John Ruskin, who was born on 8 February 1819 in London, first visited Keswick at the age of five years old and again briefly in 1826 for a three week holiday with his family. He wrote a poem of 2310 lines called Iteriad, which at the age of eleven was highly competent, after a trip from Windermere to Hawkshead and Coniston. He was appointed the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University from 1869 to 1879, it was here that he met Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and this was the start of a lifelong friendship. Ruskin’s views were in advance of his time on topics such as town planning, smokeless zones, the green belt and education. These ideas influenced those who established the National Trust. He is commemorated at Friars Crag on Derwent Water, this was one of the Trust’s early acquisitions. It was John Ruskin who introduced Rawnsley to his friend Octavia Hill, who was a social reformer. Rawnsley and Hill were two of the founders of the National Trust in 1895.
Ruskin’s abilities ranged from art to economics and he was a prolific writer. He was also well known in other countries as a supporter of human rights, whether those of exploited industrial workers or of the politically oppressed. His name is still respected in India as one who provided inspiration to Gandhi, whom he met while in South Africa.
Ruskin bought Brantwood near Coniston and W G Collingwood, who was a former pupil of Ruskin’s at Oxford, became his secretary. Unfortunately, on 20 January 1900 Ruskin died at Brantwood from influenza. His grave, which is in the churchyard at St Andrew’s Church in Coniston, is marked with a large carved cross made from green slate from a local quarry at Tilberthwaite. This cross was designed by Collingwood, who was an expert on Anglo Saxon crosses, with symbols representing important aspects of Ruskin’s life and work. Collingwood set up an exhibition, which is now called The Ruskin Museum, in Coniston. This museum was officially opened by Canon Rawnsley in 1901. The Armitt Museum in Ambleside also contains a section on John Ruskin as well as a section on W G Collingwood and his family.