The Knox Guild 1912-1935

The Members, Part I

‘It is striking how few letters and archives associated with interwar women makers survive. The papers of…male artists, designers and architects, were carefully preserved by their wives and children. But …. women can drop out of the already fragile history of the crafts with alarming ease.’ Tanya Harrod (1999) The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century

Poster advertising Knox Guild Exhibition, 1925, Kingston Heritage Service Collection
Poster advertising Knox Guild Exhibition, 1925, Kingston Heritage Service Collection

The Knox Guild has already been mentioned several times in this blog. This group of art students from Archibald Knox’s Design class quit Kingston School of Art in 1912 to form a guild of craftworkers. They were led by Denise and Winifred Tuckfield. Although the committee was headed by men, such as Chair Edgar Holding and Vice Chair Henry Wren (he married Denise in 1915), almost all the other members were women. After five years of Knox’s teaching, the Kingston students felt ready to become craftspeople making and selling their own work.

The Aim and Object of the Guild shall be to encourage Modern Design and Craft on the principles taught by Mr. A. Knox (No. ii of Rules of the Knox Guild of Design and Craft)

The Wren Archive at Kingston Heritage Service contains a copy of a sealed scroll, a founding document with a handwritten list of names of the original Knox Guild members. There are 21 names included, which Rosemary Wren interprets as: May Harris, Maudie Bishop, Mabel Pope, Norah Black, May Holding, Lilian Harding, Annie Begg, Edmund Holding, Marian Coombes, Winifred Tuckfield, Tony Althopp, Elizabeth Ellis, Dorothy Gruchy, Lilian Parker, Annie Parker, ? Williams, C. Ballard, Jessie Smith, Harold A. Winser, Cecil/ Celia Ellis? and Denise K. Tuckfield (1).

The Knox Guild of Design and Craft rented premises at 24 Market Place where they made and sold craft products. They held their first exhibition in Kingston Museum Art Gallery in 1914. The Crafts Study Centre at Farnham holds a beautiful, faded photograph of this group of young women gathered in an interior, one wearing overalls embroidered with ‘KGDC’: Knox Guild of Design and Craft. The Guild’s overalls, fittingly, were ‘in suffragette colours’ which were purple, white and green.

Following World War I the Knox Guild exhibited annually in Kingston Art Gallery until 1935. In 1921, 1923 and 1925 they exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in the East End of London. Some idea of the range of craft skills possessed by members of the Guild is illustrated in the catalogues printed for these three exhibitions. Knox Guild members gave many demonstrations of crafts like pottery and weaving to attract and educate visitors. Members also made and sold silverwork, leatherwork, lace, embroidery, enamelling and raffia. Teaching and dissemination of craft skills was of primary importance. The 1921 Knox Guild exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery had a particularly wide reach, showing the strength of popular interest in craft: 
‘The London County Council…sent every day 250 school children to see it, while hundreds of the teachers came to see the practical demonstrations of art and craft work. During the month it was open over 54,000 people visited….’ (2).

Archibald Knox, c.1900
Archibald Knox, c.1900

Archibald Knox, Master of the Guild (1864-1933)
Knox was the inspiration behind the Guild. When he quit Kingston School of Art, he returned to his homeland, the Isle of Man, so kept in touch mainly by letter. Knox displayed his luminous watercolours of the Isle of Man during the exhibitions held at the Whitechapel Gallery. He occasionally ventured South to visit his former pupils and Rosemary Wren recalls him coming to the Wren’s home, Potterscroft, to hold a class in lettering for Knox Guild members (1).

Winifred Tuckfield, 1910s
Winifred Tuckfield, 1910s

Winifred Tuckfield (1889-1955)
Winifred was Denise Wren’s elder sister. She was the devoted and active Honorary Secretary of the Knox Guild over the entire span of its existence. Although Winifred didn’t pass many of her art exams at Kingston, she was talented at technical drawings, which she made to illustrate the many patents registered by her engineer father Charles Tuckfield. This also stood her in good stead when she worked at the National Physical Laboratory during World War I as a draughtsman, alongside fellow Guild member Maude Bishop.

Winifred was a keen craftworker who made some beautiful objects, such as spun and woven clothing and taught evening classes in leatherwork and cloisonne enamel. She was also a leading member of interwar leftwing group the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, who favoured healthy outdoor activities. The Museum of London holds two items Winifred made for the Kibbo Kift, her name-sign and a leather binding, as well as a photograph of her running a Kibbo Kift stall at Crystal Palace.

The monument over Hall Caine's grave, by Archibald Knox. Maughold churchyard, Isle of Man.
The monument over Hall Caine’s grave, by Archibald Knox. Maughold churchyard, Isle of Man.

Significantly, though Denise was the better artist, it was to Winifred that Knox turned to complete the design he was working on when he was dying. This was a memorial stone for the grave of Manx novelist Hall Caine. It was a daunting responsibility for Winifred to complete her mentor’s design, yet simultaneously a great honour. She had to travel to the Isle of Man to finish this project. It is not surprising that there was some sympathy between Knox and Winifred, given her loyal devotion to an organisation set up in Knox’s name, intent on putting his ideas into practice. They were also living in similar circumstances, both single, their lives very much devoted to their art and local communities, since Winifred did not meet her partner until later in life.

I will write a longer post on Winifred at a later date as there is quite a bit of material on her and she is an inspirational character in her independent approach to life, and in her determination, like Denise, to get as many people as possible involved in craft activities.

Edgar Thomas Holding (1870-1952)
Chairman of the Knox Guild, he secured the Guild’s premises in the Market Place at Kingston when they started out. For some reason his first name is erroneously written as ‘Edmund’ on the Guild’s founding document. However, all the genealogical information available on him indicates that it was Edgar.

Holding was a tailor by trade as well as a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. He painted watercolours of the countryside around Pullborough, where the Holdings resided. He was also a talented amateur photographer who photographed the composer Elgar and his family. There are several photographs by him of Guild members, including his wife May. The Manx Museum has a photograph of Edgar Holding, describing him as ‘Photographer Friend of Archibald Knox’. Holding may have funded Knox’s trip to the US in 1912 when the latter was looking for design work after he quit both Liberty’s and Kingston School of Art (3).

Front cover of Notes on Spinning and Dyeing Wool by May Holding
Front cover of ‘Notes on Spinning and Dyeing Wool’ by May Holding

May Holding (b.1869)
May Smith was born in Ireland. The Holdings lived initially in Wimbledon, then moved to a house in Pullborough, Sussex which they decorated themselves, in a similar vein to the Wrens’ creation of Potterscroft. May Holding made hand spun, hand woven, vegetable dyed furnishings for their home and orange curtains for the Wrens at Potterscroft, as well as a fine spun jacket which Denise wears in a 1920s photograph.  May wrote the book Notes on Spinning and Dyeing Wool published in 1922. It would be interesting to find out whether she had any contact with well-known weaver Ethel Mairet, active around the same time, who lived in the village of Ditchling alongside other craftmakers like sculptor Eric Gill. Certainly, Hilary Pepler, who ran the Ditchling Press, used to print exhibition posters for the Artist Craftsman Exhibition, an annual craft event organised by Denise Wren’s husband, Henry Wren in the Central Hall in Westminster. May participated in the 1924 Artist Craftsman Exhibition showing handweaving.

Stained glass roundel by Maude E Bishop
Stained glass roundel by Maude E Bishop

Maude Emily Bishop (1890-1975)
She was a stained glass craftworker. In 1921 she was a Knox Guild Committee Member. Maude made decorative glass panels for the Wrens’ house Potterscroft. The beautiful roundel shown here, donated by Rosemary’s husband Peter Crotty, was probably also displayed in the Wrens’ home. The wording around the edge reads ‘The Light Shines Through’. The design is similar to a plate by Denise Wren also depicting a ship in full sail.

In a 1974 letter to Denise Wren, Maude lists her professional achievements. These include working at Christopher Whall’s Studio in 1935. Her first commission was for a memorial window at St. George’s in Palmer’s Green in 1936 and the second in 1947 for a memorial window for Surbiton Hill Methodist Church. Located above the sanctuary, it commemorates Mayor of Surbiton Herbert Samuel Durbin. In 1949 Maude became an Associate Member of the British Society of Master Glass Painters. Craft writer Tanya Harrod points out that that from 1916 onwards around half the best-known practising stained glass artists were women.

 Maudie, as she was known to the Wrens, remained a good friend of Denise and of Winifred, with whom she enjoyed going on long country walks. Rosemary remembers her annual Christmas presents of ‘superb children’s books which I Iater realised were classics of illustration of the time’ (1). Maude later moved to Ovingdean near Brighton. In her local church, the 11th century St.Wulfran’s, she painted St Wilfred and St Richard in the gable above the altar between 1957 and 1963. 

Mabel I. Pope (c.1888-1970)
Rosemary Wren recalled: ‘At the Annual Exhibition Mabel Pope’s table always drew a lot of attention. She made jewellery, mostly, as I remember it, of silver with wonderfully-coloured abalone and semi-precious stones.  She demonstrated how silver wire could be shaped, joined or made into little balls by using a tiny source of heat with a blow-pipe and charcoal’ (1). In the 1925 Whitechapel Exhibition Catalogue, Mabel writes about metal working and gem setting: ‘It will be seen that the tools and appliances required are of a simple and inexpensive character, and that artistic jewellery of pleasing form, and with good colour effects, can be produced at moderate cost’. In this way she hoped to promote jewellery making as an amateur passtime. Mabel Pope was also described as a Guild Leather Worker and was on the Guild Committee in 1925.

Annie Louisa Begg (1874-1973)
In 1921 and 1925 Annie Begg is listed as a Knox Guild Committee Member and as a Guild Needlecraft Worker and she wrote a piece on Raffia Baskets for the 1925 exhibition catalogue. In 1930 she followed this up with the book Raffia: Methods and Suggestions For Work in the Home, Schools and Women’s Institutes, part of Pitman’s Craft For All series, encouraging people to take up craft hobbies for their wellbeing. It includes ‘a chapter for young craftsmen’ by Denise Wren. The second edition includes a long ‘Appendix on Straw, Grass and Fibre by Denise K Wren’.

Useful information I retrieved through an internet search of the names of Knox Guild members was an article on Wimbledon Suffragists in the Great War among which was Annie Begg’s name.

She was about 40 at the start of WWI, so fifteen years older than most of the art student Knox Guild members. The article doesn’t mention anything about her creative talents, but possibly she took classes part-time. Henry Wren did precisely this, attending Knox’s Wimbledon School of Art evening classes. The article linked to above details Annie Begg’s involvement in welcoming refugees from Belgium to Wimbledon, showing exactly how the Knox Guild got to know the De Clerck brothers, painter Jan and sculptor Oscar, two of the Belgian refugees who sought shelter in the area following the outbreak of World War I. This was mentioned in my earlier post Creative Responses to Change below.

In 1915, the same year that the De Clercks organised their fundraising ‘Belgian Exhibition of Modern Art’ in Kingston Museum Art Gallery, Annie Begg went abroad to help with the war effort. She ended up in Ajaccio in Corsica as an orderly nursing the wounded until 1916. She then moved to Dundee, where her father originated, between 1916 and 1919, to work as matron in a home helping to resettle orphan boys from Serbia in Scotland.

Next month I will post on members of the Knox Guild on whom I currently have less information.

(1) Wren. R. (1997) The Knox Guild and Its Background: A Scrapbook of Recollections and Pictures with an Archival Index Unpublished but deposited in several archives including Kingston Heritage Service
(2) Surrey Comet (1921) ‘Kingston. Arts and Crafts Exhibition’, 30 November
(3) Tillbrook, A. et al (2001) ‘The Later Years’ in Martin, S. Archibald Knox London: Art Books International, p.123


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