Lancaster's Tribute to Ruskin

By Hills, Ann | History Today, April 1995 | Go to article overview

Lancaster's Tribute to Ruskin


Hills, Ann, History Today


* John Ruskin (1819-1900), Victorian critic, artist, educationalist and visionary, is the subject of a major project at Lancaster University some ninety-five years after his death. The prime mover behind a nearly-3 million[pounds] development -- Professor Michael Wheeler -- has almost achieved his dream of creating a modern masterpiece at Lancaster to house the collection of Ruskin books, manuscripts, drawings and diaries which have been kept at Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight for two generations. This concept relies on a bid for 1.5[pounds] million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The proposed building by Richard MacCormac will overlook sea and lakeland and has already been lauded by The Independent's Jonathan Glancey as a `remarkable new library'. Despite Ruskin's Victorian gothic roots, this is a daringly exciting oval building which it is hoped it will be completed before the centenary of Ruskin's death.

The development hails from a long, consolidated focus on the nineteenth-century at Lancaster which has been holding seminars on Ruskin for nearly five years. `This May, Manchester University Press are publishing Ruskin and Environment, which I have edited', explained Professor Wheeler. Among the nine contributors is Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster, Jeffrey Richards, who has written on Ruskin and the railways (Ruskin hated the steel road's intrusion into the Lake District). Publication of the book, meanwhile, follows an exhibition on Ruskin, Hardwicke Rawnsley and the founding of the National Trust.

`We are also in the middle of a three year project on Ruskin's Modern Painters, his magnum opus', continued Michael Wheeler, who has carried out extensive research in America, `Ruskin's writings and art were dispersed widely in a series of sales in the 1930s'. The Bembridge collection is now in need of conservation, which is another reason for the Lancaster project to go ahead. `We have an endowment to run the Ruskin Library, but the promise of 75,000[pounds] a year maintenance and an externally raised endowment will only be relevant when the new building materialises'.

The other movers behind the project are trustees of the Education Trust, which owns the vast collection at Bembridge School, gathered there by the school's founder, John Howard Whitehouse. Thousands of books, letters, volumes of diaries, photographs, glass negatives and daguerreotypes, have been cared for during thirty-six years by Ruskin specialist James Dearden, who has written extensively on Ruskin and who is still actively occupied with the archive.

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