Ruskin in Wyre
Ruskin Land is an area of the Wyre Forest near Bewdley in Worcestershire owned and cared for by the Guild of St George

Much of the land is managed by our partners, the Wyre Community Land Trust. It includes a hundred acres of mostly oak woodland, two farmhouses, a sawmill and an orchard and wildflower meadow.

Many groups and individuals visit Ruskin Land each year and it hosts local, regional and national collaborations which benefit from the resources of this area of outstanding natural beauty, and from the skills and expertise of the people who live and work on the land. The Guild is supporting work to regenerate the old orchards, hay meadows and oak woodland, and it helped to build an architecturally striking study centre on its land, The Ruskin Studio.

The land was given to Ruskin in the 1870s and has been managed by the Guild since then. The mission of Ruskin’s Guild was, in his words, ‘to take some small piece of English Land, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful’, to provide opportunities for working people to cultivate land and reconnect with nature. Ruskin’s ideas remain relevant today and it is our mission to reinterpret them in meaningful, creative and productive ways for a new generation.

The current HLF-supported Ruskin in Wyre project aims to explore what happened at Ruskin Land and how Ruskin’s ideas have been incorporated into the modern forest.

The project seeks to deepen the links between the community and the forest through a wide range of events and activities. Making, of all kind and varieties, is a key part of the project and it provides opportunities for people to work with our artist in residence using our oak to create beautiful things.

The history of Ruskin in Wyre

“We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam-engines upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or unthought-of creatures on it; none wretched, but the sick; none idle, but the dead.”

Ruskin’s initial hopes for the land he was given in the Wyre Forest provide a sense of his utopian vision which remains inspirational to this day. It arose from his reaction to the ravages of the industrial revolution on the environment and humankind. But the forest at that time was itself an industrial landscape, supporting a wide range of economic activity including coppicing and making charcoal for iron smelting, bark stripping for the nearby tanneries, basket, besom and hurdle making.

It was George Baker, a Quaker businessman and local politician, who offered Ruskin some land in the Wyre Forest to make a practical reality of his ideas. Baker lived at Beaucastle, the imposing neo-gothic mansion on the edge of the forest just off the Bewdley to Cleobury road.

He originally gave 7 acres in 1871, later increasing his gift to 20 acres in 1877, the year that Ruskin paid his only visit to the area when he described the bequest as “in midst of a sweet space of English hill, dale and orchard, yet unhurt by the hand of man.” He had plans drawn up for a museum at Ruskin Land which were never realised.

After the land was cleared of trees, William Graham, one of Ruskin’s early followers, set about establishing a smallholding at what was then known as the St George’s Guild Bewdley Estate. In 1880 he drew a plan for an orchard of 180 or so fruit trees, a mixture of varieties of plum, damson, apple, pear and cherry.

Graham worked there for 8 years, planting and tending the young orchard, raising pigs and growing various crops. Sadly, he left after falling out with Ruskin who he felt had failed to provide adequate support for his efforts. William Graham is buried, with his wife Eliza in St Leonard’s Churchyard in Ribbesford.

Shortly after Ruskin’s death in 1900, the Guild resolved to build a cottage at Ruskin Land. St George’s Farmhouse was completed in 1908 and a few years later Frederick and Ada Watson moved in with their daughter Eva and sons Harry and Willy. The Watsons were members of the Liverpool Ruskin Society where they previously lived.

They followed in the footsteps of fellow members of the Society, Margaret and Thomas Harley, and Edith Hope Scott who had moved to the Wyre Forest a few years before. Together they formed the nucleus of a small Ruskinian community. The Watsons remained at St George’s Farm for almost thirty years working the land and selling their produce at local markets.

After Frederick suffered a stroke, the Watsons returned to Liverpool in 1938. It wasn’t until after the war that the Guild found new tenants for St George’s Farm. In 1956 Jack and Nancy Bishop took over the farm and raised a family there until Jack moved into a local hospice in 2014 shortly before passing away.

They combined running the smallholding, rearing turkeys and cattle (having grubbed up the original orchard), with Jack working as a ‘loom tuner’ at Brintons, a carpet factory in Kidderminster. While they are fondly remembered by members of the local community, the Bishops had no particular attachment to Ruskin or the Guild of St George, who were content to ensure that Ruskin Land was being farmed.

In the last two decades, and in partnership with the Wyre Community Land Trust, the Guild has begun a long-term project to revitalise the management and care of Ruskin Land, to ensure that it will remain ‘beautiful, peaceful and fruitful’ for centuries to come.