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Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Keswick School @ Dacre

One of the most prolific creators of Great War memorials in the county was the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, an initiative of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar of St Kentigern’s Church, Crosthwaite & an early champion of the Lake District (see High Wray, below).

The School was based on principals established by John Ruskin and the Arts & Crafts movement of ‘truth to nature’ and honest craftsmanship as a reaction to burgeoning industrialisation . Classes for metalwork were initially held in the Crosthwaite parish rooms offering instruction in drawing, design, and woodcarving and was sufficiently successful that in 1893 a dedicated workshop was constructed with a grant from the County Council and private donations. It soon acquired a reputation for high quality copper and silver decorative metalwork and in the following decades the School, under the management of a committee of Trustees, evolved into a successful commercial metalwork enterprise employing full time craftsmen as well as providing classes. Early work was influenced by the Celtic and Norse heritage of the Lake District, a period enthusiastically espoused by Rawnsley and his circle, specifically WG Collingwood. By the end of the nineteenth century and following the appointment of Robert Hilton as director in 1904, Art Nouveau and the simpler Arts and Crafts style came to prominence. It is these styles that dictate the form of most war memorials.

Apart from the marble frame, which is an unusual addition, the example here at Dacre is typical. It has clean and formal lines with little embellishment and the letters are created using a
technique known as repouss√©. This requires a design to be drawn on the back of a blank piece of metal, generally copper or brass. Having been softened with heat the blank is then held on a bed of warmed pitch which supports the metal and yet is soft enough to receive the impressions formed by a series of punches. The three main tools used are the round raising punch for the main design, the tracing punch for ‘chasing’ outlines from the front of the piece, and the finishing punch for smoothing down the background of the design.

The popularity of these designs is perhaps a consequence of the appointment of George Atholl Weeks as Director who together with Eleanor Rawnsley, Canon Rawnsley's widow, set out to re-invigorate the School in the post-war years. In 1925 Weeks married the daughter of G.D. Abraham, author, climber and photographer who opened the shop, "The New Enterprise" in Lake Road retailing the work of the school. Total sales for 1925 were higher than in any year since 1913.


Keswick School designs normally have a stamped monogram, 'K S I A', in the bottom right hand corner. Due to competition from cheap imports and changing tastes the school closed in 1984 .

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