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The Barbers' Company

On This Day – 19 October 1894

On this day in 1894 the Annual General Meeting of the Ruskin Society of London was held at Barber-Surgeons’ Hall. Master of the Company Sidney Young (author of the Annals of the Barber Surgeons of London, published in 1890) addressed the meeting on the ‘History and Archaeology of the Company.

The Ruskin Society (or Society of the Rose) was first established in Manchester 1879, devoted to the ideals of art and social critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), whose life and work spanned the Victorian age of scientific and industrial advance. Branches sprang up around the UK, with the London Society established in 1881. From 1890 it held meetings in the London Institution at Finsbury Circus, close to Barber-Surgeons’ Hall. 1894 saw Sidney Young address the London Society and be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries on the strength of the Annals, the same election year of William Morris (1834-1896), who was heavily influenced by Ruskin.

All Society branches subscribed to three aims: “To promote the study and circulation of Mr Ruskin’s writings, to form a centre of union for his friends, and to aid his practical efforts for social improvement.”

Ruskin historian Stuart Eagles describes the various branches as having provided “a public space in which admirers of Ruskin could gather to hear lectures and engage in political debate.”

These admirers comprised “…the socially engaged, civic-minded, well-read middle classes… Unsurprisingly, membership was dominated by professional men: clergymen, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and medical men. But there were at least four other, smaller, groupings: businessmen, the upper-working-class and lower-middle-class autodidacts who often worked as clerks, married middle-class, middle-aged women, and middle-class spinsters. Membership typically cost around five shillings per annum …Those forming associations in his name were the men and women who had time and leisure to recognize Ruskin’s damning descriptions of the Victorian industrial landscape that surrounded them.”



Sidney Young’s son Austin Travers Young (1867-1948) was clearly such an admirer; he is listed on the programme for 1895 to speak – with illustrations – on the subject of “Walter Crane, an Artist influenced by John Ruskin.” Crane (1845-1915) would himself speak to the Ruskin Society Birmingham branch and to the Ruskin Union in subsequent years.

Austin had also produced the illustrations for Sidney Young’s Annals of the Barber Surgeons of London and drew a pencil portrait of his father at work on the book, held in the Archives of the Barbers’ Company. Despite his practical talents and interests, Austin does not appear to have pursued art professionally, instead becoming a nurseryman by trade. One of his illustrations for the book ‘Searching the Records’ is reproduced below.


Further reading:

1. Eagles, Stuart, ‘The Ruskin Diaspora: A History of the Ruskin Society’ in idem, After Ruskin: The Social and Political Legacies of a Victorian Prophet, 1870-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 148-198

2. Eagles, Stuart, “A History of the Ruskin Society” (2022) online article