ruskin’s philosophy of labour. He did however sometimes allow his vivid imagination to run away with him, and was not above reinventing history to suit his purpose. 

Rawnsley never stood on his dignity, getting on famously not only with the great-and-good, whose deep pockets could be relied upon as a source of funds for his various causes, but also with the Lake District shepherds and dalesmen. He made a study of the Lakeland native breed of Herdwick sheep, an interest he shared with his good friend and protegée Beatrix Potter, who herself in later life became a famous breeder of Herdwicks, and in more than one of his books about Lakeland he wrote knowledgeably about the upbringing and particularities of the breed. Somewhat choleric at home and in Committee, he could be rash and impatient with those who disagreed with him and his impetuosity not infrequently got him into trouble, but he was never afraid to apologise when proved to be in the wrong. To any cause capturing his interest he would not just lend his name, but would invariably be an active participant, always leading from the front. 

John Ruskin

Hardwicke Rawnsley was educated at Uppingham under the enlightened rule of his godfather Edward Thring, who introduced him to the Lake District and to the poetry of William Wordsworth, who was to become his poetic muse. From Uppingham he went up to Balliol, where he became an enthusiastic and life-long disciple of John Ruskin, whose ideas of social justice he wholeheartedly embraced and endeavoured to put into practice throughout his life.  

After university he volunteered as a lay chaplain to a mission to the poor in Soho, during which time he became acquainted with Octavia Hill, the social reformer, who was herself a disciple of John Ruskin. They remained friends thereafter and some 20 years later, in company with Sir Robert Hunter, would together become co-founders of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, since abbreviated to The National Trust.  At Balliol, having neglected his studies in favour of athletics and the river, both areas in which he excelled, Rawnsley, achieved only a respectable Third in Natural Science. He made up his mind to follow his father and grandfather into the Church, was ordained deacon in 1875 and was appointed Curate to the newly-formed Clifton College Mission in Bristol. 

A prolific writer, Rawnsley published innumerable ‘occasional’ sonnets, having been introduced to what became, under the guidance of Charles Tennyson Turner, a family connection, his favoured verse form. Unfortunately for his reputation as a poet, he did have a fatal facility for sonnet-writing, which proved to be his undoing in this field at least, since he would dash off a sonnet at a moment’s notice on whatever topic occupied his attention at any given time. As a result, the poetic quality was, to say the least, variable. However, it has recently been realised that in the absence of any surviving diaries, Rawnsley’s sonnets – especially his first published book of verse, Bristol Sonnets – prove to be an invaluable primary source of information about his life and personal feelings.

His literary output over the next 40-odd years, published on both sides of the Atlantic, extended far beyond verse, encompassing biography, pamphlets, magazine articles, papers for learned journals, innumerable letters to the press including at least 160 to The Times, memoirs, lectures, sermons, and ten books devoted to the Lake District, its scenery, history, literary associations and customs. The lyrical writing in these volumes, to a certain extent intended as early ‘guide-books’ to Lakeland, has seldom if ever been equalled, and never surpassed.

Marrying into a wealthy mine-owning family, Rawnsley became financially independent of his ecclesiastical stipend, as Vicar first of the tiny parish of Wray-on-Windermere, in the gift of his cousin who had inherited Wray Castle, and thereafter of Crosthwaite in Keswick. (He was later appointed a Canon of Carlisle Cathedral and an honorary Chaplain to King George V.)   

At Wray, Hardwicke and his wife Edith, herself a talented artist and craftswoman, recognised the precariousness of the lives of many of their parishioners, seasonal farm labourers, laid off during the winter months.  For these men, idleness led not only to poverty but also to boredom, to relieve which they would all too often resort to the pub, as Rawnsley had also found to be the case among the poor of Bristol. In the spirit of Ruskin, the Rawnsleys decided to offer lessons in woodcarving, a Lake District traditional craft in danger of dying out. These classes could not only provide an occupation to keep the beneficiaries at home, but also give them a new skill by which they could earn a competence during the winter months. When the Rawnsleys left Wray to take up the living of St. Kentigern, Crosthwaite and moved to Keswick in 1883, the classes in Wray were discontinued, but the seed had been sown. 

The Rawnsleys, as convinced Ruskinians, and in accordance with Ruskin’s teaching that, “Art is the expression of man’s delight in the works of God”, wanted to put into practice what they understood to be Ruskin’s philosophy of labour. In his influential work The Stones of Venice, Ruskin, through a close study of the architecture of that city, made it clear that, to him, the secret of its incomparable beauty lay in the hand-work which lovingly created it – the balconies, in which each element, taking inspiration from nature, was individually wrought by a master craftsman, using as his materials the hand-cut stones and hand-made bricks which comprise materials used for the buildings and palaces. No two are identical, but all bear what Ruskin described as a “family likeness”. He pointed out that objects, when hand-made, fit for purpose, and without any superfluous embellishment, have an intrinsic charm and attraction of their own which no mass-produced item, however well-made, could ever emulate.

Rawnsley at Balliol, 1872
Edith Rawnsley in 1874

All Ruskin’s thoughts and reflections on this subject were distilled and synthesised in the eight volumes of Fors Clavigera. This series of open letters addressed “to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain”, appearing almost monthly from 1871 to 1884, taken together afforded Ruskin with a device for a philosophical exploration of various aspects of work and its conditions in England. Labour was a topic close to Ruskin’s heart – when Rawnsley had come under his influence at Oxford, soon after Ruskin had been appointed to the chair of Fine Arts at the University, ‘The Professor’ had recruited a team of undergraduates, of whom Rawnsley was one, to build a new road for the people of the village of Hinksey, an exercise which Ruskin deemed would provide a suitable antidote to their usual diet of athletics and beer, and teach them the value of manual labour. The ‘Hinksey Diggers’, immortalised in an early photograph, and much ridiculed in the contemporary press, represented an early exercise in ‘public relations’ long before the term was invented. Ridiculed or not, the lesson was not wasted, on Rawnsley at any rate who, as a sensitive and impressionable young man, was later to put Ruskin’s philosophy to effective practical use in the Keswick School of Industrial Arts.

The Hinksey Diggers, 1874 – Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley is leaning on the spade

Returning to Fors, as Clive Wilmer in his commentary on the work remarked, while the letters are indeed concerned with labour, their subject is work viewed through the lens of human destiny, the Fors or ’Fortune’ of the title, being she who holds the key to the future of mankind. (Perhaps in the midst of the current pandemic, through which Gaia seems to be at last wreaking vengeance on mankind for destroying the planet, ‘Gaia’ should have usurped the title!)

All forms of labour are seen as rooted in nature and having a common purpose – that of promoting the wealth that is life, rather than simple existence from day to day, from hand to mouth. “There is no wealth but life”, as Ruskin proclaimed in Ad Valorem, the fourth of his essays on Political Economy in Unto This Last, the title being a reference of course to Christ’s parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Happiness, in Ruskin’s model, a model incidentally shared by his good friend Thomas Carlyle, does not depend upon making as much money as possible in as short a time as possible. Money, per se, should not be an end-in-itself, but only a means to a higher end, and payment should be geared to need, rather than to desert.

As Ruskin’s biographer, John Batchelor, makes clear, in an ideal world there would be no place for competition – no market forces – no laws of supply-and-demand – no industrial capitalism. This idealistic philosophy was diametrically opposed to the ideas of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill (Ruskin’s particular bête noir), for whom the sole purpose of labour was the generation of wealth, which in turn, it was to be assumed, would increase the overall happiness of nations.

England in the third quarter of the 19th century, through the efforts of the newly-enriched and powerful entrepreneurs, had become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth and the first to become an urban rather than an agrarian society. Yet at the same time, for much of the population the norm continued to be a life of grinding poverty, starvation and injustice. This paradox was not wasted on Ruskin. He laid the responsibility for this state of affairs squarely at the door of the industrial revolution. Men were no longer in touch with the land and with nature; they no longer gained inner satisfaction from working with their hands to create beautiful or functional objects, from the conception to the finished product. Instead the majority had become mere cogs in the wheels of industry – mechanical ‘hands’ on a production line. They had ceased to be individuals, happy in the joy of creation.

In his writings, Ruskin urged the socially conscious middle-classes to put the clock back by restoring to nature the urban wastelands which they themselves had created. Perhaps the new-rich individual with a social conscience would be in a position to put into practice Ruskin’s exhortations, but for the urban man-in-the-street this must have seemed a vain hope and an idealistic philosophy, impossible actually to put into practice. Those who do not have enough to eat do not have the time, leisure or inclination to engage in philosophical reflection.

Rawnsley in 1885

It was in reaction to this state of affairs, and drawing on Hardwicke’s experiences in Mission work in Soho and Bristol, that the Rawnsleys, building upon the work they had already carried out at Wray with the woodcarving classes, decided during the winter of 1884 that the time had come to put into practice some of Ruskin’s ideas about the dignity of labour. Ruskin had taught that for work to be enjoyable the worker must not only learn new skills, but he must at the same time have some autonomy and control over the task in hand – a notion completely at odds with the modern and more cost-effective factory system, where each man was employed to carry out one single repetitive task on a production line.

No doubt actively encouraged by Ruskin, who now lived conveniently close at hand at Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water, the Rawnsleys wasted no time in setting up classes in woodcarving and metalwork. These classes were financed by local ladies, who paid to attend classes in the Parish Room in the afternoons, so that the classes for working men could be held in the evenings, free of charge. Woodcarving was taught by a local artist and designer, and Edith Rawnsley, who had taught herself to do metal repoussé, took charge of the metalwork classes. In this she was aided by a talented jeweller from the vicinity, she herself providing many of the designs. And so, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts (KSIA) was born. It was an immediate success, owing, as Ian Bruce observed in his magisterial history of the KSIA, to “the careful selection of instructional material and tuition”, and grew rapidly in size and scope. After two years, some 30 students were attending full time, rising to 67 after four years, with many more attending the evening classes. Every finished article remained the property of the school, with the student who had created it receiving part of the proceeds when it was sold.

After only a few years of activity the School outgrew its makeshift temporary premises; better workshops and a showroom were essential. Accordingly, by the late 1880s, fund-raising for the erection of purpose-built premises had already begun. The money was raised with astonishing rapidity; in 1891 land was acquired on the banks of the River Greta in the centre of Keswick, and the first turf was cut in May 1893. The attractive building, in Arts and Crafts style, reflecting Westmorland vernacular architecture and featuring the round stone chimneys on square pedestals which Wordsworth had so appreciated, with a traditional ‘spinning gallery’ providing access to the showroom on the first floor, was largely built of various types of native slate-stone. The new School, with workshops adorned with improving quotations from Ruskin and others, was opened in April 1894 with considerable ceremony, though Ruskin himself was not well enough to attend. Ruskin’s philosophy of labour was encapsulated in the couplet, inscribed underneath the spinning gallery, and undoubtedly composed by Hardwicke himself:  The Loving Eye and Skilful Hand shall Work with Joy and Bless the Land.

The Carlisle Journal on 6th April 1894 reported that a particular feature of the new building was a collection of art objects and models, designed to constitute a museum of reference for art workers. A library well-stocked with reference works, displayed gifts from artists including William Morris, who presented specimens of printing by the Kelmscott Press, self-portraits by Holman Hunt and G.F. Watts, later to be joined by others promised by William Morris and Walter Crane. Since observation from nature was a key element of the teaching at the School, the grounds were planted with trees, shrubs and flowers. As Ian Bruce recognised, the school “embodied the ideas and philosophies which underpinned the idealised communities envisioned by the proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement.”

From its earliest years, even before the opening of the new building, the School flourished, making a wide range of products in silver, copper, and wood, such as trays, candle sconces, bowls and vases. In the woodcarving department, tables, screens, corner cupboards and clock-cases were produced. All were individually hand-worked and finished, to point up the contrast between these lovingly created objects and the soulless factory-made, die-cast products then flooding the market. Good design was of course vital, and this became even more important as the School, with its growing reputation, began to attract special commissions, often for church furnishings such as altar crosses, chalices, alms dishes, candlesticks, and so forth. One of the School’s most important commissions was for a new reredos for Rawnsley’s own Crosthwaite Church, designed by Edith and worked by her with craftsmen from the School.  She also designed elegant copper electroliers for the church and for the new Keswick Museum building, all of which were made at the KSIA and are still in use today.

The reredos at St. Kentigern’s church at Crosthwaite, designed and worked by Edith Rawnsley

In addition to metalwork and woodcarving, another local craft which had almost died out was the hand-spinning and weaving of linen. This had first been revived by Albert Fleming, another disciple of Ruskin, who with Marion Twelves, had set up the Langdale Linen Industry. Miss Twelves and her team of ‘spinsters’ had eventually moved ‘over the Raise’ (a reference to Dunmail Raise, now the A591, a mountain pass that connects the southern and northern sides of the Lake District, the main route through the centre of the Lakes) and became for some years amalgamated with the KSIA before differences of opinion between Miss Twelves and Edith Rawnsley resulted in the amicable separation of the two enterprises. Miss Twelves, yet another follower of Ruskin, then set up her own linen manufactory, which with his permission she named the Ruskin Linen Industry. Apart from beautifully worked items in what she called ‘Ruskin Lace’, a form of embroidered lacework incorporating different types of stitching and cutwork, two of the most publicised of the items produced by Marion Twelves and her team were the unbleached handwoven and embroidered linen palls, designed by Edith Rawnsley, for the funerals of Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, in 1892 at Westminster Abbey, and for John Ruskin eight years later. Ruskin’s pall is still on display in the Ruskin Museum at Coniston.

Many thousands of items were produced by the Keswick School of Industrial Arts during its century of existence, and are now much sought-after, commanding high prices. Unfortunately, however, in the end the KSIA became the victim of its own success. Increasing demand meant that orders could not be fulfilled without resort to the introduction of some mechanised processes. The range of goods was simplified; products in stainless steel which could not be entirely made by hand, were introduced and proved very popular, and in spite of the best efforts of the Trustees and management committees, changing tastes and the effects of two World Wars finally caused the School to close a few weeks short of the hundredth anniversary of its foundation. The fatal flaw of Ruskin’s philosophy of labour was embedded within it from  the start – as long as the enterprise remained small, with only a limited production, hand work from the drawing board to the finished product by a single craftsman as an ideal could not be faulted, but in practice, as the organisation grew, it simply was not commercially viable, and Ruskin’s principles had to a certain extent to be jettisoned, for the business to survive.

Today, in spite of various vicissitudes including serious flooding on more than one occasion, the attractive KSIA Arts and Crafts building, now a restaurant, still stands – a monument to the vision of the School’s founders, Hardwicke and Edith Rawnsley, and to John Ruskin, who inspired them.

Rawnsley, photographed by Herbert Bell (Courtesy of Armitt Centre)

Ruskin, in Ad Valorem, wrote:

There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, of admiration. That man is the richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost; has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions; over the lives of others

If Ruskin’s dictum is accepted, Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley was a rich man indeed.