In 1885 Creswick sculpted a Medallion portrait of Thomas Carlyle which C.F.A. Voysey placed at the centre of a decorative panel.  In 1888, the panel was positioned on the wall of Thomas Carlyle’s house now a National Trust property.  Originally number 5 Cheyney Row, the house is now renumbered as 24 Cheyney Row London SW3 (1)

[Left. Panel of Thomas Carlyle, 1885. Photograph by Jacqueline Banerjee, courtesy The Victoria Web]

The information that Creswick was an associate of the Century Guild from roughly 1886 to 1888 comes from Mapping Sculpture (2).  in about 1886, Creswick collaborated with A H Mackmurdo in creating the sculpted panels for a buffet [a sideboard or recessed cupboard for china, plate etc.] The Century Guild was considered to be among the most influential  groups of the Arts and Crafts movement.  Creswick exhibited with them in London, Manchester and Liverpool and contributed work to their exhibition stands at: The Inventions Exhibition London 1885, International Exhibition of Navigation Commerce and Industry, in Liverpool 1886 and the Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester 1887 (3).  Ogden reports that Henry Boddington, a Manchester brewer, bought up the Guild’s Liverpool stand completely and he commissioned the Guild to undertake most of the decoration of his residence, Pownall Hall in Wilmslow. Creswick designed the supporting figures for the Mantelpiece in the dining room, which have been variously described as ‘miners’ and ‘guilded Atlantes’ (4) Creswicks down to earth approach would make it more likely that they were intended to be miners.  Although Creswick took commissions for allegorical figures, he seldom made classical references in his work.  Ogden points out that Creswick seems to have remained uninvolved in the intellectual pursuits of the artistic movements with which he was associated and their political interests.  He did not become a member of the Mackmurdo commune or contribute to the Guild publication, the Hobby Horse, the iconic journal ‘whose contributors looked at art from a scholarly perspective’.   Creswick is frequently described as a genial man and often worked in collaboration with other craftsmen. He would have shared the Guild’s views on the essential aims of craftsmanship and the ‘unity of art’, ‘high’ and ‘low’. However, as Ogden points out, he came from a completely different background to that of his colleagues in the Century Guild. Creswick was of artisan stock, a man who was married with a large family to support and so was unlikely to take to their Bohemian lifestyle and intellectualism.

By 1886, Creswick had a studio in Newman St, Camden, London.  His major work, the terra cotta frieze on the facade of the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers,  Warwick Lane in the City of London, was commissioned at this time, It is dated 1887 (5).  This large and prestigious work gave Creswick the chance to demonstrate his individual style: encapsulating the clarity of ‘sight’ which was the result of Ruskin’s training together with ‘The Master’s’ belief in the power of sculpture to enhance architecture with narrative and meaning. Ruskin had recorded that in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (6) which Creswick clearly took to his heart.  Ruskin’s Cambridge school of Art: Inaugural Address (1858) gives a clear insight into his view of the premier importance of ‘sight’ (7). In the Cutler’s Hall frieze, Creswick illustrated the manufacturing process in which he had worked himself, with honesty and understanding, in this major work.

More information on Cutler’s Hall Frieze in Key Works

The prestigious nature of this commission would have continued to be helpful to him in the long term. Having such a successful London commission helped Creswick enormously in his career. It provided him with an exemplar for future patrons. Indeed, he continued his theme of the dignity of the working man throughout his working life as a sculptor.  His powerful portrayal stemmed from personal experience given that he had worked as one whose everyday work could cause death and almost without exception caused serious damage to health.  Creswick portrayed the working man from the heart.  It is Ogden who cites the  recurring  though so far unsubstantiated belief the working men who Creswick portrayed  were recognisable portraits of the men he had worked with: the Sheffield ‘men of iron’ so admired by Ruskin on his visits to Walkley and its environs (8).   Given Creswick’s facility with portraiture it seems reasonable to suppose that they were the remembered faces of his former colleagues.

[ Left: Heath the Hatters, this image is of the facade of heath the hatters which had  a manufactory behind the shop. It is by T Raffles Davison in a set of sketches or a publication titled ‘Studies of Architecture’]

Between 1887 and 1888, after his success with the Cutlers Hall Frieze, Creswick was offered a commission for another frieze which illustrated a manufacturing process. This presumably lucrative commission was to illustrate the work of hat making.  Creswick was asked to decorate the double fronted premises of Heath the Hatters in Oxford Street by creating a frieze on the first floor level, modelling beavers on the gable ends, sculpting medallions on the third floor level and decoration for the factory entrance at the rear of the building.  Initially, Creswick turned down this commission on the ground that he knew nothing about hat making.  This decision is surprising when we consider that he had a growing family to support. It was not something he would have done lightly. Ogden related the account told by W. Ibberson that Creswick was persuaded to take on the commission after being allowed to spend several weeks studying hat making in the factory (9). T Raffles Davison illustrated the frieze in Studies of Street Architecture and included a piece on it in British Architect which he said was:

‘about the best architectural feature in a shop frontage which can be seen in any London street’ 

Below his illustration, Raffles Davison commented that

‘the work showed a development in Creswick’s style in that the figures on the lower relief are more integrated into the building’s overall design’. 

Sadly, this work has in the main been destroyed. One feature remains: the sculpted beavers that still happily gambol over the gables of the building (unlike their brothers who were made into hats).

[Left. Heath the Hatter's building. Watercolour by Charlotte Halliday R.W.S., N.E.A.C. showing detail of sculpted badgers. Used with permission of the artist]

Creswick’s designs for Heaths the Hatters may be the designs that Ruskin refers to in his letter of the 24th April 1888 to Joan Severn (10)

‘Creswick’s designs are very nice, so is the letter with them. I have written to him’

It is a reminder of Creswick’s continuing loyalty to Ruskin that he sent his designs to his mentor.  It is to be hoped that Ruskin, now failing in health and towards the end of his active career, derived some pleasure from the success of his former pupil.

Creswick remained true to his desire to portray work and the workers who he genuinely knew about and understood.  It is undoubtedly the case that Davison is an admirer of Creswick’s work and his use of narrative sculpture to depict everyday work on public buildings.  However, it must be said that at this time Creswick was still feeling his way in these architectural pieces. Susan Beattie succinctly made this point in The New Sculpture when she says that Creswick makes little effort to co-ordinate his work into the architecture of the building (11). It is in later works that we see Creswick considerably refining his work along the lines of both Ruskin and Stevens. Beattie also pointed out:

‘The Cutlers Hall frieze was one of the earliest in a whole generation of standing friezes which were to adorn the public buildings of the next twenty years.’

Ogden calls the Hatters’ commission

‘a magnificent piece of Socialist realism, modelled without sentimentality but with great dignity’

This comment can be said of Creswick’s work throughout his career. The refinement of his techniques and the closer relationship to the surrounding architecture did not diminish his sympathetic truthfulness to those whose work and leisure pursuits he continued to celebrate. Ogden mentions that Goodall and Sons carried out the production work on the Hatters in Oxford Street.


About 1888, the Creswick’s next child – the seventh, another girl – was born in Manchester. She was named Edith. The family’s address at the time is listed as 20 Snowdon Street, Higher Broughton, Manchester.  No doubt Creswick was in Manchester at this time in connection with the Century Guild’s presence at the 1887 Jubilee Exhibition.

Also in 1888, Creswick exhibited with the Century Guild at the first Arts and Crafts Society Exhibition in which he contributed twelve out of the Guild’s thirty-four exhibits.  Titles such as Man with Scythe, Man with Hay Pike, A True Workman and Grinder and Miner at Work show his commitment to portraying the working man and his work, in city or countryside. He also exhibited at The Royal Academy, London, showing a statuette, Manly Pride: study of a smith at work, and at the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool (12).

[Image left:  Man with a Scythe 1888]

Creswick’s next move is one that saw a major change in his career.  He was ‘headhunted’ by the new Birmingham Municipal School of Art, Central School. In January 1889, he was appointed head teacher of Modelling and Modelled Design (13).  The chairman of the appointments committee was George Baker on whose house, Beaucastle in Bewdley, Creswick had worked at the instigation of Ruskin in 1879.  That both men were still acquaintances is clear from the fact that Creswick was referred to as ‘practically a Bewdley Companion’ (see Wardle and Quayle, 2007).  There is also a reference to another cast dating from 1887 that Creswick made of his bust of Ruskin, which was given to Margaret Harley, one of the ‘Mulberry Cottage’ Ruskin adherents who had moved to Bewdley with her husband Thomas to live by Ruskinian principles.

From correspondence between George Baker and companions of the Guild of St George, we know that Creswick’s name had been included in the list of Guild members admitted by Ruskin prior to 4th December 1884 (14).  However it seems that Creswick did not join in the Bewdley commune. He chooses to to stay apart from that way of life, maintaining an independent existence as a craftsman although continuing to collaborate professionally with chosen colleagues.   It seems that what won Creswick the post at the Birmingham Municipal School of Art were his impeccable Arts and Crafts credentials, Ruskin’s patronage,  his acquaintance with George Baker, head of the School of Art’s appointments committee, his work with the influential Century Guild and his own success in his creative individual work. All of that combined to win him the post.  Creswick managed to negotiate a salary of £300 pounds p.a., which was £25 more than the committee had anticipated paying.  No doubt the salary was important to Creswick with his large family. (15)

The Birmingham Municipal School of Art proved to be a seedbed not only for Creswick’s creative growth but that of his students and through the enlightened approach of the Art School students in all disciplins. (16).  Ogden informs us that it was the Birmingham Municipal School of Art was originally set up in 1884 funded by the profits from the newly municipalised Gas Company, this Municipal School of Art the first of its kind in Britain, had a plaque over its door stating that ‘By the Gains of Industry, We Promote Art’.

The students were taught by a staff compliment that was headed by Edward Taylor who was in favour of practical experience for pupils, which made him ‘something of a pioneer of this teaching’. Taylor was a strong supporter of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The teaching staff soon included craftsmen and women who were at the forefront of the City of Birmingham’s revival of the Guild system – a system that fostered the association of artists from all disciplines from the traditional such as metalwork to those who were part of the crafts revival.  The Guild system led to a revival of crafts such as Stained Glass, which had survived as a craft but had become a process of the sort that Ruskin fulminated against. He argued against systems of divided labour in which no craftsman was allowed to carry out production from design to a finished product.  Crawford describes how the School of Art became the organisational centre of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Birmingham.  This enabled it to restore the role of the artist craftsman who could produce a complete work of art, take pride in his work in a company of equals and supply the city with educated craftsmen and women.   In addition to Creswick, modelling master, the teaching staff included A.J. Gaskina former pupil at he school, who went on to teach in a department of book illustration. By the early 1890s, Bernard Sleigh also a former pupil was  teaching stained glass techniques with Henry Payne., Mary Newill, another former pupil, taught needlework – another  revived craft . There was also Bernard Sleigh who taught decorative painting and many more.

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(1)  Thomas Carlyle plaque

(2) Mapping sculpture, section on Institution and Business Connections.

(3) Ogden’s unpublished work

(4) Pevsner Nikolaus and Hubbard Edward, Buildings of England Cheshire (1971) London, Penguin

(5) Sheffield Independent 31st December, 1888 syndicated article from The Contract Journal ‘of last week’ and The British Architect, April 6 vol. 29 1888 most of these articles are based on the detailed description by T Raffles Davison.

(6)John Ruskin The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The lamp of Memory in Ruskin Selected Writings, ed. Birch 2009 Oxford Worlds classics. pp.22, 23

(7) John Ruskin Cambridge School of Art: Inaugural Address (1858) ed. Birch Selected Writings Oxford World Classics. pp. 94, 95  

(8) Walkley website

(9) Ogden’s unpublished work

(10) John Ruskin The Works, Vol. 37 Letters of Ruskin vol. II, p 604

(11) Susan Beattie The new Sculpture 1983 pp.48-9 and 64 and69

(12) Mapping sculpture

(13) Fiona Waterhouse notes on sources relating to Benjamin Creswick to which she kindly allowed me to quote from, also the B.I.A.D. Archive 1888-9 and Crawford’ s by Hammer and Hand 1984 p.38

(14) Peter Wardle and Cedric Quayle 2007 pp 6 and 34and 35 also note 7.

(15) B.M.S.A. Management Sub-Committee Minutes II, 1888-1889, Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives, SA/AD/2/2,pxx

(16) This whole section is informed by Alan Crawford’s ed. By Hammer and Hand, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Birmingham, 1984 Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.  This is an indication of the integral part that the School of Art played in the Arts and crafts movement in Birmingham.

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