Working Men

Ruskin declared the chief aim of the Museum to be the 'liberal education of the artizan' (Works, 30, p. 39). The addresses listed in the Museum's visitor book indicate that he was successful in attracting members of that social group.

The words of the Museum's curator seem to confirm Ruskin's success in reaching a socially diverse audience:

'in the museum there are many things which prove to be charming in the eyes of the rough and hard workmen and we've not had a single instance of anything but most pleasing and reverent attention -- nothing approaching even the slightest degree to rude or flippant behaviour in the them' (Swan to Bunney).

In a letter to Ruskin dated 18 October 1876, Swan reports that 'The interest in the Museum seems still increasing':

'Yesterday (Sunday), in addition to our usual allotment of casual calls at the Museum, we had a visit from a party of working men; two or three of them from Barnsley, but the most Sheffielders, among which vast were several of those who came to meet thee on the last occasion.' (Works, 28, p. 747).

National and International Visitors

Ruskin's fame ensured that the Museum attracted the attention of visitors from other cities and other countries.

A journalist reporting on a visit to the Museum wrote that 'It is interesting to note the places from which pilgrims have come -- London, Leeds, Hull, Manchester, Chester, Birmingham, Canada, New York, Australia, and even China' (The Pall Mall Gazette, 14 May 1886).

Notable Visitors

Ruskin's most famous visitor was Queen Victoria's son, Prince Leopold, whom Ruskin had taught at Oxford. Prince Leopold visited Sheffield in 1879 to open Firth College, a forerunner of the University of Sheffield.

After performing his official duties, the Prince visited the St George's Museum at Walkley. It is hard to imagine such a small space playing host to a royal visit, though it seems to have passed off successfully.

The Prince was given a bust of Ruskin as a souvenir. The bust was the work of Benjamin Creswick, a young grinder who had walked in to the Museum one day and been inspired to develop his talents as a sculptor.

The Prince later expressed his admiration for Ruskin's work in Sheffield:

'We have seen a man in whom all the gifts of refinement and of genius meet, and who yet has not grudged to give his best to all; who has made it his main effort -- by gifts, by teaching, by sympathy -- to spread among the artisans of Sheffield and the labourers of our English fields the power of drawing the full measure of instruction and happiness from this wonderful world, on which rich and poor gaze alike' (Speech at Mansion House, 19 February, 1879; Works, 20, p. xxxvi)

It has also been suggested that the designer, poet, and socialist, William Morris visited the Museum in late February 1886. Morris was in Sheffield on socialist business.

On 1 March 1886, he wrote from 'Lady's Bridge Buildings, Wicker, Sheffield', asking his printer 'Please to above address 2 doz. copies of manifesto of socialist League' (Collected Letters, ed. Norman Kelvin, II, p. 529).

The Socialist League was an early British socialist party, of which Morris was an active member. On the 8 March, he wrote of his journey 'to Sheffield & Liverpool', noting 'I addressed two audiences at the Secular Hall at Sheffield both good'. On 'the Monday', he adds, 'I attended a private meeting of about 25 sympathizers: called for the purpose of seeing what could be done as to starting an organization at Sheffield'. Morris 'urged them strongly to do so and to make it a Branch of the League'.

True to the city's independent spirit, the Sheffield 'sympathizers' opted not to establish a branch of the Socialist League, but to found instead a Society of Sheffield Socialists.

Inside the Museum
History of the Museum
John Ruskin
About the Project
Museums Sheffield
Useful Links

Please leave feedback
on Facebook

Supported by:
The Universityof Sheffield
Museums Sheffield
The Universityof of Cambridge
Guild of St George