The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

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The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was a Roman Catholic art colony and experiment in communal life in early 20th century England.

History[edit]

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,[1] 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.

This statement 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.

The Buildings of The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

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.

Guild members[edit]

Eric Gill[edit]

(1882 - 1940) - Member of Guild 1920-1924 - Typographer, engraver, sculptor

The most famous member of the Guild and the inspiration behind its foundation. He was born into a large family and raised in the non-Conformist religious tradition. Abandoning early training as an Architect, he took to lettering and stone carving in his early twenties. A move to Hammersmith 1905 led to friendship with Edward Johnson and Hilary Pelper, something which was to continue when Gill, seeking a rural environment, moved to Ditchling in 1907. There his ideas continued to develop along with his artistic reputation; he was received into the Catholic Church in 1913 and soon afterwards was awarded the commission for the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, the realisation of which was to establish his pre-eminence among contemporary sculptors.

His growing concern with self-sufficiency was the driving force behind the foundation of the Guild in 1921, while his restless nature led to its first crisis when he left to found a new community in the remote Welsh hamlet of Capel y ffin in 1924, returning to London in 1928. His range of work continued to grow throughout his lifetime, encompassing typography, book design, engraving, social campaigning and sculpture. His Catholicism however, was some way from being orthodox, his version modifying traditional teaching so as to permit full reign to his considerable sexual appetites. The details of his activities were recorded in his personal diaries, revealing the abuse of his daughters and damaging his moral credibility.

Hilary Pepler[edit]

(1878-1951) - Member of the Guild 1920 - 1934 - Writer, printer

Pepler had an eclectic career, starting a social worker when he came under Gill's influence at Hammersmith. Gill interested Pepler in the art of lettering which led to involvement in publishing. and eventually printing when he moved to Ditchling in 1916 to set up the St Dominic's Press, using a traditional handpress in preference to a more automated device. In the same year he abandoned his Quaker faith for Catholicism. He published The Game, with Gill and Johnson, airing the views which would lie behind the foundation of the Guild. His friendship with Gill was broken by Gill's move to Wales, and was never to recover, despite the marriage of Pepler's son and Gill's daughter in 1927. His interests spread beyond the Guild in the 1930's into the arena of drama and mime. His insistence on employing a non-Catholic assistant led to his acrimonious departure in 1934, his printing business continuing under the name The Ditchling Press. His mimes were performed widely in Europe and the US to great critical acclaim.

Desmond Chute[edit]

(1895 - 1957) - Member of the Guild 1920-1921- Engraver, later Priest

Chute had a brief but important role in the foundation of the Guild. He was born in Bristol and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1912 and later became friends with Stanley Spenser. Having met Gill 1918, he soon moved to Ditchling to learn stone carving and engraving. He was to leave the Guild however in 1921 in order too enter the priesthood. In a letter to Chute in 1940, Gill confided "how much I love you and how much I owe you" and it is fair to suggest that his departure was an important factor in Gill's alienation from the Guild.

Later he moved for his health to Rapallo in Italy, where he was a friend of Ezra Pound, and one of the Tigullian Circle around him.

Joseph Cribb[edit]

(1892 -1967) - Member of the Guild 1920 - 1967 - Stone Carver

Cribb was apprenticed to Gill in 1906 and followed him to Ditchling. Having served in WWI, he returned to Ditchling and became a member of the Guild very soon after its foundation. He took charge of the stonemason's shop after Gill's departure, specialising in inscriptions and decorative carvings for new buildings; he did a lot of work for the Brighton Architects John Denman and eventually had his own apprentices, John Skelton, Noel Tabbernor and Kenneth Eager. He continued to work a until his death, a true hero of the Guild.

David Jones[edit]

(1895 - 1975) - Postulent of the Guild 1924 -1925 - painter and poet

After Gill, the most celebrated member of the Guild, due to his painting and his modernist war poem, In Parenthesis published in 1937.

In his youth he showed an enthusiasm for drawing which was interrupted by service in WWI. Having being drawn to Catholicism during the war, he was introduced to Ditchling by Fr John O'Connor (a friend of GK Chesterton) where he set about learning wood-engraving. He produced some remarkable murals for the Guild chapel, in particular, the painting of Christ being mocked by soldiers attired as English Tommies reveals something of the scars left by his war-time experience. He became a Dominican Tertiary in 1923 but left to join Gill at Capel y ffin in December 1925. He was later to be briefly engaged to Gill's daughter, Petra.

Around 1927 he began to write the poetry that would establish his reputation. In 2002 he was one of the twelve featured War Poets in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

George Maxwell[edit]

(1890 - 1957) - Member of the Guild 1921 - 1957

Maxwell was a wheelwright from Birmingham, knowledgeable in theology who was introduced to the Guild by Fr McNabb. He established the carpenter's shop which was to specialise in hand looms and church furniture.

Maxwell was devoted to the Distributist ideal, building his own house, maintaining his own smallholding as well as writing polemical essays on the movement. One son, Stephen, was killed while serving with the Gordon Highlanders at Anzio, Italy on 12 January 1944; another, Vincent, became a priest and the third son, John joined the Guild and continued the workshop after his father's death. One daughter, Teresa had a family which included another priest and his other daughter, Winifred, still lives in Ditchling.

Valentine KilBride[edit]

(1897 - 1982) Member of the Guild 1926 - 1981 - Weaver

Disillusioned with life as an industrial worker, Kilbride was attracted to the world of crafts and began to teach himself the art of traditional weaving in 1920. In 1922 he joined the Guild of St Margaret in Scotland where he was to develop his skills. When he was released by that guild he came to Ditchling to work for Ethel Mairet.

Like Jones, he had heard of the Guild from Fr John O'Connor; he was to become a member in 1926, the year in which he married. Five of his six children were to become involved in weaving. Eventually the management of the workshop was taken over by his daughter Jenny.

His lasting contribution was to pioneer the revival of gothic style liturgical vestments, designed in a conical shape. Their use has become common to the present day.

Bernard Brocklehurst[edit]

(1904 - 1996) - Member of the Guild - 1930 - 1941 - Weaver

Brocklehurst joined the Guild as KilBride's partner. When production was suspended in 1940 due a silk shortage, he left the area and did not return. He did however continue to work on liturgical vestments.

Philip Hagreen[edit]

(1890 - 1988) - Member of the Guild 1930 -1955 - Engraver, letterer

Hagreen was a leading force in the foundation of the Society of Wood-Engravers in 1920; he visited Ditchling 1922, eventually following Gill to Capel y ffin in 1924. He returned to Ditchling as a member of the Guild in 1930 and becoming a member. His lettering continued the tradition established by Johnston and Gill of simplicity and clarity in lettering with his many engraved bookplate designs; he was also a committed distributist. He retired in 1957, but continued to paint watercolours.

Dunstan Pruden[edit]

(1907-1974) - Member of the Guild 1934-1946; 1968-1974 - Silversmith

Pruden came to Ditchling in 1932 and became a full member of the Guild two years later. His book 'Silversmithing' was printed by St Dominic's Press and became the foundation for his part-time teaching career at Brighton Art College. He fulfilled hundreds of commission for ecclesiastical metalwork and in addition to working in silver and gold he made carvings in ivory.Possibly his most famous work was a gold chalice made for the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool in 1959 which bears a figure of Christ in Majesty and is made from 300 wedding rings donated by widows.

He left behind an unpublished autobioqraphy entitled 'So Doth the Smith'.

Winefride Pruden[edit]

(1913 -2008) - Member of the Guild 1975 - 1988 - Silversmith, writer

She was taught the art of silversmithing by Dunstan and joined the Guild in 1975. She lectured widely and was the art critic for the Catholic publication The Tablet. A former President of the Society of Catholic Artists she was made one of the first Papal Dames in 1994.

Edgar Holloway[edit]

(1914 - 2008) member of the Guild 1950 - 1988 - painter, graphic designer, engraver, print-maker

Edgar Holloway first came to Ditchling from in 1948 with an established reputation for drawing and print making. He learned the art of wood-engraving from Philip Hagreen and became a Guild member in 1950. For the next twenty years he turned away from engraving and concentrated on graphic design, continuing the tradition of fine hand-drawn lettering established by Gill and Johnston. In 1969 he turned to water-colours inspired by the landscapes of Wales and Sussex and in 1972 resumed engraving. He was chairman of the Guild when it closed in 1988. The last twenty years of his life saw much interest in his work with several retrospectives.

Kenneth Eager[edit]

(1929 -2013) - Member of the Guild 1974 -1988 - Stone cutter

Originally an apprentice to Joseph Cribb in 1945, he remained at the Guild until its closure after which he retired to Malta.

Jenny KilBride[edit]

(1948 - ) - Member of the Guild 1974 - 1988 - Weaver & Dyer

The daughter of Valentine KilBride, Jenny KilBride learnt her skills from her father and in 1974 became the first woman to join the Guild. Having grown up at the Guild she still lives in Ditchling and is Chair of the Ditchling Museum Trustees.

Ewan Clayton[edit]

(1956 - ) - Member of the Guild 1983 - 1988 - Calligrapher

Clayton is the grandson of Valentine KilBride and was the last member to join the Guild in 1982. He currently teaches calligraphy in England and abroad and is Research Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Sunderland. He has curated several exhibitions at Ditchling Museum about calligraphy and typography as well as exhibitions on David Jones and Edward Johnston.

Other members[edit]

  • Philip Baker - 1932-1939 - carpenter - brother-in-law of George Maxwell
  • Mark Pepler - 1932-1933 - printer - son of Hilary Pepler
  • Cyril Costick - 1932-1933 - printer
  • John Maxwell - 1958-1979 - carpenter - son of George Maxwell
  • Noel Knapp-Tabbernor - 1968-1978 - stonecutter
  • Thomas KilBride - 1960-1988 - weaver - son of Valentine KilBride

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Eric Gill and the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, ISBN 0 9515974 1 8