Have you heard of Ruskin Land? Neither had we until we uncovered a surprising and unusual history of a small part of the Wyre Forest.
The Guild of St George is the charity for arts, crafts and the rural economy, founded by John Ruskin in 1871. The Guild, in its origins had a utopian vision to ‘right some of the social wrongs of the day and make England a happier place to live’ concentrating on the understanding and appreciation of good art, encourage craftsmanship against mass production and to revive the environment through a sustainable rural economy.
John Ruskin (1819)-(1900) was a polymath and a respected architectural critic. He was also known as a geologist, botanist, artist and author amongst other interests in social and political justice. A selection of his bibliography are considered as seminal texts in the discourse of architectural and art history. During his later years, Ruskin concentrated on works on political and social reform. His ideology was formed in a communitarian venture, known as the Guild, using local resources and known artistic skills to establish an alternative to industrial capitalism based in a picturesque rural setting.
Several members of the Guild moved to the Wyre Forest, living on sites owned by George Baker, a wealthy member of the Guild. Baker help establish Ruskin’s plan to implement his vision within the oak forest, eventually forming a community across holdings with individual titles including Atholgarth, St George’s Farm, Ruskinland, Uncllys and St Johns Cottage.
The forest supports some impressive statistics; it is the largest contiguous forest of it’s kind in all of England and the largest ancient wooded landscape, survived intact for 1600 years. About two-thirds of the forest has been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Large sections of the forest was used for coppicing, with the timber used as charcoal to support the local tanneries located all along Tanner’s Hill, the main route connecting Bewdley to the Wyre Forest. The commune also set up a fruit farm planting an orchard through some of the clearings across the site – supporting Ruskin’s vision of a productive and cultured landscape.
Presently, the forest is owned by a number of private and public owners, including the Guild. However, the Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership has been set up to promote the land, its history and improve the sustainable strategy to manage the diverse ecology and promote a stronger rural economy for the region. Co.LAB will be working with the WFLP to explore potential uses of Ruskin Land’s many natural resources, including oak timber, in achieving their economic and cultural plan.