The papers of Robin and Heather Tanner

Scope and Content

The archive consists of

  • Personal documents
  • Correspondence
  • Sketches, drawings, prints and etchings by Robin and Heather Tanner
  • Notebooks and commonplace books kept by Heather Tanner, including the visitors book from Old Chapel Field 1935-1992
  • Travel journals 1920-1984
  • Personal and family photographs
  • Written work by Heather Tanner, including poems, essays and lectures
  • Newspaper cuttings and articles
  • Micellaneous papers and documents

Administrative / Biographical History

Robin Tanner was born in 1904 in Bristol although his family moved to Chippenham, Wiltshire while he was very young. Over 60 years he produced nearly 50 etchings celebrating his beloved Wiltshire countryside. Following in the tradition of Samuel Palmer and Frederick Griggs, Harvest Festival (1930), Autumn (1933) and Wren and Primroses (1935) are amongst his most enduring images.

Tanner was also known as a radical educationalist, advocating a child centred approach to learning and the full integration of art and design into the syllabus. He trained as a teacher at Goldsmiths College, University of London from 1922-1924, going on to teach at Blackheath Road Boys' School in Greenwich in 1924. Whilst at Greenwich he studied drawing and etching at Goldsmiths School of Art under Clive Gardner and Stanley Anderson, producing his first etching A Tithe Barn in 1926.

In 1928 he returned to Wiltshire to etch full-time and in 1930 he went to teach at his old primary school Ivy Lane School in Chippenham. In 1931 he married Heather Spackman (1903-1993) and moved into Old Chapel Field, Kington Langley, Wiltshire. In 1935 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools in Leeds and the following year he became an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. In 1937 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools for Gloucestershire and in the same year moved back to Old Chapel Field. In 1938 he offered asylum to Dietrich Hanff, a Jew, and registered as a conscientious objector: Dietrich was to live with the Tanners for the rest of his life. Committed Quakers, pacifists and staunch supporters of CND, Robin and Heather also shared a love of the English countryside, its customs and traditions. These were reflected in their joint publications such as Wiltshire Village (Collins, 1939), while Woodland Plants (Robin Garton, 1981) revealed the depth of their botanical knowledge and strong preoccupation with ecology and conservation. Other books by Robin Tanner included Children's Work in Block Printing (Dryad Press, 1936), Lettering for Children (Dryad Press, 1937) and The Etcher's Craft , published by the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery in 1980. In 1952 he was elected to the Royal West of England Academy. In 1956 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools for Oxfordshire, his final HMI appointment until his retirement in 1964.

The Tanners were friends with many of the leading craftsmen of the day and their home was furnished with work by contemporary makers, including pottery by Rie, Coper and Pleydell-Bouverie. After Phyllis Barron's death in 1964, the Tanners were left Barron and Larcher's collection of hand-blockprinted textiles, blocks, garments, samples and papers. These inspired the Tanners, and others, to set up the Crafts Study Centre Charitable Trust in Bath in 1970. Robin became one of the Craft Study Centre's founding Trustees. In the same year he resumed etching after a gap of 24 years and in 1973 he was made Senior Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. In 1980 he had a retrospective exhibition at the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery which toured to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in 1981.

Robin Tanner died in 1988 at Old Chapel Field.

There is no biographical information about Heather Tanner currently available to support this entry.


  • RHT/1 Official records and honours, 1903-1977
  • RHT/2 The Tanners' home, 'Old Chapel Field', 1930-1992
  • RHT/3 The Tanners' adopted son, Dietrich Hanff, 1939-1995
  • RHT/4 Diaries, 1920-1992
  • RHT/5 Commonplace Books and anthologies, 1942-1988
  • RHT/6 Personal correspondence, and artistic works by friends, 1931-1991
  • RHT/7 Memorabilia of HT's family, teaching career and wedding, [1920s-1980s]
  • RHT/8 HT juvenilia and notes from school and university, [c.1910-1924]
  • RHT/9 RT education and juvenilia, 1917-[1923?]
  • RHT/10 RT work in education, 1922-1987
  • RHT/11 RT artistic work apart from etchings, [1920s]-1992
  • RHT/12 RT etchings, 1976-1986
  • RHT/13 HT unpublished writings, and RT poetry, 1932-1960s
  • RHT/14 Talks and lectures, [1960s-1990s]
  • RHT/15 Published work, 1927-1992
  • RHT/16 Exhibitions and sales, 1929-1996
  • RHT/17 Socialism, pacifism and ecology, 1918-1990
  • RHT/18 Writings and broadcasts about RT, 1974-1987
  • RHT/19 The Crafts Study Centre, 1972-1984
  • RHT/20 Condolences on the death of RT, and memorials to him and to HT, 1988-1996
  • RHT/21 Photographs, 1950-1988

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Becky Lyle, Submissions Officer for the project and by Jean Vacher, Collections Manager at the Crafts Study Centre, c.2004 and was updated by Greta Bertram in June 2020. The biography was written by Frances Lord.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on the Crafts Study Centre database. A pdf copy is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.


Selected Bibliography

Roscoe, Barley, 'Robin Tanner, Writers and Thinkers', Crafts magazine, issue no 187, March/April 2004

Tributes to Robin Tanner, 1904-1988 , Crafts Study Centre, 1990

Tanner, Robin, What I believe, lectures and other writings by Robin Tanner , Crafts Study Centre, 1989

Tanner, Robin, A Country Alphabet , Old Stile Press, 1984

Tanner, Robin, A Country Book of Days , Old Stile Press, 1986

Tanner, Robin, Double Harness, An Autobiography , Impact Books, 1987

Tanner, Robin, 'Children' in the Report of the International Conference of Craftsmen in Pottery and Textiles held at Dartington Hall , 1952, pages 122-8

Tanner, Robin, The Etcher's Craft , Friends of Bristol Art Gallery, 1980

Fenn, Tim (ed), Letters from Old Chapel Field , Impact Books