Records of the Red Rose Guild

Scope and Content

Records of the Red Rose Guild from the period 1921-1962 (from the foundation of the Guild up to the foundation of the Northern Crafts Centre), a few records of Guild activities after 1963, and the file of the last secretary, recording the Guild's demise in the mid-1980s.

The Record Books contain comprehensive records of the initial exhibition and the Annual Exhibitions 1921-1956, as well as other records including some programmes of Guild events, and there are posters from the 1930s and a visitors book, 1956-1962.

Other records from that period include signed minutes of annual general meetings and committee meetings, 1923-1949, annual reports, 1922-1930 and 1936-1942, accounts for the years 1921-1929 and 1938, lists of members, histories of the Guild, and newspaper cuttings. Three files of correspondence survive from the period of the Second World War, on the subjects of the Central Institute of Art and Design scheme for training disabled people in craft workshops, the Exhibition of Modern British Crafts which toured the USA and the attempt to form a Master Craftsman Group within the Red Rose Guild.

Apart from a stray copy of the minutes of a 1954 committee meeting (now filed in RRG/5/3/5/8), minutes later than 1949 have not been found.

No records from 1963-1974, when the Red Rose Guild was part of the Northern Crafts Centre, have been found, apart from a 'Photograph file', which appears to date from the 1960s, probably related to applications to exhibit at Guild exhibitions, a file 'Correspondence L' containing some routine correspondence and a copy of the catalogue of the 1967 exhibition of Leach pottery, and catalogue, poster etc., for the 50th anniversary exhibition in 1971.

Records after 1974 comprise: a file which appears to be the secretary's file, containing lists of members [1977], press releases [1977], instructions about exhibitions, 1977 and 1980, and newspaper cuttings; a file which appears to be a publicity officer's file, containing copies of minutes and accounts, 1980-1982, a publicity leaflet, 1977, newsletters, 1979-1984, instructions and correspondence about exhibitions, 1980 and 1982, and correspondence with the Guild of Yorkshire Craftsmen 1980; and catalogues and posters for Guild exhibitions, 1976-1982.

Dr Alex McErlain, who was the Guild's treasurer c.1980, wrote in 2003 of the Guild's records 'I remember with horror now the condition it was in and the decisions to throw away great chunks of it that seemed to be duplicated!'

It appears that some Red Rose Guild records have gone astray. A manuscript list in the file, headed 'Penny Thompson' with an address in Manchester, includes items such as '1921 minute book of the Cttee' and '1921 record of Guild meetings' and annual reports for the years 1932, 1939, 1950, 1956, 1959-60 and 1961-3. None of these survive in the archive. Another letter, dated October 1984, was to accompany a copy of a dissertation by Penny Thompson 'about the Red Rose Guild', so it is assumed that the records were loaned to her for her studies. It seems possible that the main archive came to the Crafts Study Centre when the loaned items were still with the researcher – the record of the transfer to the Crafts Study Centre is date 27 July 1983. It is possible that the items which returned to the secretary after Penny Thompson had finished with them were among the things which went to the Whitworth Gallery in 1991.

The file kept by the last secretary (RRG/13/8) illustrates the decline of the Guild in the 1980s, its contents including correspondence about the search for exhibition venues, attempts at publicity, and the lack of candidates for offices.

Good-quality photographs survive of exhibitions and objects, in the Record Books 1920-1956 (RRG/2), in the Catalogues of work available for sale [1920s] (RRG/7), in the 'Photograph file' [1960s] (RRG/13/2), and in section RRG/14.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Red Rose Guild had its origins in an exhibition held for 2½ days in October 1920 in the Houldsworth Hall in Manchester, under the banner of 'The Red Rose Guild of Arts and Crafts'. The initiative came from a group of northern artist-craftsmen living in London, including Dorothy Hutton and Kathleen Smartt, who wished to exhibit their work in Manchester. The exhibition was very successful, attracting so much interest that the Red Rose Guild of Artworkers was formed in January 1921. The name was changed in the early 1940s to 'The Red Rose Guild of Craftsmen' to reflect its emphasis on craftwork.

The symbol of the Guild, the red rose of Lancashire, reflected the Guild's origins in the North West, and its regional focus persisted despite the participation of craftspeople from across the country. It held annual exhibitions showcasing leading practitioners of craftwork, and sought to promote the importance of craftwork in modern society.

The organizer of the original exhibition was Margaret Pilkington (1891-1974), a wood-engraver who had been taught by Noel Rooke and Lucien Pissarro at the Central School in London. She served on the committee for the first 40 years of the Guild's existence, for many of those years as Honorary Secretary and occasionally as Chairman.

Quality of work was paramount to the selectors - membership of the Guild did not automatically guarantee a place in the exhibitions (a rule that caused some dissent among members). Each exhibitor was responsible for the display and sale of his or her work, but the committee would often give guidance about which works to show. By 1925, 60 applicants were applying for 32 stalls, and the number of stalls increased throughout the 1930s; by the 1950s there were more than 80.

Margaret Pilkington was deputy chairman and honorary director of the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road, Manchester, from 1936 until 1959, and successful spring exhibitions were held there in 1938 and 1939 in addition to the exhibitions in the Houldsworth Hall, which took place in November/December. In 1940 the Guild moved its headquarters to the Whitworth.

Records of the annual exhibitions were kept in albums, including exhibition layouts, invitations, tickets, catalogues and photographs of the hall and of individual stands. Up to 1939, each year was comprehensively recorded, often including copies of the annual report.

During the Second World War no exhibitions were held, but between 1940 and 1942 the Guild published a quarterly magazine, 'Crafts', edited by Harry Norris (1901-1968), exploring the needs, the aims and the philosophy of life and of work of craft practitioners. The Guild was one of 27 societies involved in the inauguration of the Central Institute of Art and Design in November 1940, and contributed three delegates to the committee to deal with matters of concern to craftsmen.

After the war 'Crafts' reappeared as an annual publication, and the Guild began to extend its work. For example it was one of five sponsors of the Craft Centre of Great Britain, Pilkington and Harry Norris serving on the council. They were energetic in the promotion of the commissioning of wedding gifts, prizes, presentations and civic regalia from craftspeople, and advocated approaching Guild members to carry out this work.

The Guild changed its name in the 1960s to the Red Rose Guild of Designer Craftsmen. There was always debate about whether a permanent outlet for displaying and selling craftwork would be the Guild's best method of operation, and from 1963 to 1974 there was a permanent exhibition space, at the Crane Gallery, No.35 South King Street, Manchester, and a limited company, the Northern Crafts Centre, was formed. Harry Norris was the first Chairman of the Centre and was the driving force behind it until his death in April 1968.

The deaths of senior members of the committee and the closure of the Northern Crafts Centre in 1974 were threats to the Guild's future, but Dr Henry Spittle, one of the remaining council members, organised a very successful exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in 1976, after which a new council took the Guild forward by once again staging annual exhibitions, usually at Manchester Polytechnic's Undercroft Gallery. However, the growth of local guilds, including the Northern Potters' Association, founded in 1977, and North-West Craftsmen, founded in 1980, left the Red Rose Guild increasingly irrelevant, and its last exhibition was held in 1985.


  • RRG/1 Minute books, 1923-1949
  • RRG/2 Record books, 1920-1956
  • RRG/3 Rules and membership records, [1920s-1950s]
  • RRG/4 Annual reports, 1922-1942, 1951
  • RRG/5 Records of exhibitions, 1921-1962
  • RRG/6 Publicity leaflets and histories, 1932-1956
  • RRG/7 Catalogues of work available for sale, [1920s]
  • RRG/8 Newspaper cuttings, 1920-1960
  • RRG/9 'Crafts', magazine of the Red Rose Guild, 1940-1950
  • RRG/10 Wartime projects, 1939-1942, 1957
  • RRG/11 Establishment of the Crafts Centre of Great Britain [British Crafts Centre], 1946
  • RRG/12 Establishment of the Northern Crafts Centre, 1961-1964
  • RRG/13 Records of the Guild after 1963, 1962-1992
  • RRG/14 Photographs, 1927-1980s

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Shirley Dixon, Crafts Study Centre Archivist, in April 2020

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on 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.


Schoeser, Mary, All the fun of the fair , Crafts magazine no 154, Sep/Oct 1998