Ruskin was born in London on 8 February 1819. He was one of the
greatest figures of the Victorian age, poet, artist, critic,
social revolutionary and conservationist.
Ruskin made his
first visit to Keswick in 1824, when he was 5 years old, and the
memorial erected at Friars Crag after his death by the efforts of
Canon Rawnsley, reminds us that 'the first thing I remember as an
event in life was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar's
Crag on Derwentwater'. That first view of Friar's Crag made a deep
impression on the five year old boy, and years later he described
the incident as 'the creation of the world for me'. After a brief
stay in Keswick in 1826, the family came for a three week holiday
in the Lakes in 1830. After a trip from Windermere to Hawkshead
and Coniston, he wrote is experiences in Iteriad, a poem of
2310 lines which were highly competent for a boy of 11.
Burne-Jones and William Morris met whilst at Oxford taking Holy
Orders. Here they gained inspiration from the writings of John
Ruskin, and decided they wanted to become artists. Ruskin saw the
work of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as 'the dawn
of a new era of art', and Burne-Jones went to London to seek out
Rossetti. Ruskin became a great friend of Rossetti, Burne-Jones
and Millais (who later married Ruskin's wife Effie), and was an
eminent artist himself.
appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University in
1869, and it was here that he met Hardwicke Rawnsley who was
studying at Balliol College. This was to be the start of a
lifelong friendship. In 1875, whilst working in London, Ruskin
introduced Rawnsley to his friend Octavia Hill, a social reformer.
Rawnsley and Hill were two of the founders in 1896 of the National
Trust, whose origins can be traced back to Ruskin's influence.
Ruskin took up the cause of conservation with much passion and
vigor, and many of the issues on which he campaigned are still
valid today - town and country planning, green belts and smokeless
zones. He also campaigned for free schools and libraries.
In 1881 he
introduced the ceremony of children dancing round a maypole with
He returned to
Keswick several more times including 1867 by which time he was a
nationally revered and distinguished public figure. His affection
for the Lakes was undiminished, for four years later in 1871, when
he was 52 he bought Brantwood, near Coniston, when he learnt that
W.J. Linton, the wood-engraver and revolutionary, wished to sell
it. He was visited at Brantwood by many eminent Victorians,
including Charles Darwin, Holman Hunt, Kate Greenaway and Henry
In 1877 he
inspired William Morris to found the Society for the Protection of
Ruskin died at
Brantwood of influenza on 20 Jan 1900, and is buried in the
churchyard of St Andrew's Church in Coniston. His grave is marked
with a large carved cross made from green slate from the local
quarry at Tilberthwaite. It was designed by W.G. Collingwood, who
was an expert on Anglo-Saxon crosses, with symbols depicting
important aspects of Ruskin's work and life. A year later W.G.
Collingwood worked to set up an exhibition, now called the Ruskin
Museum, at the back of the Coniston Mechanics Institute, as a
place to preserve any Ruskin mementoes that could be found. In
1901 the building was opened by Canon Rawnsley, and now gets
almost as many visitors as Brantwood itself.