Local Famous People: John Ruskin

John Ruskin in the Lake District

John Ruskin portrait

(1819 – 1900) John Ruskin was born in London on 8th February 1819. He was one of the greatest figures of his time, being a poet, artist, critic, social revolutionary and conservationist.

Ruskin made his first visit to the Lake District in 1824 when he was 5 years old and the memorial erected at Friars Crag, Derwentwater after his death, by the efforts of Cannon Rawnsley, reminds us that the first thing he remembered was being taken there by his nursery nurse. It left a profound and lasting impression on the 5 year old Ruskin and as an adult described the incident as ‘the creation of the world for me’. In 1826 the family came for a brief stay at Keswick, they returned to the Lake District in 1830 for a three week holiday and after travelling from Windermere to Hawkshead and Coniston he wrote of his experiences in a poem of 2,310 lines, which was extraordinarily competent for an 11 year old.

Ruskin was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University in 1869 and it was here he met Hardwick Rawnsley, who was studying at one of the colleges and this was the start of a lifelong friendship.

In 1875 whilst in London, Ruskin introduced Rawnsley to his friend Octavia Hill, who was a social reformer and in 1896 Rawnsley and Hill became two of the founder members of the National Trust. The origins of the trust can be traces back to Ruskins influence. John Ruskin took up the cause of conservation with much passion and vigour and many of the issues on which he campaigned are still in existence today, town and country planning, green belts, smokeless zones, free schools and libraries.

In 1881 he introduced the ceremony of children dancing round the maypole with ribbons.

He returned to the Lake District several more times including 1867 by which time he was a nationally revered public figure. His affection for the Lake District never diminished and in 1871 he bought Brantwood at Coniston in the West of the Lake District.

Brantwood on the shores of Coniston has magnificent views across the Lake and towards The Old Man of Coniston. Brantwood is open to the public and has many exhibitions, displays, concerts, events and cultural Displays and activities and the house, gardens and estate reflect the wealth of cultural associations associated with Ruskin’s legacy.