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The Lost Companions and John Ruskins Guild of St George


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264 Pages


Incorporating a wealth of unseen material centred around the remarkable stories of William Graham and other ‘lost companions’, this work provides a new authority on the Guild of St George.

This important work in Ruskin studies provides for the first time an authoritative study of Ruskin’s Guild of St George. It introduces new material that is important in its own right as a significant piece of social history, and as a means to re-examine Ruskin’s Guild idea of self-sufficient, co-operative agrarian communities founded on principles of artisanal (non-mechanised) labour, creativity and environmental sustainability. The remarkable story of William Graham and other Companions lost to Guild history provides a means to fundamentally transform our understanding of Ruskin’s utopianism.

List of Illustrations; Preface; Frequently Cited Sources; Introduction; I. Roots; II. Glimpsing Eden: 1867–70; III. ‘At Least A Beginning’: 1871–75; IV. Opportunities: 1875–77; V. Dreams and Nightmares: 1878–81; VI. The Long Decline and the Great Dispute: 1882–1900; Afterword; Appendix; Notes; Bibliography; Index



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The Lost Companions and
John Ruskin’s Guild of St George

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

The Anthem Nineteenth-Century Seriesnar egb a daorrporates inco
of titles within the fields of literature and culture, comprising an excellent collection
of interdisciplinary academic texts. The series aims to promote the most challenging
and original work being undertaken in the field, and encourages an approach that
fosters connections between areas including history, science, religion and literary
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of their scholarship, and for our commitment to high quality production.

Series Editor

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Editorial Board

Dinah Birch – University of Liverpool, UK
Kirstie Blair – University of Stirling, UK
Archie Burnett – Boston University, USA
Christopher Decker – University of Nevada, USA
Heather Glen – University of Cambridge, UK
Linda K. Hughes – Texas Christian University, USA
Simon J. James – Durham University, UK
Angela Leighton – University of Cambridge, UK
Jo McDonagh – King’s College London, UK
Michael O’Neill – Durham University, UK
Seamus Perry – University of Oxford, UK
Clare Pettitt – King’s College London, UK
Adrian Poole – University of Cambridge, UK
Jan­Melissa Schramm – University of Cambridge, UK

The Lost Companions and
John Ruskin’s Guild of St George

A Revisionary History

Mark Frost

Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company

This edition first published in UK and USA 2014
75–76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK
or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA

Copyright © 2014 Mark Frost

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means
(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise),
without the prior written permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Frost, Mark, author.
The lost companions and John Ruskin’s Guild of St George : a
revisionary history / Mark Frost.
pages cm. – (Anthem Nineteenth­Century Series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978­1­78308­283­4 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Ruskin, John, 1819–1900. 2. fo .tSGdliueg.eGro e. iTltI .
PR5263.F76 2014

ISBN­13: 978 1 78308 283 4 (Hbk)
ISBN­10: 1 78308 283 6 (Hbk)

Cover image: Gravestone of William Graham, St Leonard’s Church,
Ribbesford, Bewdley, courtesy of the author.

This title is also available as an ebook.

To my wonderful family, and most especially to Becky, whose love, patience, and support
since I started out on the old road with Ruskin cannot be measured; and to all lost
companions, past and present.




Chapter Four

Chapter Three

Chapter Five

Dreams and Nightmares: 1878–81

List of Illustrations















Chapter One


Chapter Six


Companions of the Guild of St George: Early Lists




Frequently Cited Sources





Opportunities: 1875–77


The Long Decline and the Great Dispute: 1882–1900


Glimpsing Eden: 1867–70

Chapter Two

‘At Least a Beginning’: 1871–75

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.


Timeline of Guild Schemes, 1871–91 (Mark Frost and Rob Worrell).

John Ruskin, Saint George and the Dragon, after Carpaccio. 1872. Sepia, pencil, and
ink with white highlights on paper. Guild of St George Collection, Sheffield.

William Harrison Riley, June 1902. Yale Sterling Memorial Library. MS417.

Opening page of letter, William Buchan Graham to William Harrison Riley, 23
January 1888. Yale Sterling Memorial Library. MS417.

Fig. 5. John Guy c.1870. Figures 5–10 are from Howie and Leyland, A Gu yaFimyl
Historyimreoissik yp dnudcl bedan, ind . tsdnnaseecgnd ilivy’s n Gu John of

Fig. 6.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.

Fig. 9.

Mary Eliza Hey c.1870.

John Guy with his children, Lottie, Nellie, George, and John Beecher, Leeds,

George, John, John Beecher, Nellie, and Lottie Guy, Auckland, c.1895.

George, Nellie, Mary Elizabeth, Lottie, and John Guy, Haslett Street, Auckland,

Fig. 10. John Guy, 1920s.


The production of this book has been a remarkable and long adventure. It was given life
because of archival discoveries, and archival research has sustained it, leading me into a
maelstrom of conflicting voices, perspectives, and ideas. Making sense of it all has been
difficult and exhilarating, and I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to bring
to light much that has for too long remained shrouded in secrecy. I can only endorse those
suggesting that as academics we neglect archives at our peril. Errors in what follows are
all my own. The work has meant much dogged solitude, but has relied upon much kind
assistance. Not least amongst those deserving thanks are the archival staff I encountered
between 2009 and 2013. Particular thanks should go to the excellent Ruth Rogers and
Mariana Oller at Wellesley College Special Collections. On a single, speculative day
visit there, Ruth unexpectedly placed in front of me the remarkable (and at that time
only partially catalogued) Mss 1887–89, the manuscript containing William Graham’s
‘article’ that alerted me to the startling story that gave this book its purpose. Ruth’s
kindness in humouring a frantic academic desperately transcribing the end of the article
fifteen minutes after closing time (and at a moment when she sorely needed to leave) will
never be forgotten. On subsequent visits Ruth and Mariana made me extremely welcome
and permitted me to fully mine the Mss, and I hope to work with them again in the
future. The incomparable Stephen Wildman, Rebecca Finnerty, and staff at the Ruskin
Library, Lancaster University; and Elizabeth Fuller at the Rosenbach, Philadelphia were
also particularly helpful during my travels. Everyone in Ruskin Studies owes much to the
precise, painstaking work of James Dearden, and to his role in preserving Ruskin’s traces,
but I am also indebted to him for quietly pointing me in the direction of a reference
in Anthony Harris’s 1985 Guild lecture to Sylvia Baynes, an untraced New Zealand
descendant of Guild Companion, John Guy. I am grateful to Anthony too, and to Cedric
Quayle who first tried to contact Sylvia in the 1980s, but am particularly indebted to
Angie Summersgill, a wonderful New Zealand friend who successfully traced Sylvia,
who very kindly provided me with information, support, and an invaluable copy of the
privately printed A Guy Family Historyby apetmiS .J aber elycos idnsw ym krocirn deh
sending me James Burdon’s now obscure account of his Guild experiences, and deserves
gratitude for his kindness and energy. Many people have assisted in various ways during
the project, including my father and mother, Ron and Rose, whose genealogical skills
have been extremely valuable in tracing various obscure lives, and who deserve too many
other thanks to be listed here. I am extremely grateful to Mike and Frances Thompson,
whose generosity permitted me an entry back into academia after some years in the
backwoods, and who made everything that followed possible. Stuart Eagles, Sara Atwood,



Carmen Casaliggi, Andrew Russell, and Anthem Press’s readers have provided support
and invaluable feedback. The Guild of St George, and its present Master, Clive Wilmer,
have granted permission for the inclusion of an image within the present volume, and
have been quietly supportive in many ways. Under Clive’s leadership the organisation
now exemplifies the best of Ruskin’s social vision. It has been a pleasure to spend time
in the company of John and Linda Iles, the present occupants of the Guild’s Uncllys
Farm on the Bewdley estate, and to connect with lands so important to the study that
follows. The compassionate, enthusiastic work at Uncllys represents the finest practical
inheritance of the Guild. It has been an honour to spend time with Cedric Quayle,
a wise neighbour­Companion at Bewdley whose researches on local Guild history are
invaluable. Rob Reddick, Brian Stone, and Tej P. S. Sood at Anthem Press have supported
the book and responded considerately to my pleas for more words. I am grateful to the
British Academy for providing a Small Research Grant to facilitate the extensive travel of
the past few years. I am fortunate to work with excellent colleagues here at Portsmouth’s
Centre for Studies in Literature, and thankful for help at various stages, particularly
from Paraic Finnerty. Mark Jones (Senior Educational Technology Technician) and Rob
Worrell (Educational Technology Technician) at Portsmouth offered generous assistance
with the creation and preparation of images for this volume. My intellectual homeland,
the Ruskin Programme at Lancaster, provided me an opportunity long ago to become
part of a distinctive community of fellow scholars, and I would like to thank Lawrence
Woof, Alan Davis, Robert Hewison, Michael Wheeler, Jeffrey Richards, Ray Haslam,
Rachel Dickinson, Gill Chitty, Andrew Tate, Michael Greaney, Keith Hanley, and all
Ruskin seminar habitués, for steering me through the earliest stages of my career and
cultivating my enthusiasm by sharing theirs.
The last word should of course always go to Becky, James, Rowan, Ruby, and Erik. I
love you all very much.


Cook and Wedderburn’s
and page number.

Library Edition of John Ruskin’s Works

is cited in text by volume

Archival Sources
Permissions to quote from the materials in the following archives have been sought and,
where required, given. The following abbreviations are used:













Criminal Courts (570) irT,sla98 (1878–79).

Hull History Centre: citations include call numbers.

John Rylands Library Special Collections, Manchester: citations include call

West Yorkshire Archive Service (Kirklees), Huddersfield: citations include call

New York Public Library, Berg Collection: citations include call numbers.

New York Public Library, Montague Collection of Historical Autographs,
Box 8.

Pierpont Morgan Museum and Library, New York: citations include call

Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster: citations include MS numbers.

Rosenbach Library and Museum, Philadelphia: EL3. R956 MS1, William
S. Allen (ed.), ilEmd any nrHeo t niksuR nhoJ mona ywSsieh deLttre srfUnpubllo:s01v ,
citations include volume and letter numbers.

Rochester University Library, New York: Sidney Ross Collection of John Ruskin
items; five letters from William Harrison Riley to an unidentified correspondent,

Sheffield Archives:

GSG fo G tSG :dliuecllontirgeoCoe ,dna srebmunilcno satit :icon necticollude
where possible, page numbers.

CCoisnr feret oobollection: citatdrawraC tnepC reEd: d ans xes.elre







Southampton Library Special Collections, Broadlands Archive: citations
include call numbers.

Wellesley Special Collections, Wellesley College, Massachusetts:

Mss 1885–86R su:sM sik n.68–5881s,erttLee umol v

Mss 1887–89L teetsr ,ovulem: Ruskin Mss88 1897–.

TpmoTsnik ,no:. Ms witionersaConvo ntosetpN csiryeflhi C;nellA egroeG htunaM
Concerning John Ruskin, 5 April 1897.

Yale University Beinecke Library Special Collections, New Haven, Connecticut:
MS Vault Shelves (no call numbers):

M: Original Holograph MS of Autograph Corrected Proofs etc; Thirty-Two Holograph
Letters to Miss Susanna Miller, Frederick Harris etc, by John Ruskin.

R.5 D: cJe mheoeb r8187­ WHiarlrliisaomnn RRiulsekyi,n

TLA 1 ot rflAT de:7 4S ALd anr)loTy (,seor Mthreadguilte ,uJ, anyloreir d th
with notes by Juliet (Tylor) Morse, 1864–86.

Yale University Sterling Memorial Library, New Haven, Connecticut: MS417,
William Harrison Riley Papers, 1844–99.

Diaries and Correspondence
BDHleneG li liVjld.(en oe1.97 1). The Brantwood Diary of John Ruskin, together with
Selected Related Letters and Sketches of Persons MentionednoL dna nevaH we. Nn:do
Yale University Press.



J. Evans and J. H. Whitehouse (eds). 1956–59. The Diaries of John Ruskin
Oxford: Clarendon Press: citations include volume and page numbers.

Olive Wilson (ed.). 1985. Family andro aiLeves.yH rettLe: ra Dtos ereD yMoD tsera
Friends. 1860–1900 from John Ruskin Pnkra Fl:dae.n K .srete

DMT(ed.nce SpearetgraM69.6.)1
John Ruskin to Mrs Fanny Talbot





. 3 vols.

Dearest Mama Talbot: A Selection of Letters Written by
. London: George Allen & Unwin.

J. L. Bradley (ed.). 1964. hTLee erttofs oh J nuRksnit ooLdr and Lady Mount-Temple
Athens: Ohio State University.

J. Howard Whitehouse (ed.). 1929.
London: George Allen & Unwin.

The Solitary Warrior: New Letters by Ruskin

Van Akin Burd (ed.). 1969. T Wheniinednopserhtiw ecnRuskohn Corin’s neLgnot:sJ ttre
Margaret Alexis Bell and the Children at Winnington Hall. Cambrd :aHvrradieg ,AM
University Press.




The story of the Guild of St George has been told more than once, and its outline is well
known. (Wheeler 1999, 222)

In past years I would have readily assented to this seemingly uncontroversial assessment
of Guild scholarship. I am now astonished at how very wide of the mark it is. The full
story of the Guild has, it transpires, never been told, and its well­known outline is but a
shadow of a far larger and more compelling tale. Considerable portions of Guild history
have been invisible to scholars, many of its most important episodes and figures have
become obscure, and some of its most compelling voices have never been heard. What
follows is both a reinstatement of much that has been lost, and a critical enquiry into the
reasons for that loss. The present work began with a chance discovery of one of those
lost voices, led to a quest that uncovered several more, and ended by concluding that a
wholesale transformation of our understanding of that seemingly familiar tale of John
Ruskin’s utopian venture is long overdue. In pursuing this, it became necessary to address
deeply problematical aspects of that venture, to critique the fundamentals of Ruskin’s
politics, and to unleash a polyphony of competing voices that have been occluded and
suppressed. It might be thought remarkable that the present work is in a position to reveal
so much new information after more than a century of Guild scholarship. It is far more
remarkable that this information has for so long remained obscure. Until now, the story
of the Guild has largely been refracted through the viewpoints of Ruskin and his closest
allies. The present study offers new perspectives from lost voices within the organisation.
These must be critically and dispassionately analysed, but it is essential that we allow the
difficult and instructive stories of the Guild’s lost Companions to be heard after more
than a century of troubling silence.
Between 1871 and 1886, John Ruskin (1819–1900), the visionary critic of culture
and society attempted to create a utopian organisation variously called the St George’s
Fund, St George’s Company, and Guild of St George. Led by Ruskin its members or
‘Companions’ aspired to offer a practical sociopolitical alternative to Victorian liberal
modernity and to revalue labour, the individual, and the earth by establishing agricultural
and artisanal communities supported by schools, museums, and libraries. Companion
Edith Hope Scott (1861–1936) shrewdly began her Guild testimony by noting that ‘the
documents of this history are to be found in the scattered leaves of those more or less
nameless people who met Ruskin in the obscure adventure of the Guild of St. George’
(Scott 1931, 1). Plainly put, we have simply not realised just how far those leaves were
scattered, or why some of the most significant figures involved in that adventure became



so obscure. Scott was a particularly active member of an early twentieth­century Guild
community that settled on or near its Bewdley lands in Worcestershire. The nearby
St Leonard’s church attracts visitors to its Edward Burne­Jones stained glass, but
languishing untended at the top of the churchyard is a modest gravestone, partly overrun
by brambles (see cover image). The inscription on the cheap stone is now virtually
illegible, and without prior knowledge of its occupants, it would be difficult to make
out the grey embossed letters commemorating the deaths of William Buchan Graham
(1846–1909) and his wife Eliza (c.1840–1925). Nor is it likely that anyone would pause
here, for like the letters on his stone William Graham’s place in Guild history has almost
disappeared. On encountering his name, most Ruskin scholars would make nothing of it,
or think of the more illustrious namesake who shared Ruskin’s interest in art. Those with
encyclopaedic knowledge of the Guild might dimly recall his name amongst the original
1876 list of Ruskin’s first 32 Companions, or have seen it in Guild accounts, but like so
many others on that early list, his name has lost all resonance, and has been passed by
with barely a second glance.Yet the monograph that follows was only possible because
of a chance discovery in 2009 of an unpublished article by Graham literally tucked away
in a previously uncatalogued manuscript in an excellent archive of Ruskin materials at
Wellesley College, Massachusetts. This surprising excavation of a vibrant figure in the
Guild’s history fuelled an exhilarating search for what became an astonishing wealth
of related items scattered across Britain, New England, and New Zealand. Graham’s
writings (including his correspondence) reveal a fascinating, troubled individual with
a vital role in the Guild, while other new findings conclusively demonstrate that our
knowledge of the Guild has been partial, incomplete, and often inaccurate. Graham’s
lost story vindicates the claim of Scott (1931, 8) that ‘some of the most valuable pioneer
work of the Guild has been done individually, and quite without any place in the Guild
reports of its own work’. Graham’s experiences at Bewdley were in fact so damaging to
Ruskin’s reputation that steps were seemingly taken to ensure that they did not become
public knowledge. It is also clear that his was not the only significant narrative that has
been lost or inadequately understood, and that his experiences were by no means the
worst. The belated re­emergence from obscurity of some of the Guild’s ‘more or less
nameless people’ has provided an opportunity to analyse its attitudes to class, revitalise its
history, and critique its historiography. Before tracing the ways in which this revitalisation
will proceed, we must briefly contextualise the Guild’s work and aims.

‘Delivering Knights’

Fundamentally, the Guild was supposed to be about the ennobling power of simple,
productive work, and a means to solve social problems by unleashing creativity.
Underpinned by self­sacrifice, obedience, and communal effort, it was to centre on land

Now, therefore, my good Companions of the Guild,—all that are, and Companions
all, that are to be,—understand this, now and evermore, that you come forward to be
Givers, not Receivers, in this human world: that you are to give rityuo ,shtugho turyo, me


your labour, and the reward of your labour, so far as you can spare it, for the help of
the poor and the needy [...] and observe, in the second place, that you are to work, so
far as circumstances admit of your doing so, with your own hands, in the production of
substantial means of life—food, clothes, house, or fire—and that n oylbu s hycac nuo rlba
you either make your own living, or anybody else’s. (29. 472)

Thus wrote Ruskin in 1883, twelve years after launching his St George’s Fund and
calling on Companions to join his struggle with the multi­headed hydra of capitalism,
radicalism, environmental destruction, and materialism. He had already lost the battle to
restore mediæval simplicity to Victorian life, but had not relinquished hope. The Guild
was the bravest and most foolhardy episode of his distinguished career, a reflection of his
life and politics, and a dramatic misadventure that affected a small group of Companions
in profoundly disturbing ways.
Guild thought may be traced back decades before its official existence. The complex set
of ideas that came together to provide the impetus for the Guild were long in formation,
some rooted in Ruskin’s early life, others emerging later, but the first recognisable plans
for a utopian society appeared in 1867. In 1871, he publicly announced the St George’s
Fund through which contributors might ameliorate the excesses of Victorian liberalism
by ‘the buying and securing of land in England, which shall not be built upon, but
cultivated by Englishmen, with their own hands, and such help of force as they can find
in wind and wave’ (27.95). Ruskin’s proposed ‘National Store’, a rejoinder to Britain’s
‘National Debt’, was an ambitious response to the existence of ‘agonizing distress even in
this highly favoured England’ (27.14, 19), and a controversial project to engineer an ideal
society that would manoeuvre between the perceived evils of unrestrained capitalism
and revolutionary politics. Its subsequent incarnations as the St George’s Company and
Guild of St George deserve attention as Ruskin’s most sustained foray into direct political
action – undertaken while working as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford, lecturing, and
publishing many works, including Cls orF:aregivasretteL oWkrem nt oht eurers ofand LaboerG ta
Britaintnmiosi xe tett ted nnecy coatel .dliuG eht htiwingnaimpcae esThg( th, lae 71184)–8
years, demonstrating the best and worst of Ruskin’s character and politics, articulated his
idiosyncratically Tory response to modernity.
Guild activities can be grouped under agricultural, educational, and industrial
headings. Its educational work was primarily focused on the Guild’s central legacy, the
St George’s Museum in Sheffield. Agricultural activities, repeatedly described by Ruskin
as the Guild’s principal work, centred on land purchases or donations at Barmouth,
Bewdley, Totley, and Cloughton Moor. Traditional depictions of these as short­lived,
abortive activities of little consequence turn out to be inaccurate, and the present work
will grant them far greater prominence. Industrial projects included a publishing venture,
a woollen mill, a linen industry, and a co­operative mill. The early Guild was briefly
involved in schemes for tea retail, pond cleansing, street sweeping, and road mending.
This breadth of activity indicates that this was no typically nineteenth­century attempt
to pursue singular work in charitable aid, communal living, self­sufficiency, or craft work.
Instead, Ruskin sought a far more ambitious vision of transformative social change. One
must also underline the fragmented nature of Guild schemes: each was largely isolated




from others, while members were scarcely able to know or meet fellow Companions until
1879. The organisation failed to attract wide support and membership, and was closely
bound to a founder whose ability to pursue his plans was undermined by ill health. Most
commentators deem the Guild at best a limited success in terms of museum work, or
in its wider influence on political thought; or, at worst, an almost unmitigated disaster.
This study will highlight its undoubted achievements; correct the impression that one
of its projects, at Carshalton, was a failure; and exonerate Ruskin of blame generally
apportioned to him for the failure of the first phase of its Totley project. It will also,
however, underline its serious failures, and suggest that its ultimate inability to achieve
its central aims was not primarily due to Ruskin’s character or ill health. These played
significant roles, but the main problem, I will argue, was his approach to leadership and
class, and the instability of a political vision that attempted to conjoin a radical critique
of society to a reactionary solution to its ills.
Every Companion, Ruskin conceived, would work to return to a neo­mediæval social
ideal, adopt a religious creed, and pledge themselves to self­sacrificing reformation of
the nation. Forming a military­monastic order of ‘delivering knights’ (28.538) inspired
by the Master and the mythical example of St George, they would combat the steam­
fuelled dragon of unrestrained capitalism, and create an ascetic, self­sacrificing society
that would reject unnecessary mechanisation. ‘In the true Utopia’, he wrote in 1884,
‘man will rather harness himself, with his oxen, to his plough, than leave the devil to
drive it’ (29.499). At his most ambitious, Ruskin envisaged ‘a company designed to extend
its operations over the continent of Europe, and number its members, ultimately, by
myriads’ (30.32), but elsewhere he claimed that a project ‘to make some small piece of
English ground, beautiful, peaceful, and fruitful’ (27.96) would be sufficient. Large or
small, the Guild would offer an exemplary rejoinder to the economic and social policies
against which he had been railing for years.
Ruskin’s reasonably consistent Guild vision envisaged a hierarchical organisation
comprised of agricultural craft communities run on ethically and environmentally
sound lines, producing high quality necessities, and in time generating their own schools,
museums, currency, dress, and laws. During 1875–76 he formally created quasi­feudal
ranks for prospective Companions. At the apex was Ruskin, the Master, who could be
dismissed by majority vote, but ruled with absolute authority while in power (28.377;
30.8). The ‘Companions Servant’ (Marshals, Bishops, and Landlords) would devote
themselves to administration, pastoral care of Companions, and the overseeing of daily
community life. Subject to their absolute rule were to be the ‘Companions Militant’,
agriculturalists and artisans who would undertake labouring work. The ‘Companions
Consular’ would make up the ‘third and lowest order’, remaining in mainstream society
and ‘being occupied in their own affairs as earnestly as before they joined it; but giving it
the tenth of their income; and in all points, involving its principles, obeying the orders of
the Master’ (28.539). While Guild roles were never as clearly delineated on the ground as
on paper, the guiding principle of hierarchy and subordination was depressingly active. In
reality, there were few Companion Servants and an overwhelming proportion of largely
inactive Consular Companions. Although small in number, the Companions Militant
were more significant than anyone has imagined, generating tensions between themselves


and an ad hoc governing class. Rather than being the second order of Companions, they
remained firmly at the bottom of the pile, but also provided a persistent and compelling
critique of Ruskin’s ideology.
After a faltering start, Ruskin’s most energetic Guild work took place between
1875–77, but his contributions became intermittent and erratic as he was overtaken by
deteriorating mental health, personal strife, and disappointment. By 1881, with his focus
now almost entirely directed towards museum work, he marginalised agricultural work.
In 1886, his active leadership fizzled out, but he remained Master of an organisation
left in conflicted inaction until his death in 1900. For 15 years, and with not insignificant
assistance, Ruskin sought to grow his organisation in the face of often hostile press
coverage. Its membership probably never rose beyond eighty, but it also helped in a larger
process by which Ruskin’s social thought came to inspire utopianists and a generation of
activists across the political spectrum who would become prominent in a sustained period
of reformism that culminated in the post­war Labour government of 1945 (Harris 1999).

New Ground
The work that follows will not add to the excellent coverage of Ruskin’s influence, but
will focus briefly on the roots of the Guild, and in detail on its fortunes during Ruskin’s
lifetime. It will differ markedly from previous studies, not least because it draws upon
an unprecedented range and quality of evidence. The serendipitous discovery of the
Graham materials and the subsequent examination of a host of related documents in
many archives demonstrates that previous Guild scholarship has been hamstrung by
reliance on partial information. My research led to new (or poorly understood) materials
at Wellesley College, Yale University, New York Public Library, the Pierpont Morgan,
Rochester University, the Rosenbach Library and Museum, the Ruskin Library, Sheffield
Archives, Kirklees West Yorkshire Archive, Hull History Centre, John Rylands Library,
Southampton University, and material published by New Zealand descendants of
Companion John Guy (1845–1929). Drawn together, the assembled materials permit
hitherto unseen connections to be made, and demand a thorough re­evaluation of what
we thought we knew. On a basic level, it is for the first time possible to create a largely
reliable chronology of Ruskin’s Guild. The task at hand, however, is more complex and
difficult than a readjustment of the details of earlier scholarship. To reintegrate lost
materials into existing scholarship is not like adding a few missing pieces to an incomplete
jigsaw puzzle, for the new materials suggest that much Guild scholarship has been a
mixture of limited perspective, sound claims, excellent insights, errors, and speculation.
Extant accounts sometimes contradict one another or leave significant gaps, often over­
focusing on one aspect to the detriment of others, or drawing conclusions from one
area of Guild work that look unsound in the light of broader information. Only by
comprehensively reviewing all available sources can a sounder overview be achieved. New
materials do not neatly resolve all issues, however, for the resulting polyphonic account
raises many new questions, drawing attention to competing versions of events and the
contested nature of Guild historiography, while compelling one to modify the focus of
investigation. Too much attention has been paid to viewing the Guild purely in terms of




Ruskin’s biography, leading to largely univocal accounts of its history, and marginalising
all but a few elite participants. This approach is not sufficient given new insights into the
scope, importance, and nature of the Guild’s agricultural work. Challenging the focus on
biographical readings does not mean abandoning Ruskin’s life as a source of information:
to do so would be to make coverage of the Guild impossible. Rather, I wish to modify this
approach in two important respects: firstly, by giving greater emphasis to social, cultural,
and ideological issues; and secondly, by turning to a broader range of perspectives. The
Guild was Ruskin’s idea, but its actuality was mediated through a range of others, many
of whom have barely been permitted to speak.
Many sound reasons have been given for the failure of the Guild to achieve its
ambitious aims. These include his mental condition; long­standing emotional baggage
resulting from Ruskin’s childhood immersion in Evangelical and Tory thought; personal
traumas connected to Ruskin’s ill­fated relationship with Rose La Touche; lengthy
delays in the organisation’s legal establishment; Ruskin’s unsuitability for leadership; the
inadequacy of Fors saa c maro phe tnd ae;eciphtuom gningiaphe of tics lotilap tacilbme
Guild. This final factor seems to me the key difficulty that explains both the fact that many
working­class sympathisers were disinclined to join an anti­democratic organisation and
that those who did so found it crushed their aspirations. Ascribing the Guild’s problems
to Ruskin’s mental collapse in 1878 only takes us so far, and does not explain why he
continued to devote energy to the museum after 1878 while permitting agricultural estates
to languish without the much more modest support that they required. I will endorse the
widespread view that the Guild’s failure to garner a large membership can be traced to
the peculiarities, limitations, and inconsistencies of Ruskin’s Tory­mediævalism, but will
go much further by demonstrating the particular ways in which his ideology impacted
disastrously on agricultural projects. Guild politics are often treated merely as matters of
theoretical interest, but for the lost Companions Ruskin’s ideology affected their mental
health, physical wellbeing, and financial security. While the Guild proved inspirational
to many, the lost Companions and their families endured a legacy of disillusionment,
trauma, and poverty as a result of the manner in which their enthusiasm was squandered
and their contributions thwarted.

‘The Pathetic Dream’

Given that the Guild consumed a decade and a half of Ruskin’s life, and had wide­
ranging impacts on his own work and on late­Victorian and early twentieth­century
culture, it is surprising that it occupies a somewhat marginal place in critical studies.
Thirty years ago, in :nL suikoWkrta e0–18 18790 RhnJo)1 48 ,e Moerin C(a1t9hrle,y
wrote that ‘the Guild and Museum of St. George have received limited attention’
and that ‘scholars have so far failed to take the Guild – indeed most of Ruskin’s late
work – seriously’. While this situation has radically changed in relation to Ruskin’s late
work, the Guild has been less fortunate. Ruskin biographies regularly regard it merely
as a reflection of the psychodramas of his later years, while it often appears in critical
works as a component of related studies. Despite its connections to so many aspects of
Ruskin’s later career, the Guild has failed to become the primary focus of sustained study.



Armytage (1961), Eagles (2010), and Atwood (2011) each include instructive chapters on
the Guild, but their principal focus lies elsewhere. James Dearden’s ’s Gskinn RuJoh fo dliu
St. George n ais) 1020(ad rsfero bbu, oft aer sredneg lareuide foructory g tnirtdoxeecllne
coverage of its whole history rather than a detailed examination of its first three decades.
Only four other lengthy studies have been produced, the most recent appearing in 1984.
H. E. Luxmoore’s G ehdliuTorGegef o. St dcSto’t9152 )na (s . Stf o georGe’s GuildRuskin(1931)
provide useful but partisan accounts – respectively a Master’s report to Companions, and
a fascinating account by a committed Ruskinian. Neither claim to be scholarly. Margaret
Spence’s sniotP artcci eanslate his Idea St.d ofGuilThe Tro ttsmpteAts ’niksuR :egroeG (1957) is
a valuable, but far from exhaustive contribution. Measured, insightful, and often critical
reading is evident here, and in her edited collections of Ruskin’s correspondence with
Guild Companions (Spence 1959, 1966), but reliance on materials from one archive
means that she prioritises the Guild’s relatively unimportant Barmouth estate over other
aspects of its work. Morley’s study evidences a similar imbalance, for while it delves
instructively into the hitherto obscure lives of some Companions, its overwhelming focus
on education means cursory treatment of industry and agriculture. One must turn to a
plethora of shorter works to try to piece together a broader understanding of the Guild,
but it is no exaggeration to say that a comprehensive critical account of the Guild of St
George has never been undertaken, or that this represents a serious void in our coverage
both of Ruskin and late nineteenth­century utopianism.
It is worth considering why this curious situation has arisen. For Ruskin’s editors,
E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, and for many early biographers, the bathos
attendant on the gap between Ruskin’s lofty ambitions and the Guild’s modest
achievements proved uncomfortable or embarrassing, suggesting flaws in Ruskin’s
character or approach that should be passed over as quickly as possible. It is also likely
that a number of these early acolytes were aware of controversies surrounding the lost
Companions and eager to avoid the subject. Early studies were heavily dependent on
hearsay accounts of the Guild, a fact made more problematical because they often
repeated unsubstantiated claims, and laid unreliable foundations for the future. Cook
(1890) initiated an emphasis on the museum that is unsurprising given its obvious success,
closeness to Ruskin’s aesthetic concerns, and production of much easily accessible
documentary evidence, but problematical in terms of providing a balanced view of the
One particularly important strand of the critical field has worked against the
production of a single comprehensive work on the Guild by subsuming the organisation
within biography. This approach invites readers to examine Guild ideas more closely
than its projects or Companions, and subtly persuades them to see the Guild as more of
a theoretical than a practical enterprise. With the exceptions of Harrison, Hardwicke
Rawnsley (1890, 1902), and Scott, pre­1945 commentators treated specific projects
cursorily or inaccurately. Many have concentrated squarely on the role of the Master,
and regard the Guild as an incorporeal dreamland that reveals more about Ruskin’s life,
mind, or political theory than about the organisation itself. Ruskin’s editors initiated this
powerful trend by insisting that Ruskin never seriously intended for many of his ideas to
be pursued. The Guild, they argued, was partly ‘a study in Utopia, and in part, a record



of things actually done’ (30.xxi). Readers should distinguish between writings in which
Ruskin ‘amused himself by elaborating details for such an ideal community as he had
conceived in his mind’, and ‘his schemes for an actual Guild of St. George’ (30.xxiv,
xxi, xxiv). An understandable tendency to play on gaps between vision and practicality
has persisted. The Guild sometimes resembled ‘a prophetic legend of the Golden Age’
(Scott 1931, 18), and exemplified ‘the curious mixture of the practical and quixotic
in Ruskin’s nature’ (Fitch 1982, 596), but critics have too readily assumed that Guild
theory far outweighed praxis, and that ‘in reality, it is unlikely that Ruskin expected his
separate ideas to be accepted and practised, let alone for communities to be formed’
(Morley 1984, 7).
The dangers of this persistent view lie in the assumption that little of practical
consequence or significance happened. Harrison’s insistence (1907, 177) that the Guild
was ‘the pathetic dream of a beautiful but lonely spirit to flee from the wrath that is,
and to find salvation in a purer world’ emblematically frames a retreat from reality that
is repeatedly reinforced in accounts that insist on the need to ‘perceive the element of
fantasy in his famous experiment’ (Sherburne 1972, 225). Ruskin ‘did not seriously at any
time ever envisage the practical realization of his Utopian vision’, for while ‘he might [...]
linger in enjoyment over the vision’, this was a ‘higher flight of fancy – and positively
it was not more’ (Spence 1957, 154). The Guild was ‘a romantic dream which did little
more than contemplate that a world composed of fourteenth­century communes would
be a better place than one that was driven by the new technology of rational minds’
(Hardy 1979, 80). The Guild and Fors must beelgnhclase,ofs ge ‘urst, esees sa ns a eire
ways of getting people to act and think for themselves’ that began ‘as a rhetorical flourish
in Forsenia a ddna mer ,d sia dnemtnraug of ocuser fbett epoh lacitcar p aanthn iosscu
of Utopian living’ (Hewison 1981, 20; Maidment 1981, 206–7). An idea played out
largely in a mind struggling both with the outward forces of modernity and inward
psychological pressures was, we are told, ‘no instrument’ because it remained ‘a vast
ghostly cathedral that existed in Ruskin’s learning and imagination’ (Hilton 2002, 439).
Apart from a museum, publishing company, and a few brief experiments, the Guild was
‘an incredible vision of a little realm of which he was to be absolute monarch’ (Evans
1954, 343), or an ‘eccentric vision of a feudal kingdom, compounded of his prejudices
and ideals’ (Rosenberg 1986, 196). It was, apparently, ‘never a fixed entity and was not
an organisation with its own history until Ruskin ceased to direct its fortunes’ (Hilton
2002, 306). Fixed it may not have been; coherent organisation it certainly lacked; but
this does not mean that it failed to produce any physical impression or activity, or that it
was merely ‘an exploration of its master’s interests and moods’, and best studied ‘as part
of Ruskin’s biography’ (Hilton 2002, 306). Psychoanalytical readings have a point, but
we must caution against over­reliance on claims that the Guild experiment provided a
regressive opportunity for Ruskin to involve himself in ‘rationalizing and idealizing the
authoritarianism of his home life’, making the Guild ‘a conflict­free sphere, where he
could play out his paternalistic fantasies’ and ‘escape his parents while at the same time
recreating the environment of Denmark Hill’, his childhood home (Sherburne 1972,
225, 224–5), or that ‘the essential dynamics of this phase are feverish dispersion and
fragmentation of effort (driven perhaps by emotional deprivation, self­doubt, and guilt)’


(Fitch 1982, 597). It is true that the Guild was a ‘final, futile attempt to [...] revive not a
medieval style but a medieval society, with a feudal peasantry as loyal as the servants in
his father’s household, and lords as filled with bonligee oblessefslb’n m(i eosRnih rueR kgs as
1981, 198–99), but the Guild was not merely a psychological phenomenon. Scholarship
suggests an organisation whose immediate material imprint on the world was minimal,
ephemeral, but largely benign or neutral in actual effect: while critics readily highlight
and critique the Guild’s authoritarianism, it is seen to be restrained (and even relocated
into the realm of tragi­comedy) by lack of direct impact. Sympathetic critics are able
to highlight the radicalism of Ruskin’s politics and downplay its reactionary elements.
Acknowledging conflicts within Ruskin’s Guild idea, biographical readings situate
these in his mind rather than in terms of work, but while such readings have merit, the
discovery of the scope and longevity of the Guild’s agricultural projects, and the harmful
impact of Ruskin’s ideology on Companions’ lives means that we must look to augment
biographical approaches. The Guild was indeed inscribed by nostalgic utopian fantasy
and the scars of Ruskin’s upbringing but cannot be understood merely in these terms.
Ruskin’s attempted synthesis of authority and community was tested on the ground,
and failed the test. The lost Companions were forced to reside in an uncomfortable
hinterland somewhere between Ruskin’s fantasy and a dire reality. Readings that reduce
the Guild to biography cannot attend to this, or to the theoretical problems at its heart.
To engage more fully with Guild praxis and theory, one must situate investigations in the
grounds of cultural studies, biography, social history, and politics. One must also envisage
the Guild not through the singular lens of Ruskin, but from multiple perspectives.
Problems of methodology continue when one examines the primary sources on which
scholars have drawn. Given the limitations of Luxmoore, Scott, Spence, and Morley,
those seeking further information have had no choice but to consult a disparate, often
contradictory range of sources, but inevitably encounter a nagging sense of irrecoverable
incompleteness in coverage of the Guild, of seemingly unfillable lacunae in the narrative,
and unresolved questions about dates, actions, and personnel. This problem began with
Ruskin. Despite his autocratic pretensions, he never achieved effective central control,
and lacked a reliable means to record and publicise Guild affairs. He produced a
handful of official Guild documents, but these were sketchy and selective, often focusing
inordinately on projects that were momentarily preoccupying his attention. Indeed his
aim, particularly after 1878, was often to not epot bu htoioat, nso fpored teiaslknow the
that supporters would faithfully organise schemes. Despite Ruskin’s use of monthly letters
in Fors a ,draza dnat bwas haphest ,sc tieiga evorepore irt atsivctht euG e dli dnato promot
at worst misleading. Fascinating and valuable as it is, Forswas domi R suik’nanet dybs
perspective, and neglected to inform readers of many important developments. The epic
Library Edition of the Works of John Ruskin ovederht detmeluvoe tos Fors and another to the
Guild. These provide vital contextual information, and a host of important documents,
but miss as much as they include. Guild projects, scattered across the country, were linked
by personal allegiance to Ruskin of a few individuals on whose energy such experiments
relied heavily. Some effectively promoted their causes, while others lacked the time
or inclination to publicise their work. Scholars have diligently traced the most readily
available diaries, correspondence, manuscripts, and other sources to throw light on




specific projects, but have encountered bewildering, evidently incomplete information.
Authors have added details or pursued differing readings of the Guild’s status, ideology,
and outlook, but all have faced the difficult inheritance of Fors ,the Library Edition, and
official documents. It is little wonder that most have preferred the options of dealing with
a discrete aspect of the Guild in shorter studies or of situating the Guild within other
aspects of Ruskin’s late work.

Towards Polyphony: Back to the Land
It becomes possible to overcome these difficulties, and to reconfigure our understanding
of the Guild, by turning to a range of neglected primary materials, and by focusing
more attention on its misunderstood land projects and workers. From the beginning,
Ruskin insisted upon the organisation’s agricultural foundation, but this focus changed.
In October 1875, he stated that ‘the object of the Society’ had from the beginning been
‘to buy land in England; and thereon to train into the healthiest and most refined life
possible, as many Englishmen, Englishwomen, and English children, as the land we
possess can maintain in comfort’ (28.421). In his ‘General Statement Explaining the
Nature and Purposes of St George’s Guild’ (1882), he repeated that ‘agricultural work
is [...] the business nearest my heart of all I am engaged in’, but added significantly that
‘the duty of which I am myself best capable [...] must be found in the completion of the
design for St. George’s Museum at Sheffield’ (30.51). Admitting that ‘I know very little
about land myself’ and that ‘few landowners of my acquaintance were [likely] to render
me assistance in exemplifying our principles of land tenure’, he described the Guild’s
estates at Bewdley, Barmouth, Totley, and Cloughton Moor as ‘insignificant possessions’,
and suggested that he would ‘probably have to bequeath to the succeeding Master, the
Guild’s “principal” work on the land’ (30.71). While Ruskin intended that museums
and schools should grow out of and serve the agricultural communities that were to be
the wellspring of Guild life, the museum became hugely prominent, heightening the
impression of inactivity or failure elsewhere. The most visible of the Guild’s estates,
the ill­fated St George’s Farm at Totley, where Ruskin attempted to support a group of
Sheffield working men in a communal experiment, has proved popular with those keen
to diagnose the reasons for the Guild’s faltering progress, and as part of a persistent
argument that ‘the various parcels of land acquired by and later gifted or bequeathed to
the Guild [...] never amounted to much, either measured by quantity or quality’ (Eagles
2010, 59). By 1882, land projects at Totley and Cloughton had collapsed; Barmouth
was never more than a collection of cottages; and we have long been informed that
the Bewdley estate was moribund until 1889. Much of what follows springs from the
discovery that Bewdley was in fact active between 1878 and 1886, that William Graham
toiled there, and that in different circumstances Bewdley might have provided the
foundational agricultural community around which other Guild activities could have
been built. This crucial phase of activity has never even been acknowledged. Critics have
understandably been misled by Ruskin’s insistence that the failure to realise agricultural
ambitions was due to lack of support and land donations from wealthy patrons, and
by the fact that he never publicised work at Bewdley. The Guild’s longest agricultural


experiment simply disappeared from the record. Recent research makes it abundantly
clear that the Guild’s estates were not exactly ‘insignificant possessions’, and that vibrant,
productive communities were probably achievable on at least two sites had Ruskin been
able to forego his preoccupation with wealthy support and instead harness the energies
of more humble Companions.
A further reason for a new focus results from the manner in which some of the most
sensitive and incendiary materials of Guild history were initially ‘lost’ in the early 1890s:
it is almost certain that news was suppressed of the mistreatment of the organisation’s
working class activists by Ruskin and George Baker (1825–1910), donor and manager of
Bewdley, the leading Guild Trustee during Ruskin’s lifetime, and its second Master. The
painful experiences of the core lost Companions – Graham, Guy, and William Harrison
Riley (1835–1907) seem to have been deliberately covered up by leading Guildsmen
in order to protect Ruskin’s reputation. Collateral damage in the suppression of these
narratives has been our understanding of the work undertaken on the estates. The
names of Guy and Riley have at least survived, although accounts of their contributions
are incomplete and deeply misleading. Far more problematical, in terms of the scale
of the erasure, is that Graham’s decade­long tenure as a Companion Militant in the
Isle of Man, Totley, and Bewdley has been unrecognised until now. While Graham’s
contributions were known to some Companions after 1879, he rapidly became a
nonperson after he left the organisation in 1886 and has remained shrouded from sight.
The staggering success of leading Guildsmen in obscuring Graham’s status as the
organisation’s longest­serving agricultural Companion reflects the threat he represented:
while the lost Companions all experienced psychological and physical suffering, Graham
led a campaign to bring their neglect to public attention through a proposed article or
articles for periodical publication. The scale of his contribution to the Guild, and of the
danger he posed to its public image during the late nineteenth century, were matched by
the completeness of his disappearance from easily accessible historical traces: no articles
were published, Graham’s name has been almost entirely extirpated from Guild history,
and studies have repeatedly suggested that the Bewdley estate was not worked at all until
three years after the end of Graham’s eight­year labour there. To those in the upper
echelons of the Guild for whom Ruskin’s reputation was the primary concern, Graham’s
publishing aspirations were alarming. His article detailed his neglect, but also included a
powerful critique of Guild mismanagement and waste:

Our failures in Guild­work on land are often adverted to as signs of unsound beliefs –
outsiders say, in the principles we profess. Not so, say we, lamenting our too patent
weakness, all the time. But why could not the Guild have pointed to at least one of its
small estates, as giving practical illustration of the Master’s teachings, long before this? –
Causes of failure are not far to seek. It is neither bad luck, nor unpractical teaching, that
has been against us. The principles professed have not been applied to the business in
hand. (WSC Mss 1887–89)

Articulate, thoughtful, and well­read, Graham abandoned a lithographic career for
idealistic commitment to Ruskin, but his treatment did not match promises made in





to Guild pioneers. Instead, he argued, Baker treated him as a despised ‘hand’, made him
endure long hours of piece­work, delayed pitiful wages, and mismanaged the estate in
ways that contravened Guild principles. Worse still, Graham claimed that Ruskin ignored
information about Baker’s actions, insisted on utter obedience from his lowly Companion
Militant, and resisted reforms. While one must cautiously regard a single account of
events by an aggrieved party, the larger body of evidence now available suggests a
systematic failure centred on Ruskin’s refusal to recognise working­class agency or to
support in practice the self­growth and cultural wellbeing that he consistently proposed in
writings: instead of edifying labour and ennobling crafts, Companions Militant toiled in
fruitless enterprises that wasted opportunities to forward the Guild’s central commitment
to agriculture. Their historiographical erasure merely added insult to injury.
One of the principal motivations for Graham’s proposed article was to expose Ruskin’s
appalling treatment of the Guy family at Cloughton Moor. Cloughton has been depicted
as a mildly interesting but insignificant footnote in Guild history, yet another brief
land experiment doomed by forces beyond Ruskin’s control. Vague, often misleading
accounts of Guy have afforded no opportunity to glimpse a substantial working­class
intellectual, his travails and tragedies in the Guild, and his tribulations and triumphs in
New Zealand. The story of Ruskin’s mismanagement of the small estate, his apparently
callous response to the tragedies that befell the family, and the shocking reasons for their
departure from Yorkshire and expulsion from the Guild, are as troubling today as they
were to Companions in the 1880s. A desire to suppress this immensely damaging story
motivated those who lined up against Graham after 1887. Parallel to these stories, and
forming what Graham envisaged as a third prong in his critique, were the experiences of
Riley at Totley. While Riley’s connection with the Guild’s most prominent agricultural
experiment is long established, it is now clear that the situation there was far more
complex and had a longer history than we had previously imagined: tantalising, but
inconclusive evidence invites us to challenge the prevailing impression of Riley as one of
the principal causes of the disintegration of this project, and to glimpse the possibility
that he was instead an idealist whose attempts to shape the Guild were squashed. Riley’s
account of events, revealed here for the first time through scattered correspondence,
provides a counter­narrative that suggests that his role in the first phase of the project
has, like Ruskin’s, been misunderstood; and that interventions by Ruskin in the hitherto
neglected post­1878 phase were the crucial factor in its final demise.
One has a duty to be sceptical when faced with individual accounts of Guild life
provided by Riley, Graham, and Guy, but taken together (and mapped alongside other
evidence), they become compelling, suggesting often unpalatable truths about the attitudes
of leading Guildsmen to their idealistic settlers. All of the lost Companions were rendered
voiceless, unable to change or challenge the Guild’s authoritarianism. The parallel and
relatively well­known story of James Burdon, a Companion Militant briefly connected
to Guild agriculture but subsequently disgraced by criminality, gains greater clarity and
resonance in the light of new discoveries, and we can now also hear his own version of
events for the first time. Burdon lacked the qualities of Guy, Graham, and Riley, and
played a significant role in his own downfall, but whatever potential he had was wasted
by faulty, insensitive leadership. Burdon’s narrative is especially interesting because of