Newlyn Copper and the Newlyn Industrial Class – As the tide of industrialisation swept through Victorian Britain in the late 19th century, the quiet Cornish town of Newlyn took a unique and innovative approach to the changing times. Known primarily for its fishing industry, Newlyn faced increasing unpredictability in its main source of livelihood. This necessitated a new wave of innovative thinking which resulted in the establishment of the Newlyn Industrial Class in 1890, bringing about a significant shift in the local economy and turning a spotlight on this coastal village’s creative potential. We take a look at the Newlyn Industrial Class with particular reference to the highly sought after Copper creations created by the artisans of the group including John Pearson and other – we also include example pieces with a price guide.
A Confluence of Art and Industry
The Newlyn Industrial Class was the brainchild of John Drew Mackenzie, an artist who had taken up residence in the town. Recognising the necessity for alternative employment during the unsteady fishing seasons, Mackenzie was instrumental in creating a space where the unemployed fishermen could be trained to work with copper.
He was not alone in this endeavour. Several key figures in the Newlyn community including Thomas Bedford Bolitho, a prominent benefactor and local Member of Parliament, alongside artists Reginald Dick, T. C. Gotch, Perry Craft and John Pearson, joined forces with Mackenzie to bring this vision to life. Their collective mission saw the creation of a thriving trade school specialising in repoussé copper work, a metalworking technique where a malleable metal is shaped or ornamented by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief.
The establishment and success of the Newlyn Industrial Class cannot be completely understood without considering its roots in the wider Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This movement, originating in Britain, was an influential reaction against the degradation of artisanal skills and the rise of industrial mass production. Its proponents, including leaders like William Morris and John Ruskin, sought to re-establish the value of craftsmanship and the beauty of functional, well-designed everyday objects.
Over a period of thirty years, the Newlyn Industrial Class produced a rich array of beautifully crafted domestic and decorative items, encapsulating the very essence of Cornish life.
The Newlyn Style: A Celebration of Coastal Life
The artistry of the Newlyn copperware is often characterised by the depiction of nautical and maritime themes. Echoing the fishermen’s familiarity with their surroundings, the designs often featured fish, ships, and other maritime elements. This so-called ‘Newlyn Style’ extended across a wide range of copper wares from trays, mirror and photograph frames to chambersticks, plates and chargers, boxes, bowls, jardinieres and even coffee pots.
Artists including Herbert Dyer and Obed Nicholls and William Pezzack among others, continued to perpetuate the Newlyn style, each bringing their own unique perspective to the craft. The designs they carved into the copper surfaces were not merely decorative but also told stories of the local life, preserving a piece of Newlyn’s cultural history with each creation.
The Legacy of the Newlyn Industrial Class
The Newlyn Industrial Class represents a transformative chapter in the history of Cornish art and industry. The school’s innovative approach not only provided an alternative source of income for the local populace, but it also encouraged a fusion of artistry with industry that set a precedent for future generations.
Despite the class ceasing its activities after three decades, the legacy of Newlyn copper endures, with pieces from this era highly sought after by collectors and museums alike. These creations are much more than aesthetically pleasing artefacts; they encapsulate a resilient community’s response to socio-economic change, embodying a profound expression of local identity.
Ultimately, the Newlyn Industrial Class is a testament to the remarkable power of community, creativity, and adaptation, and it continues to be a symbol of pride for Cornwall, celebrating the timeless allure of Newlyn’s maritime heritage through the warm, enduring glow of copper.
Newlyn Copper items on ebay