Collecting Articles and Features

Newlyn Copper and the Newlyn Industrial Class

Please share on your social media

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.

John Pearson Arts & Crafts Newlyn Copper Bowl Dated 1892 Repoussé Decorated With A Galleon At Sea
John Pearson (1859-1930) Arts & Crafts Newlyn Copper Bowl Dated 1892 Repoussé Decorated With A Galleon At Sea. Sold for £950 at Lyon & Turnbul, November 2020.

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.

A Newlyn copper pen tray repousse decorated with three fish
A Newlyn copper pen tray repousse decorated with three fish rectangular stamped Newlyn. Sold for £260 at Catherine Southon Auctioneers & Valuers, April 2023.

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.

John Pearson Newlyn school Arts and Crafts copper jardiniere embossed with a repeating design of sail ships and fish
John Pearson Newlyn school Arts and Crafts copper jardiniere embossed with a repeating design of sail ships and fish. Sold for £900 at
Mallams Ltd, March 2019.

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.

Newlyn square base tea caddy by Herbert Dyer depicting St Michael's Mount harbour and fishing boats
Newlyn square base tea caddy by Herbert Dyer depicting St Michael’s Mount harbour and fishing boats. Sold for £1,700 at Jefferys, September 2021.

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.

A Newlyn copper charger by Obed Nicholls the centre with a galleon, the rim with six gurnards and seaweed
A Newlyn copper charger by Obed Nicholls the centre with a galleon, the rim with six gurnards and seaweed. Sold for £1,400 at David Lay FRICS, September 2008.

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.

A repousse hammered copper tray probably Newlyn Industrial Class attributed to William Pezzack
A repousse hammered copper tray probably Newlyn Industrial Class attributed to William Pezzack, decorated in low relief with a frieze of scaly fish with sharp teeth, interspaced with shell and waterweed. Sold for £120 at Woolley & Wallis, June 2014.

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.

Related
Newlyn Copper items on ebay


Please share on your social media