Canon Rawnsley, champion of the Lake
District and founder of the National Trust set up the school. From 1883 he was
vicar of St Kentigem's Church, Crosthwaite, just outside Keswick.
Rawnsley was a good friend of John Ruskin,
whose art and writings laid the foundation of the Arts and Crafts movement. This
movement developed in the middle of the nineteenth century, with a growing
resistance in some parts of Victorian society to industrialisation. Ideas of
`truth to nature' and honest craftsmanship fed into the founding of the Keswick
Classes for metalwork were initially held
in the Crosthwaite church parish rooms and soon developed to offer classes in
drawing, design, and woodcarving. Soon the need for separate premises became
apparent and a grant from the County Council and several private donations led
to the construction of the School building in 1893. This building still stands
on High Hill and is currently home to the Italian restaurant `Lucas'.
The School prospered and swiftly developed
a reputation for high quality copper and silver decorative metalwork. By 1890
the School was exhibiting nationally and winning prizes. Special commissions
began to arrive from regional and national customers. In the following decades
the School, managed by a committee of Trustees, evolved into a commercial
metalwork enterprise. This evolution included the adoption of stainless steel as
a material in the 1930's, and the use of machinery from the 1960's.
The school closed in 1984, having faced
increasing pressure from imported goods for a number of years.
EARLY YEARS, AND THE BUILDING OF THE SCHOOL
Rawnsley described the atmosphere in the
school in the early years:
"It is a sight that does one's heart good to
see that Parish-room on a "School" night. The workers are so intent, so
critical, so cheery. A finished bit of work comes in. It is a tea-tray in brass,
or an offertory dish in gilding metal;... .It may be a little silver
menu-holder, whose design has come from the Venetian binding of a middle-century
book. Whatever it is, the hammers cease going, and one by one the men crowd up
and examine it, and every one has something to say about it except the worker,
and he just listens and smiles, and goes on with the work in front of him."
The new School building was opened in 1894,
the design echoing traditional Lakeland methods of construction, using local
slate for the walls and the roof and gables made of Borrowdale Volcanic stone.
The spinning-galleries of vernacular Lakeland barns and houses provided
inspiration for a gallery which was built at the first floor with four arched
bays. The external steps gave access to the showroom where the work of the
School was displayed.
A particular feature of the new building
was a collection of all objects and models, which constituted a reference
collection for the workers. There was also a library, the latter containing some
work given by William Morris.
The early years of the school saw a list of
rules established which carried on well into the modern period. The aims of the
KSIA were stated as such:
- To counteract the pernicious effects of
turning men into machines without the possibility of love for their work.
- To make it felt that hand-work really
does allow expression of a man's soul and self, and so is worth doing for
it's own sake, and worth purchasing even at some cost to the buyer.
- To try to displace by hand-work the
crude metal and wooden ornaments produced by steel dies and hydraulic
- To show that here in England an
abundance of skill of hand is wasted which, if any education worth its name
were given to the whole working man - to his eye, hand, heart, as well as
head - could and would help England.
The early work of the School was influenced
by the Celtic and Norse heritage of the Lake District and the ideas of the
Renaissance. By the end of the nineteenth century however, the Arts and Crafts
movement began to have an influence over the School. The School reflected the
ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement with its focus on 'truth to nature' and
hand crafted work. The grounds of the School were planted with flowers, trees
and shrubs to ensure that observation from nature would influence design. The
School went on to produce some fine work in the Arts and Crafts style.
Throughout the life of the School,
traditional pieces were still made from the original design sources. New designs
however, did reflect the artistic fashions of the period. As the new century got
under way, the popularity of Arts and Crafts style declined and gave over to Art
Nouveau. The two styles cross over in Herbert J Maryon's memorial to Bernard
Gilpin, executed at the school in 1901. This new style is even more pronounced a
few years later in 1904, when Robert Hilton is appointed Director.
Production records give a picture of a
thriving industry in the years up to the war. The outbreak of the First World
War brought dramatic changes as the craftsmen enlisted, and hardship reduced the
demand. In these difficult circumstances the School existed by filling a need
for memorial plaques and crosses.
After the war George Atholl Weeks was
appointed Director and, together with Eleanor Rawnsley, set out to re-invigorate
the School. Repousée work, which was labour intensive and unfashionable,
struggled to find a market. In 1923, after a campaign of advertising and
exhibitions of the work of the School, interest was again gaining ground. Atholl
Weeks was a good manager and found new markets for the School's work. In 1925 he
married the daughter of G.D. Abraham, Alpine and Lakeland climber, author and
photographer. She opened shop, "The New Enterprise" in Lake Road, which retailed
the work of the school. Total sales for 1925 were higher than in any year since
1931 saw a change in the work of the School
with the introduction of stainless steel. Atholl Weeks was responsible for this,
and by 1933 stainless steel accounted for half the sales from the School.
The outbreak of war in 1939 had a
considerable impact on the School. Many left to assist in the war effort. Robert
Pattinson went to the RAF maintenance unit at Silloth, Albert Atkinson to the
Border Regiment and Ronald Wise to the Royal Engineers. John Robinson went to
work in munitions at the Workington Iron and Steel works and Thomas Hartley and
Ernest Harrison as instructors at the government training centre at Aintree.
During the war years Matthew Armstrong
continued the limited production of the School assisted by the apprentice
Richard Fisher who was called up for military service in 1943 and Withington, an
apprentice, was engaged for a period until October, 1944.
In his final year with the school, 1951,
Atholl Weeks submitted designs for the badge of office for the Chairman of the
Keswick Urban District Council. The design for the chain to be executed in gold,
incorporated enamel panels depicting Bassenthwaite Lake and the Moot Hall in
Keswick Market Square. Weeks left Keswick and the chain of office was made by
Thomas Hartley, who was appointed to manage the School.
In 1955, on the advice of the RCA, the
School appointed Arthur Guise as a designer, who was a student at the Royal
College. The School used Guise's new designs until he left in 1957. The
instruction of evening classes and supervision of apprentices was then taken on
by Ronnie Wise.
In 1962, Charles Petrie was made director.
In 1963, having resisted the introduction of machinery for so long, the Trustees
were persuaded to introduce a machine press. At the same time, the School
changed its name to Keswick Industrial Arts and the evening classes were
dropped. The School invested in more machines to speed production and this
helped ease the financial crisis, which was brought on by competition from
imported stainless steel goods. Within this difficult latter period however,
exceptional pieces were still being produced.
In the centenary year of the School an
exhibition and an appeal was launched. This was not enough to save the School
and it was closed December of 1984, after exactly 100 years of existence.
METALS USED AT THE SCHOOL
The Keswick School of Industrial Arts was
principally known for its metalwork, and the four main metals used were copper,
brass, stainless steel and silver.
Copper was one of the first metals known to
humans and has been used for more than 7,000 years. Copper is a soft, reddish
metal that is easily worked. It is softer than iron but harder than zinc and can
be polished to a bright finish.
At Keswick in the sixteenth century there
was a German band of copper miners who turned their hand to making copper wares.
Rawnsley liked to link these Elizabethan craftsmen to the work of the School,
three hundred years later.
Brass is an alloy of copper. It is a mixture
of about 70% copper and 30% zinc. In its natural state it is typically light
yellow/gold in appearance. It can be cast into solid shapes, rolled into thin
sheets, spun into vessel shapes or drawn into wire.
In the school, brass items were mainly
decorated by `chasing' designs into them using a thin metal tool. Often the
design was also punched out from the back using a technique known as repousée
The type of stainless steel used by the
School had the trade name `STAYBRITE'. It is a steel alloy that contains 12%
chromium and is a difficult material to work with. It is much more resilient the
brass or copper; it tends to spring and fight back and is less accommodating to
surface decoration. The then Director, George Atholl Weeks, introduced the new
material to the school in 1931. By 1933, stainless steel accounted for half the
sales in the business and the School recovered from the slump it had experienced
in this period. Stainless steel goods were a main part of the business right up
until its closure in 1984.
Silver used in metalwork is usually alloyed
with small amounts of other metals to make it more durable. Silver pieces made
at the school were mainly special commissions such as church-ware or
IDENTIFICATION AND MARKS
The School mark
It is difficult to be certain when the
stamped school mark was introduced. The panels in Crosthwaite Church were
completed by 1889 and have the letters KSIA arranged in a circle, which became
the common mark of the school. Canon Rawnsley in 1902 refers to his wife "noting
and criticising each piece of work, and deciding if it shall be passed and have
the school stamp - a lozenge with the initials KS.I.A. upon it".
The first surviving record of a job number
is 5830, a job which was completed on 17 November 1903. This sequence of numbers
finishes on 05 May 1905 when job No.9999 is used and jobs are again numbered in
sequence from 01 until November 1905.
From November 1905 letters of the alphabet
were used in front of job numbers. The letter A was introduced in November 1905
and used until the last day of October 1906. From this point the next letter of
the alphabet is used from the calendar year running from November to October.
The jobs are also numbered in sequence from number one. This format was followed
until the School's closure in 1984. The alphabet started again in 1930, 1956 and
1981 and finished with the letter C in 1983.
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee
For the Jubilee in 1897, a special mark was
introduced. A crown set in a square with V R in the top corners. The bottom
corners contained a 97 and were bounded by the letters KSIA.
From the early years of the School, both
full time craftsmen and students at evening classes made work. New rules in 1923
did not allow the work of the evening classes to be marked with the K.S.I.A.
stamp. Evening classes were a feature of the School and are probably the source
of much of the unmarked work that is found.
A change in the marks comes with the
introduction of stainless steel in 1931. Steel is a hard metal. It is likely
that the dies, which had been used on softer metals like copper, did not make
marks on steel. The word KESWICK and FIRTH STAYBRITE are now seen in the mark. A
smaller version of the word KESWICK set in a rectangle was also included on
silver articles together with the School mark and hallmark.
The full name of the School is often marked
on large memorials and two further marks can be found on works from the 1930's
onwards: KESWICK: SCH OF INDUST ARTS and K/SI/A.
1984 December: The School is closed.
Text compiled by Philip Crouch and Jamie
With acknowledgements to ‘The Loving Eye
and Skilful Hand: The Keswick School of Industrial Art’, Ian Bruce, 2001