THE SOMBRE ROBE: Ruskin and Birmingham.
DR BERNARD RICHARDS, EMERITUS FELLOW OF BRASENOSE COLLEGE, OXFORD
The Sombre Robe explores Ruskin's connections with Birmingham. He made an important visit in 1877, which is described in Fors Clavigera, Letter 80. This was to inspect the land in Bewdley which George Baker had donated to the Guild of St George. On the way there, he was confronted in Halesowen with the sight of women nail-makers, who presented an image of the arduous toil of industrial workers. Bernard Richards considers the role played by Ruskin in creating the culture that led to the proliferation of of neo-Gothic buildings in Victorian Britain.
Important among those influenced by him were the architect J H Chamberlain, and the sculptor Benjamin Creswick. Richards explores the impact Ruskin had on the evolution of the Arts and Crafts phenomenon, particularly in Birmingham. He also considers the complex relationship between Ruskin's social and political theories in relation to the special liberal traditions in Birmingham, where the doctrine of the 'civic gospel' evolved.