Wednesday, May 25, 2022

564. Ricketts & Shannon at the Technical School of Art (1)

This week's guest blog is written by art historian Anna Gruetzner Robins, Emeritus Professor at the University of Reading, who published about Walter Sickert and James McNeill Whistler, and now prepares a book about the early years of the Vale coterie.

Charles Ricketts, Reginald Savage, Charles Shannon, and Thomas Sturge Moore at the South London Technical School of Art

by Anna Gruetzner Robins

Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Reginald Savage, and Thomas Sturge Moore all attended the South London Technical Art School. Previously, it has been assumed that all four were students on the Wood Engraving course. Ricketts and Shannon and also Savage certainly did enrol on the three year course, however, none of them with the possible exception of Shannon completed the course, and there is no record of Sturge Moore ever having enrolled. The School Records in the London Metropolitan Archives show that their period of study at South London, as I will refer to it, to have taken quite a different path.[1]

City and Guilds London Institute

South London Technical Art School

The School was established in 1878 when the City and Guilds of London Institute earmarked the Lambeth School of Art for expansion with the aim of introducing a national system of technical education.[2] It took over the original site on Millar’s Lane, off Upper Kennington Lane, and, between 1879 and 1881, acquired the leases of two houses at 122 and 124 Kennington Park Road where it 'erected on the gardens behind, spacious and excellently lighted class and work rooms, in buildings measuring 70x22 feet, and one story high, at a cost of about £700' for the teaching of the Modelling and Wood Engraving courses.[3]

By 1881 plans were made to build a similar studio in the garden of 124 Kennington Park Road. The aim of the School was to teach the 'application of Art for industrial purposes'.[4] Initially, it offered four courses including Modelling, Design, Wood Engraving and a Life Class (Drawing and Painting). Charles Roberts, who was said to be 'a skilled artist' and 'a very able teacher,'[5] and the proprietor of a commercial engraving premises in Lonsdale Chambers, 27 Chancery Lane was in charge of the Wood Engraving course. It was taught on weekdays from 10 till 4, and from 6-8 on Tuesday and Friday but Roberts was only present during the evening sessions.

The rest of the time, students worked under the supervision of an assistant teacher or senior student; practicing the techniques of 'line cutting, tinting, fac-simile cutting, finished work in ornament, landscape, figure, and drawing on wood,'[6] all of which were part of the training for their future trade of making accurate wood engravings of a painting, drawing or photographs for reproduction in the commercial press. On the first Tuesday evening of each month, students made a drawing on wood preferably from an original design, but this was their only opportunity for creative expression.

Prospective students were warned that wood engraving 'requires much practice, and a long apprenticeship is essential'. Students were required to have Second Grade certificate from the Science and Art Department at South Kensington but study for it could be concurrent with their enrolment at South London. The annual tuition fee was £4 4s a year,[7] payable half-yearly in advance, and the rule was that 'no one can be admitted as a student for a shorter period than a year; and those who are admitted are expected to attend regularly, and to apply themselves steadily to the work.'

Charles Shannon

Shannon enrolled on the Wood Engraving course in February 1882 when the School receipts show that he paid 2 pounds 2 shillings in February 1882, and 1 pound 10 shillings for the Wood Engraving course in December 1882. I cannot find any evidence to show that he paid any further fees. It is probable that he won one of the four scholarships 'which are awarded after the first year's practice, and which may be renewed in the following year on proof of industry and progress and on the recommendation of Mr. Roberts.' The wood engraving students were there to learn a trade, and those who applied themselves 'steadily to the work' could expect to be offered a two year apprenticeship with Roberts where they worked 'for modest payment'. [8]

Both Ricketts and Shannon were 'apprenticed to Mr. Roberts, the wo0d-engraver on such apprenticeship'.[9] These were normally given on the successful completion of the three year course but in exceptional cases a student was invited to take one up after two years. Shannon did not work long, if at all, at Roberts's Chancery Lane premises because by 1885 he was teaching at Croydon School of Art. Indeed the 1888 South London Technical Art School Report described him as an 'Art Master at Croydon' who 'gave up wood engraving for pen and ink illustrating and painting.'

Charles Ricketts

It is believed that Ricketts enrolled at the School on the 16th of October 1882 but the records show that in fact he enrolled on the same date the following year, when he paid 1 pound 10 shillings , followed by 1 pound and 10 shillings in July 1884 for the Wood Engraving. [10] However, there is no record of Ricketts making any further payment for the Wood Engraving course. He may have taken up his apprenticeship when he assisted Roberts with the engraving of Cassell's History of England before completing the course, [11] or he may may have won a scholarship.

By January 1885, when he described himself on the School enrolment form, as an 'Art Student' rather than a 'Wood Engraver' and again in March, and October that year, and January 1886 and 1888, Ricketts paid between 15 shillings and two pounds for the Life Class. This must have been the Special Life Class that the School Director John Sparkes established when the demand for wood engraved illustrations dwindled; they were replaced by black and white drawings that could be easily be reproduced by photomechanical means or 'process' printing. In 1892, Sparkes could report that 'the Special Life Class fully bears out my assumption of its usefulness. The value of the classes as a training institution for black and white work and general illustration is becoming still more publicly recognized. There is no doubt that it will become the school of illustration of the future.' Initially in 1884-1885, the course was taught between 10 and 1 on Saturday but later it moved to a new time of 10 to 1 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Reginald Savage

Reginald Savage first enrolled at South London in December 1882 when he paid various amounts of between 2 shillings and 6 pence and 5 shillings, and again in February, May, June, July, October, November 1883, and October 1884 for the Life Drawing part of the Modelling Course. Between November 1883 and November 1884, he also enrolled on the Wood Engraving course.

Thomas Sturge Moore

Finally the records show that Thomas Sturge Moore was first taught by Shannon at Croydon School of Art, but was persuaded by him to transfer to the South London when he met Ricketts for the first time. Between February 1887 and October 1890, Sturge Moore was in the Special Life Drawing Class until March 1891 when he enrolled on the Modelling course until December 1891 when he was Second Place in the yearly competition for Modelling from Life.[12]

The Valistes

The School Records are not complete, and a record of attendance was not kept so students did not necessarily pay the requisite amount of tuition or indeed pay it on time if at all but they do provide a much fuller picture of the Valistes (as they called themselves)[13] period of study at the South London Technical School of Art.



For a listing of these records see the South London Technical Archive, London Metropolitan Archive,, accessed 20/01/2022; hereafter South London, LMA.


South London, LMA, Technical Education Report of the Executive Committee to the General Committee of certain of the livery companies of London Proposals of the Executive Committee January 1879. And Resolutions of the council and Board of Governors Thereon, February and March 1879, South London, LMA, 21834/1.


South London,LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


South London, LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


City and Guilds Metropolitan Archive, 21834/2, 3.


Prospectus for the South London Technical Art School, Session 1881-2. There were no changes to the course syllabus during the period of time that Ricketts, Savage and Shannon were enrolled. 


The fee subsequently was reduced to £3. See the school prospectus for the academic year of 1882-83.


South London, LMA, M21834/5.


Thomas Sturge Moore, in Cecil Lewis, ed., Charles Ricketts. Self Portrait, Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., Collected and Compiled by T. Sturge Moore, London, 1939, 14. 


J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts A Biography, Oxford, 1990, 28 states that Ricketts and Shannon met on Ricketts birthday when he enrolled in the School. However, Sturge Moore remembered that they met 'around 1883'. Thomas Sturge Papers, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore, 'Notes for a lecture on Ricketts' , Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, MS 978/5/2/8 includes a certificate for winning Second Place in the yearly 'Modelling from Life' competition, states that he studied modelling between March 1889 and December 1891.


Letter from John Gray to Félix Fénéon, 16 April 1891, cf. Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon, 94: A French Correspondence.