John Ruskin

John Ruskin was a renowned thinker, writer, artist and social reformer. He founded the Guild of St George to help make the world a better place to live in. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. Ruskin penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale.

Ruskin’s political ideas, and his essay ‘Unto This Last‘ in particular, later proved highly influential, praised and paraphrased in Gujarati by Mohandas Gandhi, a wide range of autodidacts, the economist John A. Hobson and many of the founders of the British Labour party. Ruskin believed in a hierarchical social structure. He wrote “I was, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school.” He believed in duties and responsibilities to, and under, God, and whilst he sought to improve the conditions of the poor, he opposed attempts to level social differences and sought to resolve social inequalities by abandoning capitalism in favour of a co-operative structure of society based on obedience and benevolent philanthropy, rooted in the agricultural economy.

140 years ago, Ruskin chose Walkley as the location for St George’s Museum to house a remarkable collection of paintings, drawings, architectural casts, books and minerals. Its purpose was to educate and inspire the metal-workers of Sheffield, whose skill he declared the best in the world. Today this property still bears his name although is a block of flats. A year later, he bought a farm in Totley for a group of Sheffield working men to live and work on.

Ruskin in Sheffield reveals the highs and lows of Ruskin’s Victorian ventures in Sheffield, offers a modern taste of what he meant by ‘better lives’, and draws on his ideas about wealth to inform discussion of today’s big issues.