The man put down the copper piece. Its construction had taken months, each day a voyage of learning. The elderly and bearded tutor had been patient, his bright eyes – a contrast to the dark beard – had eagerly overseen the development of the shaping of the copper pieces, then the detailed carving of the flowers, followed by the refinements, and eventually, the final buffing and polish.
At the beginning, the student had known nothing of making art in metal; had never even heard of ‘industrial art’. All he knew were the valleys and hills and the cattle and sheep that grazed on them in the summer… but not in the winter, when there was no work…
In the December of a normal year, he would have been unemployed and near starving to death, with occasional hand-outs from the local church keeping him alive. Until the pasture work in spring returned, he would spend his nights in a barn, graciously granted by one of the farm-owners who employed him in the summer. Being ‘dumb’ – as the inability to speak was then known – was often a death-sentence.
Now he was being called forward to receive the school’s accolade for best-worked piece of the term. Hesitant, he carried the beaten copper ‘raised dish’ through the rows of benches to the front of the class. At the age of thirty-one, but looking twice that, it was the last thing he expected to be doing.
His mentor with the dark beard watched him, nodding and encouraging his progress to the front. When he got there, their class teacher held up the copper dish and the rolled certificate of merit that had resulted from it and said, “Gentlemen, we’d like to present this special award to Tom Hardkess…” he paused, then, as though the emotion were too much. “Tom has been unable to speak from birth, so his gestures are all he has to express his feelings at being such a successful part of the Keswick School of Industrial Art.”
Hardkess turned, nervously facing his classmates – all of them adult males. He bowed and placed his hand over his heart… nothing more. Then he went back to his seat beneath the glowing and somewhat misty eyes of his personal mentor, a man named Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley.
Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley wasn’t just the man’s friend and protector, he was the founder of the Keswick School of Industrial Art; one of several such metalworking ‘evening colleges’ found in the Lake District in the 1880s. They were established to alleviate the seasonal unemployment of the region, and, as a social force within the Arts and Crafts movement, to reduce alcoholism among the poor workers of that remote farming region… long before mass tourism lifted it to relative prosperity.
Rawnsley was a church Canon and had served as personal Chaplain to the King, George V. He attended Oxford University before rising rapidly through the church. He was deeply attracted by the writings and speeches of John Ruskin, a fellow student at Oxford, who was a pivotal figure in social reform legislation and the Arts and Crafts movement. Ruskin was a fellow Lake District dweller and I hope to do one of these post on him. Ruskin was the primary sponsor of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Michael Rossetti.
Note to the above Pre-Raphaelite painting: The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind”. The painting was considered by many to be the most important and culturally influential rendering of Christ of its time. Those of a mystical persuasion may reflect on the deep symbolism)
The Arts and Crafts movement was dedicated to the retention of ‘hand-made’ skills in the face of ‘ugly’ mass production’. We can perhaps smile at the implicit indulgence of those wealthy people who were at the centre of the movement. But it did provide a critical balance to bad design and produced its own practical creations – such as many of today’s most sought-after country houses.
Good design, like art, is timeless…
Rawnsley loved the Lake District. The latter half of his life was devoted to improving the lot of those in his small parish of Crossthwaite, near Keswick. He was a modestly wealthy man, though he donated much of it to local causes.
Canon Hardwick Rawnsley and his wife Edith founded the Keswick School of Industrial Art (KSIA) in 1884. Its aims were to teach woodwork and repoussé metalwork. The school prospered. Within ten years more than a hundred men were enrolled and working on the production of beautiful objects of furniture and metal-based decoration. Shortly the school became self-funding and was able to move to its own building on the outskirts of Keswick – see picture. The school closed in 1984. The building became a restaurant.
My personal connection with the Kendal School of Industrial Art came about unexpectedly when I spotted the copper dish above in the window of a Keswick antique shop. It was expensive and, after dithering in the shop, I walked away… only to run back an hour later and buy it, declaring that I would have it as a Christmas present. It sits in pride of place in our living room and comes into its own when the summer sun shines on its hand-worked surface. Recently, I began to research the school that created it, and the kind of man whose deft fingers made it… and decided to write this blog; hopefully the first of several on the unsung heroes of the Lake District.
Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley was a man of amazing energy, he devoted his life to improving the welfare of those less fortunate. In addition to his religious duties at Crossthwaite and as Canon of Carlisle Cathedral, he was a County Councillor in Cumberland and fought hard to extend education to a wider community and to bring about improvements in public health.
He masterminded campaigns against the despoilation of the Lake District by indiscriminate railway construction and mining operations. An active campaigner for the Open Spaces movement, he did much to ensure that public rights of way in the Lake District remained open – ensuring a lasting legacy for the millions of walkers who enjoy its unique scenery. Finally, and to his eternal credit, he was one of three founders of the National Trust, which spearheaded the preservation of our unique history in landscapes and historic gardens and buildings.
Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley published some 40 books, including biographies, travel guides and accounts of archaeological excavations. He published several volumes of poetry and wrote hundreds of sonnets.
He died in 1920.
There is an excellent family website here.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.