The Newlyn Industrial Class

The Newlyn Industrial Class was established in 1890 by a group of Newlyn Artists, with the financial help of the local MP T B Bolitho. The principal support and guidance for the Class was provided by J D Mackenzie, a talented artist, it was he who provided the early designs. It is written that John Pearson (one of the principal metalworkers in the early days of the Guild of Handicraft ) travelled down to Newlyn to teach the boys. In the Cornish Magazine Volume 1 1898 Stanhope Forbes (the 'father' of the Newlyn School of Painters) wrote:

'In the narrowest part of the little lane we stumbled along on our way through the village, where there hangs a curiously fashioned sign, indicating that here an industrial class is held. A terrible din assails your ears, and, curious to find what occasions it, you enter a courtyard, and climbing a steep ladder into an old net loft, find a room full of lads all busy hammering away at curiously shaped pieces of brass or copper. Originally started by that good friend of Newlyn, Mr Bolitho with the co-operation of the artists, and chief amongst them Messrs Gotch and Percy Craft, the idea was to find employment for the spare moments of fisher lads, and certainly a more admirable safety valve for their superfluous energy could not have been devised.

But it has served another and very different purpose, and has been the means of giving his opportunity to an artist of rare and very individual talent. Mr J D Mackenzie has displayed a perfect wealth of imagination in executing a whole series of designs for the multitude of objects which the class and his able lieutenant Philip Hodder have wrought in repousse work; and so the name of Newlyn has become linked with an art other than that of painting pictures. To have introduced the best qualities of design into some of the commonest objects of our daily use, surely this is an achievement to be proud of, and probably no work the colony has done will tend more to the true mission of the artist, which is to foster and encourage the love of beauty and grace'.

The Newlyn Industrial Class exhibited for the first time at the 1899 HAIA annual exhibition, in a review by Esther Wood in the Studio the Class received a warm welcome:

'A very promising class of metal-workers is to be welcomed from Newlyn, whence came the excellent fender we illustrate, made by R Hodder (sic) from J B Mackenzie's (sic) design. The construction was conspicuously good'.

Further praise was received the following year:

'The Newlyn metal-workers fully confirmed the good impression they then made, and it is unfortunate that the expense of transport, in this and similar cases, should debar a young and struggling group from showing the full amount of their achievements'.

'Indeed the Newlyn School of Craftsmen may now quite creditably take their place beside the painters with whom we associate their name. Wrought and hammered metal is always one of the most positive and popular branches of the Associations work. The high place taken by Newlyn this year has been already referred to; but the admirable work of Keswick and Fivemiletown must by no means be overlooked'.

'The Newlyn work included several handsome copper sconces for two or three candles, ornamented with a repousse design of a ship, and some excellent plaques in hammered brass which were hung too high for their labels to be visible. But among the most interesting objects on the stand were the little hanging match-brackets, letter racks and other light metal furniture and fittings; the brackets decorated with a fascinating design of a bat, and the other objects with no less charming devices, mostly invented by J D Mackenzie and executed by W P Wright'.

The Class did not exhibit in 1901, but their absence was noted:

'We missed the bright and virile touch, both in design and craftsmanship, which made the work of Newlyn so interesting last year'.

Commenting on the exhibits provided for the 1902 exhibition, Esther Wood Wrote:

 'Praise is due to the quiet and conscientious work of Mr J D Mackenzie and his class of fisher lads in Newlyn, Cornwall, whose progress has all along been on the true lines of design and craftsmanship. This class has escaped the tendency to thin and flashy ornament and has consistently treated metal as having body as well as face'.

The Studio does not mention the Newlyn class again, whether this is because they did not exhibit or whether the Studio (whose coverage of the HAIA exhibitions diminished after about 1905) simply did not record their presence, is not known.

However a small review of their work at the 1921 exhibition was contained in the St Ives Times.

'At the Home Arts and industries exhibition at the Albert Hall this week there is a stall supplied from Newlyn consisting of work of the Newlyn men under the skilful instruction of Mr R T Dick of Tolcarne. The exhibits comprise clever work in copper, jewellery and enamels. The Robins Bolitho Challenge Shield presented by Mr Bolitho of Trengwainton, to the St John Ambulance Railway Corps, West Cornwall District for annual competition is much admired. It is one of the finest pieces of metal work in the exhibition. The Newlyn art industry is one of the oldest and most successful branches of the association, and there is a feeling that home craftsmanship might with advantage be developed in many more districts of Cornwall, particularly among disabled soldiers'.

 Inspiration for designs was drawn largely from the local fishing industry, and included fish, crabs, seaweed, shells, fishing luggers, and galleon. Although other favourite themes included fruit, flowers, and birds, especially cormorants and seagulls. Associated with the Class was Reginald Dick (another Artists) who became a specialist silver and enamel worker and in 1908 'Newlyn Enamels' were registered as a trade mark. This venture mainly concentrated on producing small pieces of exquisite jewellery but enamels can be found on larger copper pieces.

The Class became a more commercial affair after the death of J D Mackenzie in 1918 and became officially known as Newlyn Art Metal Industries run by John P Cotton and Tom Batten. The Newlyn adventure continued in different forms and guises up until the beginning of the Second World War, although it was occasionally restarted on a small scale by family members right up into the 1960�s. Copper work was sold by various agents in Penzance and St Ives including Lanhams and Paul Brothers.

Most (but not all) Newlyn was stamped with a variety of stamps (seven different stamps have been observed), inscriptions were also a common feature on early work. A large amount of work (for whatever reason) was neither stamped or inscribed.

A huge array of products was produced over the years, among the most saught after today being mirrors and boxes. A large amount of community products such as challenge shields were also created. Four large copper plaques which embellish the Newlyn Art Gallery are a lasting testament to the quality, skill and artistic nature of the Newlyn Industrial Class.

Known Craftsmen:

George Batten, Tom Batten, John P Cotton, John Curnow, Reg Dick, Phillip Hodder, Hosking, George Kelynack, John Curnow Laity, John Edgar Laity, George Ernest Mildren, Obed Nicholls, William Pezzack, Wifred Tonkin, W O Wearne, William Wright.

Further Reading:

Newlyn Copper  'Arts and Crafts Copper Work in Newlyn' by Daryl Bennett and Colin Pill, Bristol Sansom and Company 2008.

Newlyn Copper Touring Exhibition 2009

As well as the new book the authors have organised a travelling exhibition of Newlyn Copper, the exhibition started in Cannon Hall Museum in Barnsley, it opens on the17th of January at Penlee House Gallery and Museum (17th Jan - 14th March 2009) in Penzance, and will then go to Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum from the 4th  April - 17th of May 2009.  The final venue (precise dates still to be confirmed)  is  the Geffrey Museum in London from June to August 2009.