Like so many multi-talented Victorians, T. R. Spence is hard to categorise. He trained as an architect, but was also a painter as well as a designer in stained glass, metalwork and so forth. Nothing shows the spirit of his times better than the involvement of such figures in the Art Workers' Guild, which was founded in 1884. When Walter Crane was chairman, for instance, the Guild included amongst its members not only Spence himself, but the designer C. R. Ashbee, the illustrators Joseph Pennell and Leonard Raven-Hill, the sculptor Henry Richard Hope-Pinker, and the architect Charles Harrison Townsend. The Guild still promotes the ideal of the fundamental unity of art.

The artists mentioned above all participated in a masque performed in London's Guildhall on 29 June 1899, in front of the Lord Mayor of London and other dignitaries. A variation on the theme of the Sleeping Beauty, it provides a useful way of understanding the Arts and Crafts ethos, and the way it differed in spirit from that of Continental Art Nouveau. Such devils as Bogus, Cupiditas, Ignoramus and Jerrybuiltus are banished, "And Trueheart the Knight taking from his helm the spray of blossom, bends over the sleeping Fayremonde ['the Spirit of all things beautiful'] & wakes her with a kiss," after which the Seven Lamps (straight from Ruskin) "re-kindle their extinguished flames" (34). Spence was responsible for a scene in which the "Leaves in the Forest," played by a bevy of girls, "enact the title of the Masque" (21)

How well this conveys, even today, these idealistic craftsmen's vision of a better future in which art, working together in its different branches, triumphs over shoddiness, greed, vulgarity and philistinism — a vision summarised in Townsend's Epilogue describing "Young Hope, young Art, each holding hand of each" (38). — Jacqueline Banerjee


The figure of Art, from Spence's South window for the Great Hall, Birmingham University.


Other works


Beauty's Awakening: A Masque of Winter and of Spring. London: The Studio, Summer No. 1899. Internet Archive. Web. 3 March 2013.

Jackson, F. Hamilton. "'Metal-Work of an Architect and Designer — T. R. Spence." The Magazine of Art. (London, 1902): 365-70.

_____. "'The New Art' as seen in the Paris Exhibition." The Magazine of Art. (London, 1902): 123-30.

_____. "The Work of T. R. Spence, Designer, Decorator and Architect." The Magazine of Art. (London, 1903): 80-84.

McGuire, D. F. Charles Mitchell, 1820-1895, Victorian Shipbuilder. Newcastle: Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Libraries, 1988.

Moat, Neil. A Theatre for the Soul: St George's Church, Jesmond: The Building and Cultural Reception of a late-Victorian Church. Newcastle University: Doctoral thesis, 2011.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, and Ian Richmond. The Buildings of England: Northumberland. 2nd ed., rev. John Grundy et al. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Last modified 5 May 2013