The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

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The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was an art colony and experiment in communal life in early 20th century England. The story of the Guild began when Eric Gill the sculptor and letter cutter came to Ditchling, Sussex in 1907 with his apprentice Joseph Cribb and was soon followed by fellow craftsmen Edward Johnston and Hilary Pepler. In 1921 they founded the Guild, this being a Roman Catholic community based on the idea of the medieval guild, which existed for the protection and the promotion of its members' work and had been revived by the leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was a community of work, faith and domestic life, with workshops and a chapel, and members living according to their faith. Its philosophy was encapsulated in what today might be called its mission statement, engraved on a stone plaque, now in Cheltenham Museum.

Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses

This statement is particularly eloquent – it sets out the hope for a newly created Eden, set apart from society, where wealth is measured by virtue rather than money. Beauty is to be the goal of production rather than output and there is to be a strong domestic element, characterised by peaceful existence. Also, it must be said, it was to be an Eden dominated by men – no woman would be admitted as a guild member until 1972. Its philosophy was based on Roman Catholicism and in particular, the Distributist ideas of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Significantly, its years of growth followed World War I when so many young people had come to see modern life and industrial production as venal and dehumanising.

Eric Gill's house in Ditchling

Soon the fame and membership of the Guild grew, an early member being the painter and poet David Jones. A key element of the community was a private press, Saint Dominic's Press, which was run by Hilary Pepler. It enabled members to circulate their ideas to friends and supporters and provided a creative outlet for every member of their community. The monthly journal it produced, The Game, is much sought after today, with copies being advertised for up to one hundred pounds each.

Importantly, Eric Gill left Ditchling in 1924, leaving his apprentice Joseph Cribb to take over the stone carver's workshop but the Guild continued to flourish. The Guild continued to attract many new members – carpenter George Maxwell, weavers KilBride and Brocklehurst, and wood-engraver Philip Hagreen. In 1932 the silversmith Dunstan Pruden joined, followed by artist and engraver Edgar Holloway.

Notwithstanding several upheavals, the affairs of the Guild eventually stabilised and it continued for many years, later members being Jenny KilBride who joined the weaving workshop and the calligrapher Ewan Clayton, grandson of Valentine KilBride. Eventually, its affairs were finally wound up in 1989 and the workshops demolished.

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  • This article incorporates text from [1] released in the public domain

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