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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Gershom Collingwood (1854–1932)

Artist, designer and antiquary born in Liverpool of Anglo-Swiss parentage. His father William (1819–1903) was a watercolour artist and his grandfather Samuel an architect. Educated at Liverpool College and University College Oxford (1872–75) he was influenced by John Ruskin, whom he visited at Brantwood in 1873. Following study at the Slade School of Art (1876–78) he exhibited at the Royal Academy. As a charismatic polymath himself, he supported Ruskin’s activities from 1881 and travelled with him in Europe. Settling in Coniston, Collingwood married Edith Mary Isaac; of their four children, Dora became a painter and Barbara, a sculptor and painter. In 1887, Collingwood joined the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (CWAAS), writing wide-ranging papers. Editor of several Ruskin publications, he wrote his biography in 1893. Among his novels, Thorstein of the Mere (1895) is the most enduring. In 1897 he toured Iceland, publishing A Pilgrimage to the Saga-steads of Iceland (1899); some of his paintings still hang in the National Museum, Reykjavik. Having edited W.S. Calverley’s notes on Anglian crosses (1899), he became an authority on this subject and went on to edit the CWAAS Transactions from 1900 to 1920. His cover design for the series from this period, showing both an excavation and the writing of its record, resonates with the motifs upon his John Ruskin Memorial in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Coniston (1901). He founded the Ruskin Museum at Coniston in 1901, wrote The Lake Counties in 1902, and founded the Lake Artists Society in 1904. From 1907 to 1911, he was professor of fine art at Reading University. After war service in intelligence, he returned to Coniston, establishing the popularity of Anglian cross war memorials and tombstones, in collaboration with Canon Rawnsley. His own designs appear in several Cumbrian war memorials: Brathay, Coniston, Grasmere, Hawkshead and St Bees; unusually, at Ulverston his design was gothic. (His daughter Barbara carved the memorials at Coniston, Hawkshead and Otley.) His later books include Lake District History (1925) and Northumbrian Crosses of the Pre-­Norman Age (1927). In 1920 he was elected president of the CWAAS. Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (1930) was inspired by his boating grandchildren.

Bibliography: B. & W. Armstrong, The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England, Wetherby, 2005, p. 222; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. 160–62; ‘In Memoriam’ [Collingwood obituary], CWAAS Transactions, (1933), Series 2, Vol. 33, pp. 308–12; J.S. Dearden, ‘Collingwood, William Gershom’, ODNB, (2004), 2010; Historic England (war memorial listings): Coniston, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Otley, Ulverston; G. Lindop, A Literary Guide to the Lake District, London, 1993, pp. 363–65; M. Townsend, The Vikings and Victorian Lakeland: The Norse Medievalism of Collingwood and his Contemporaries, Kendal, 2009, pp. 1–5, 27–45; M. Winstanley (ed.), Revealing Cumbria’s Past: 150 Years of the CWAAS, Kendal, 2016, pp. 17–25.

David A. Cross, 2017

Collingwood, William Gershom

Arthur Severn, William Gershom Collingwood, oil on canvas, c.1881–c.1885 (photo credit: Ruskin Museum, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND)