Written on 04/03/15 by Elizabeth Oldham

An introduction to John Ruskin

John Ruskin memorial on Friar's Crag
John Ruskin's memorial on Friar's Crag

In the Lake District John Ruskin must be one of the regions most overlooked characters, unless you happen to work for the National Trust at Brantwood. In the Victorian era he was a public figure, a poet, leading art critic and notable artist with watercolours of mountains and nature as well as being seen as something of a revolutionary. He campaigned on social issues, attacked the excesses of industrialisation, and spoke up for the environment.

Ruskin was born in London in 1819. His first visit to Keswick was made in 1824 when just 5 years old, and of course he visited Friar's Crag. With a view the length of Derwent Water and the fells, it must have made quite an impression:

"The first thing which I remember as an event in my life was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar's Crag on Derwentwater"

Much later his influential thinking on the preservation of historical monuments and buildings, conservation of open spaces, he inspired two of his friends Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Octavia Hill, who was once an art pupil of his, to form the National Trust.

Many of his works of poetry and writing were published, but he never publicly displayed his artwork. Perhaps his most influential work was Unto This Last, which was translated in both language and meaning, by Gandhi and published in Gujarati as Sarvodaya - 'Well Being of All'. It also influenced many founders of The Labour Party. Would our public libraries, free school education, the National Health Service, amongst many things be quite the same without his work? It is doubtful.

Brantwood was his home for the latter part of his life. It stands in 250 acres of gardens which he designed and implemented with the help of his cousin and head gardener. There are eight sections where he experimented with different aspects of their management. The lower gardens are more accessible than the rest which are built on the foot-slopes of Grizedale Forest.

Brantwood on the shore of Coniston Water
Brantwood across Coniston Water

John Ruskin died at Brantwood of influenza on the 20th January 1900 aged 80 years. In accordance with his wishes he was buried in the churchyard of St Andrews in Coniston.

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