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Arts, Crafts & Socialism

Sheila Rowbotham introduces the ‘hands-on’ utopian, C.R. Ashbee, and the Guild of Handicraft he established in 1888, shedding light on late nineteenth and early twentieth century Arts and Crafts ideas about work, consumption and society.


One of many movements aiming to transform society in the 1880s and early 1890s, Arts and Crafts was marked by the utopian hopes of the era. Thoughtful and sensitive members of the upper-middle class like the artist and writer William Morris (1834-96) were becoming disenchanted with the social order. Amid depression, unemployment was mounting and the unemployed, led by the newly formed socialist organizations, were angrily protesting on the streets of the West End of London. Panic about foreign agitators spread and on Sunday November 13th, 1887, Morris took part in a demonstration against coercion in Ireland, led by the socialists, and by Radicals in the Liberal Party, along with Irish Nationalists. It was cleared from Trafalgar Square by a violent police charge followed by Guardsmen with drawn bayonets. Three people died and hundreds were injured on what came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

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