Ruskin's Reservoir, Source: Collingwood, facing p. 36. W. G. Collingwood explains that in the 70s and early 80s, when illness forced Ruskin to spend much of his time at Brantwood, he took on the "bit of moor" above his woods, making it "into a new sort of garden, quite as charming in its way as any other" (40). Here, coming down from the heights above, "were two little streamlets which leapt the ridges and pooled in the hollows among ferns and mosses" (40), and Ruskin determined to make use of them:

Just as a portrait-painter studies to pose his sitter in such a light and in such an attitude as to bring out the most individual points and get the revelation of a personality, so Ruskin studied his moor, to develop its resources.... his old theory of saving the water suggested impounding the trickle in a series of reservoirs; it might be useful in case of drought or fire. So we were marshalled with pick and spade every fair afternoon to the "Board of Works," as we called it.... When the basins were formed he found to his regret that no mere earthen bank would hold the water; and skilled labour had to be called in to build dams of stone and cement, less pretty than the concealed dyke he had intended. But there was some consolation in devising sluices and clever gates with long lever handles, artistically curved, to shut and open the slit. One would have thought, sometimes, to see his eagerness over these inventions, that he had missed his vocation ; and he had indeed a keen admiration for the civil engineer, wherever the road and bridge, mine and harbour, did not come into open conflict with natural beauties which he thought just as essential to human life as the material advantages of business. And when his reservoirs were made, it was a favourite entertainment to send up somebody to turn the water on and produce a roaring cascade among the laurels opposite the front door. [43-44]

Ruskin's Moorland Garden. Source: Collingwood, facing p.40.

How heartening it is to read this account and to see that even in the days of his illness (at least before the final one) Ruskin was very much his old self, fired with enthusiasm for nature and full of inventiveness, drawing his willing "Board of Works" along with him, and bringing to fruition a scheme of his own devising. The moorland garden was still delightfully natural when he had completed his work on it. Note one of the "long lever handles, artistically curved" in the picture at the top.

First scan by Caroline Murray, second scan, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL, or cite the Victorian Web in a print document. [Click on the images to enlarge them]

Related Material


Hanley, Keith. "Edinburgh — London — Oxford — Coniston." Cambridge Companion to John Ruskin. Ed. Francis O'Gorman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 17-31.

John Ruskin's Home: Brantwood. Web. 3 July 2020.

Created 3 July 2020