Papers of Margaret Pilkington

Scope and Content

The papers comprise correspondence, appointment diaries, journals, sketchbooks, wood blocks and ephemera relating to Margaret Pilkington's artistic achievements and public role and that of her immediate family. There is also material relating to the Red Rose Guild. Elements of Margaret Pilkington's personal and professional life are covered from an early age up to her death. The correspondence and appointment diaries make up the bulk of the papers.

The archive also provides a substantial record of Margaret Pilkington as an artist and a patron of the arts. However, the significance of the archive reaches far beyond her own achievements. The papers are a valuable source for information on the arts and crafts in the first half of the twentieth century, with correspondence from leading figures in craftwork such as Robert Anning Bell, W.A.S. Benson, Bernard Leach, W.R. Lethaby, May Morris, W.S. Murray as well as material relating to the Red Rose Guild. Wood-engravers are especially well represented, reflecting Margaret Pilkington's own personal interest; there are letters from Lucien Pissarro, Noel Rooke, Eric Gill, Gwen Raverat and Gordon Craig. Margaret Pilkington's connections ranged further into the artistic world and there are also letters from important figures such as Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir William Rothenstein and Sir Stanley Spencer. Some of this correspondence dwells on professional matters, but it also gives an insight into their personal lives.

The Pilkington family occupied an important place in Manchester society and the archive is rich in information about the social scene in the city. Many leading Manchester families lived in Alderley Edge alongside the Pilkingtons; the correspondence and diaries show how the young Margaret Pilkington and her contemporaries remained friends and went on to wield influence together. There are strong links to families like the Worthingtons, the Schills and the Hopkinsons.

The material generated by the Red Rose Guild and the information about the running of the Whitworth Art Gallery from the diaries and correspondence are important sources for their institutional histories. Through her artistic and philanthropic work Margaret Pilkington also became involved with many important Manchester institutions such as the Manchester City Art Gallery, the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and the Manchester Luncheon Club. Her work brought her into contact with important Manchester figures and the papers contain correspondence with Professor Samuel Alexander, Sir Edward Tootal Broadhurst and Sir William Mansfield Cooper. The appointment diaries record the meetings of the many organizations with which Margaret Pilkington was involved, as well as the dates of local cultural events such as Hallé concerts.

Administrative / Biographical History

Margaret Pilkington (1891-1974) was a skilled wood-engraver but is better remembered as a champion of the arts and crafts. She was honorary director of Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery from 1936 until 1959 and was the leading figure in the Red Rose Guild of Designer Craftsmen. Margaret Pilkington also held strong social commitments, reflected primarily in her work with girls' clubs in Manchester, but also in her pioneering views in relation to public access to galleries. She was actively involved in many aspects of Manchester's social and intellectual scene; she was a Justice of the Peace for Manchester from 1945 and a member of the Manchester Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches from the late 1940s. She was the first woman to be president of either the Manchester Luncheon Club (1963-1964) or the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (1964-1965).

Margaret Pilkington was born at Pendleton near Manchester on 25 November 1891 into an affluent family. She was the elder daughter of Lawrence Pilkington (1855-1941) and Mary (Mollie) Gavin Pilkington, née Stevenson (d. 1942). Her father was the co-founder, with his brother Charles, of the Pilkington Lancastrian Pottery and Tile Company at Clifton Junction near Manchester, famous for its lustre wares. Margaret Pilkington herself was a director of the firm for many years. Margaret had one sister, Dorothy L. Pilkington (1893-1971) to whom she remained close throughout her life. In 1907 the family moved from Southgarth, their house in Pendleton, to Firwood, a house in the village of Alderley Edge, a desirable area fifteen miles south of Manchester. Margaret and Dorothy were both sent to the private Croham Hurst School in South Croydon. Encouraged by Theodora Clark, the Quaker headmistress, Margaret showed a talent for and enjoyment of art. She pursued this interest and from 1911 to 1913 studied at Manchester College of Art. In 1913 she defied the accepted social conventions of her background by going to London to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her parents were at first apprehensive about her going to study in London, but they eventually agreed to let her attend.

In 1914 Margaret Pilkington enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts; this was to prove a formative development in her career. The school employed leading craftsmen as tutors, including May Morris, Douglas Cockerell and Edward Johnston. Margaret Pilkington studied wood-engraving under the tutorship of the influential wood-engraver Noel Rooke. Margaret stayed in touch with Rooke for many years, but it was Lucien Pissarro whom Margaret Pilkington felt to have had the greater impact on her style. Margaret Pilkington became good friends with the Pissarro family and would offer help at their Eragny Press. Her wood engravings demonstrate a skilled use of contrast between black and white, light and shade.

The outbreak of the First World War cut short Margaret Pilkington's studies at the Central School and she moved back home to Alderley Edge. However, she regularly visited London and met Noel Rooke at the Central School. During these war years, Margaret Pilkington became involved with various Manchester girls' clubs, valuing social duty over her own artistic pursuits. Margaret devoted much time to the girls' club in Ancoats, a poor district in Manchester, was honorary secretary of the Pioneer Club for business and professional girls and women from its foundation in 1916, and was President of Manchester and Salford Girls' Clubs from 1929 to 1931.

Although Margaret Pilkington continued with her painting, drawing and wood engraving, she put a lot of her efforts into organization within the arts. In 1920 she organized an exhibition at Houldsworth Hall that marked the beginnings of the Red Rose Guild, exhibiting with the Society of Wood Engravers. She became a member of the Society the following year, was honorary secretary from 1924 and chairman from 1952 until 1967. A founder member and honorary secretary of the Red Rose Guild, she was appointed chairman in 1926. Her appointment diaries suggest how much time she devoted to these two bodies over the years. Margaret was also a member of the Manchester City Art Galleries from 1925 and was president of the North West Federation of Museums and Art Galleries from 1945.

In 1925 Margaret Pilkington was invited to join the council of Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery (officially known as the Whitworth Institute), beginning what was to be a life-long involvement with the gallery. She was honorary director from 1936 to 1959. At the outbreak of the Second World War she oversaw the decision to move many of the gallery's art treasures to storage in the National Library of Wales. She then helped to set up a rest centre at the Whitworth for those who had been made homeless by the air raids, personally looking after people there. After the war the Whitworth's grand Edwardian galleries looked unfashionable. The Whitworth Institute's financial situation left it struggling to pay even for redecoration. In 1958, its neighbour, the University of Manchester, took over the Whitworth Institute and renamed it the Whitworth Art Gallery. Margaret Pilkington's achievements were recognised with the award of an honorary MA from The University of Manchester in 1942 and an O.B.E. in 1956.

On 7 October 1941 Margaret's father Lawrence died, followed three months later on 18 January 1942 by her mother Mollie. Lawrence Pilkington was the youngest son of Richard Pilkington, the co-founder of the Pilkington Glass Works in St Helens, and of Ann Evans, whose family owned collieries. Lawrence and his brother were proprietors of the Clifton and Kearsley Colleries and Lawrence later went on to be joint proprietor, and eventually Chairman, of the Royal Lancastrian Pottery and Tile Company at Clifton. He was also a keen mountaineer, amateur musician and author (see his Guardian obituary, 9 October 1941). While they may not have seen eye to eye on all matters, Margaret Pilkington appears to have had a great deal of respect and affection for her father. She engraved illustrations for a number of books he wrote such as Tattlefold, Thoughts in Hospital and An Alpine Valley and other poems. Her diaries and correspondence suggest that his death left her with a very deep sense of loss.

Margaret and her sister Dorothy continued to live together at the family home. In 1943 the two sisters provided three-quarters of the money needed to buy Alderley Woods, giving the woods to the National Trust in memory of their parents. Their generosity and love of art is reflected in their numerous donations of works of art to the Whitworth Gallery and their endowment in 1958 of the Pilkington chair in the history of art at the University of Manchester. Margaret also donated works of art to Abbott Hall, Kendal and to what is now the Crafts Study Centre, Surry Institute of Art and Design. Dorothy's major commitment was to the Manchester High School for Girls, for which she was on the governing body from 1935 to 1970, and chairman from 1944 to 1963. She was granted an honorary MA by the University of Manchester in 1964.

Margaret Pilkington's papers devote much attention to her travels. From her first trip abroad to the Swiss Alps in 1908 with her parents, she continued to travel extensively. She recorded in words and images her impressions of what she saw, paying particular attention to local people, mountain scenery, architecture, museums and galleries. Her diaries and letters show Margaret as a modest yet determined woman endowed with great generosity. She died of breast cancer on 2 August 1974 aged 82.


The present arrangement is unlikely to represent the order in which Margaret Pilkington kept her papers. It is based primarily on the partial arrangement into envelopes made after her death by her friend Lady Joan Worthington. There was no overall arrangement, so the main groupings in this arrangement are based on the function and origin of the material, reflecting the original order as far as possible. The papers are divided into three subfonds:

  • PIL/1: Personal papers of Margaret Pilkington;
  • PIL/2: Red Rose Guild papers;
  • PIL/3: Family and related material.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.

Acquisition Information

The archive was given to the JRUL after the death of Margaret Pilkington through the offices of Lady Worthington. The exact date of the gift is unknown but it was accessioned in 1975. The sketchbooks, wood blocks and the booklets by Lawrence Pilkington have been added to the archive at a later (unknown) date.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Many items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The material was accumulated by Margaret Pilkington, and was probably subject to some appraisal and organization after the death of her sister Dorothy in 1971. After Margaret's death, much of the correspondence was arranged into twelve envelopes by her friend Lady Joan Worthington. The Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library for 1975 records that the Library received material following the death of Margaret Pilkington. The papers were accessioned in 1975 by the Library's Keeper of Manuscripts, Glenise Matheson. The Matheson list was based on the envelope system created by Lady Worthington. This arrangement has been retained for the most part.

The list compiled by Miss Matheson did not include the sketchbooks or wood blocks. Within the Library, the sketchbooks and wood blocks appear to have been stored separately from the correspondence and diaries, so may have been part of the University of Manchester's Special Collections before the merger with the John Rylands Library. In 1998 a box list of Margaret Pilkington papers was created which included the sketchbooks and wood blocks, and also the two publications by Lawrence Pilkington, Thoughts in Hospital and Early Climbing Memories, but not a number of the original envelopes nor any photos. This most recent box list reflects the material present now.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds a collection of Pilkington family accounts (uncatalogued); and papers of Sir Hubert Worthington, 1913-1964, deposited by Lady Joan Worthington (unpublished handlist).

The University of Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery ( holds a substantial quantity of Margaret Pilkington's wood-engravings and drawings, and a small number of textile pieces. It also holds portraits of Molly and Lawrence Pilkington by Francis Ernest Jackson and portraits of Margaret Pilkington by Sir Stanley Spencer and Olwyn Bowey. The institutional archive of the Gallery contains material relating to Pilkington's role as honorary director.

The Red Rose Guild Archive is held by the Crafts Study Centre, Surrey Institute of Art and Design, ref.: GB 2941 2003.55.


The most detailed account of Margaret Pilkington's life and work can be found in David Blamires, Sarah Hyde and Patricia Jaffé, Margaret Pilkington 1891-1974 (Buxton: Hermit Press, c.1995).

There is mention of Margaret Pilkington's childhood in Alderley Edge in Katharine Chorley, Manchester made them (London: Faber and Faber, [1950]).

There is a detailed background to the Pilkington family in Elizabeth Williams-Ellis, The Pilkington story (St Ouen, Jersey: Elizabeth Williams-Ellis, 1997).

Information about Margaret Pilkington's involvement with the Whitworth Art Gallery can be found in Margaret Pilkington, A Victorian venture: the Manchester Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester: 1953) and in The Whitworth Art Gallery: the first hundred years ([Manchester]: Whitworth Art Gallery, 1988).

A detailed leaflet by Rosemary Marsh on Margaret Pilkington's life and work accompanied an exhibition on Pilkington at the Whitworth Art Gallery (1999).

Margaret Pilkington's wood engravings can be found in Katharine Chorley, Hills and highways (London: J.M. Dent, 1928) and Lawrence Pilkington, An alpine valley (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1924).

Geographical Names