john-price.me.uk

 

THE GUILD OF ST JOSEPH AND ST DOMINIC

INTRODUCTION

[History] [Guild life] [Members] [Philosophy] [Workshops]
     

< >

 

 

The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was a unique experiment in communal life in the early twentieth century. The story of the Guild began when Eric Gill the sculptor and letter cutter came to Ditchling 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. These organisations 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, with 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.

Inscribed stone by Joseph Cribb

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 drew strands from the Arts and Craft movement, from Catholicism and from the Distributist ideas of GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Significantly, its years of growth followed the Great War when so many young people had come to see modern life and industrial production as venal and dehumanising.

Soon the fame and membership of the Guild grew, early member including the painter and poet David Jones, carpenter George Maxwell, and engraver Philip Hagreen. A key element of the community was the 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 attracted many new members such as  weavers KilBride and Brocklehurst; 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; the core of the group was to become Maxwell, KilBride, and Cribb who together totalled nearly 150 years of membership. Later members were Jenny KilBride (the first female member) who took charge of the weaving workshop and calligrapher Ewan Clayton, grandson of Valentine KilBride. The Guild was finally wound up in 1989 and the workshops demolished.

As to the lessons to be learned, I would like to quote Ewan Clayton's reflections on what life in the Guild was actually like;

"Simplicity, gentleness, peacefulness, domesticity and a kind of unsensational holiness, which is not about being heroic but is about living in a place that you love and learning to respect its rhythms and its plants and its animals and to love them and to go through season after season and the cycles of family life and to celebrate them as a community,  in an ordinary way, where your spirituality is an ordinary spirituality rather than an extreme one

and where it is a given, a normal part of life, that you make things with your hands."

 

 

 

    Sources
  • Eric Gill and the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, edited by Timothy Wilcox, produced in connection with an exhibition at the Hove Museum and Art Gallery, 1990.
  • Distributionist Perspectives - Essays of the Economics of Justice and Charity, Dr T H Naylor et al., ISBN 0971828679, IHS Press, 2004.
  • Eric Gill, Fiona McCarthy,  ISBN 0571143024, Faber and Faber, 1989.
  • Eric Gill and Ditchling: the Workshop Tradition, Ruth Cribb and Joe Cribb, 2007, ISBN 0-9516224-9-8 (See here to read an extract dealing with the Guild)
  • Autobiography, Eric Gill, Jonathan Cape, 1940.
  • Looking for Mr Gill, DVD, produced by Luke Holland.
  • Website Ditchling Museum .

 

 
   

Personal comment

This web-site represents a personal view based on my limited research. My own modest involvement with the Guild arises from family background - George Maxwell was my Great Uncle. I visited the Guild only once - around 1970 when my father took me to visit my Aunt Cissie (Maxwell's widow) and my cousin, John Maxwell. At the age of fourteen, I had little idea what to make of it but the experience stayed with me. In recent years I have read much about the Guild and taken every opportunity to discuss it with other relatives who, like myself made fleeting visits.

I am conscious that very little has been written about the Guild in relation to its significance. Furthermore, much of that which has been written has concentrated on the contribution of Eric Gill. My view is that there is a lot more to be said about the Guild and these pages are intended to be a small step on the way. If anyone reading this material has any comments or information I would be very pleased to hear from them.

John Price

e mail: jp@john-price.me.uk

Download a PDF of this website

I, John Price, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.