Walter Crane Archive

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 WCA
  • Dates of Creation
      1853-1993 [bulk 1860s-1915]
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Most items are written in English , with a few in German , Italian , French , Dutch  and Greek .
  • Physical Description
      2 subfonds; 4,277 items.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive contains over four thousand items from the studio of Walter Crane. The archive is divided into two subfonds: WCA/1, Artistic Production, comprises visual material and is held at the Whitworth Art Gallery; WCA/2, Personal Papers, largely consists of textual material and is housed at the John Rylands University Library. The archive covers all aspects of Crane's art and design work, both commercial and private, and includes his book illustration, decorative designs, sketches and paintings. His personal papers span the whole period of his working life, and include personal and professional correspondence, journals, commonplace books, holograph manuscripts and printed books. There are also family photographs, photographs of his works, printing blocks and several medals which were awarded to Crane as an international exhibitor and for his services to the arts.

As well as being of interest to those researching the life and work of Walter Crane, the collection has significant research potential in the following areas: political graphics, art and socialism, the 19th-century book trade, 19th-century art education, interior design, children's books, fashion and costume design, and the Arts & Crafts movement. Significant individuals represented in the archive include: John Lane, Edmund Evans, Mary Seton Watts, Georgiana Burne-Jones, William Morris, Metford Warner, Edward Gordon Craig and Edmund Gosse.

Administrative / Biographical History

Walter Crane, illustrator, painter and designer, was born on 15 August 1845 at 12 Maryland Street, Liverpool. He was the third of five children of Thomas Crane (1808-1859), also a painter, and his wife Marie Kearsley (d. after 1861). In October 1845, due to Thomas Crane's failing health, the family moved to Torquay in Devon, where Walter spent a happy childhood. He was educated mainly at home, as school brought on nervous attacks, and, tutored in his father's studio, he showed his artistic talents early on. In his autobiography, An Artist's Reminiscences (London: Methuen & Co., 1907), he described himself as 'always happiest drawing direct from nature or doing something "out of my head".'

Thomas Crane's health improved in Torquay and in May 1857 he moved the family to London, where he hoped to improve his professional prospects. Thomas Crane continued to encourage his son in the arts, taking him to museums and galleries and planning a career for him. At the age of thirteen, Walter was apprenticed to the wood engraver W.J. Linton for three years, to learn the art of drawing on wood, a necessity for a career in book illustration. During these years Crane met many influential figures in the book trade and was influenced by the progressive political views of Linton and others, such as J.R. Wise, whose book The New Forest he was later to illustrate.

In July 1859 Thomas Crane died suddenly and, with the end of his apprenticeship, Walter had to seek work in order to help to support his family. By the early 1860s Crane was working as a freelance illustrator. In 1862 Crane exhibited his first painting, The Lady of Shallot, at the Royal Academy. During these years, as his early journals show, Crane was prodigious in his artistic output; he worked on many different commissions, which he was often required to complete within a matter of hours. Amongst others, he produced many illustrations and cover designs for the printer Edmund Evans, particularly for his popular yellow-back books. In 1865 he began designing the Toy Book series for George Routledge & Sons, for whom he produced several each year until 1876. Crane's fantastic imagination and Evans's skills as a printer made these books incredibly popular. Crane was, however, not limited to book illustration: he diversified into the decorative arts, in 1867 decorating and designing ceramics for Wedgwood.

The 1870s brought family life to Crane and saw his social and professional circles widen. In 1871 Crane met William Morris, with whom he formed a close friendship and whose socialist cause he came to share. On 6 September he married Mary Frances Andrews (c.1846-1914), the daughter of a country gentleman from Essex. The couple spent an extended honeymoon touring Germany, Switzerland and Italy, before settling in Rome where their first child, Beatrice, was born in February 1873. During these years the Cranes absorbed themselves into the social and artistic life of Rome. Crane continued to work on his book illustrations, making studies of the landscape and painting portraits of his wife. This happy period in their lives was recorded in great detail by Mary in her honeymoon journal.

In May 1873 the Crane family returned to London, living first at Wood Lane and later Beaumont Lodge, Shepherd's Bush. Crane's work continued to diversify; he designed his first set of nursery tiles for Maw & Co. in 1874 and, in 1875, produced his first wallpaper designs for Jeffrey & Co. He also began to illustrate works of adult literature during these years. In 1876 the Cranes' second child, Lionel, was born. In the following year Crane exhibited his painting The Renaissance of Venus at the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition. For Crane, his paintings were always a labour of love, which he valued above all his other work, although they never achieved any real public acclaim. During these years the couple entertained frequently and moved in the very fashionable circles of Holland Park. In 1880 their third child, Lancelot, was born. In 1882 Crane was badly affected by the death of his sister Lucy (b. 1842), author, with whom he had collaborated on books such as The Baby's Opera (London: Routledge & Sons, 1877) and The Baby's Bouquet (London: Routledge & Sons, 1878).

In 1884 Crane joined the Social Democratic Federation and, in 1885, the Fabian Society. Moving in these circles brought Crane into contact with such figures as George Bernard Shaw and Emmeline Pankhurst. He was also a friend of the painter and sculptor George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), who shared his political views. Crane's art began to take on the socialist cause; he produced posters, trade union banners and cartoons, and used socialist themes as the subject of this paintings. During these years Crane became a proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement. He was a founding member of the Art Workers Guild in 1884 and, in 1888, of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, of which he was president until 1893, and again from 1896 until 1912, following the death of William Morris.

The 1890s brought greater national and international recognition for Crane. In 1891 he published his Renascence: A Book of Verse (London: Elkin Matthews) and held his first retrospective exhibition at the Fine Art Society. In October the family travelled to America accompanying the touring exhibition of his work, returning in 1892 to live at 13 Holland Street, Kensington. During this year he published his Claims of Decorative Art (London: Lawrence and Bullen). In 1893 he was appointed Director of Design at Manchester School of Art and, in 1898, Principal of the Royal College of Art. In 1900 the Cranes accompanied a new and larger touring exhibition to the Applied Arts Museum in Budapest, where he and his wife were much fêted. In 1902, for his part in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in Turin, Crane was decorated by Victor Emmanuel III, after which he called himself Commendatore Crane. In 1903 he became a full member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours. During these later years Crane published several books on the technical aspects of art and design, including Bases of Design (London: Bell & Co., 1898), Line and Form (London: George Bell & Sons, 1900) and Ideals in Art (London: George Bell & Sons, 1905).

By the beginning of the twentieth century Crane was a respected establishment figure, but his art was rooted in the previous century and increasingly divorced from the avant garde movements that were sweeping Europe. His chairmanship of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society coincided with the calamitous decline of the entire Arts and Crafts movement, and was criticised after his death as backward-looking and ineffectual. On 18 December 1914 Mary Frances Crane was found dead on the railway line near Kingsnorth in Kent, apparently having committed suicide. Crane survived her by only a few months: he died at Horsham Cottage Hospital in Sussex, on 14 March 1915.


The Archive is arranged as follows:

  • WCA/1: Artistic production (held at the Whitworth Art Gallery)
    • WCA/1/1: Illustration and book design
      • WCA/1/1/1: Children's books
        • WCA/1/1/1/1: Toy books
        • WCA/1/1/1/2: Mrs Molesworth
        • WCA/1/1/1/3: Flower books
        • WCA/1/1/1/4: Unpublished picture books for Beatrice, Lionel and Lancelot
        • WCA/1/1/1/5: Other
      • WCA/1/1/2: Other published books
        • WCA/1/1/2/1: published between 1860 and 1874
        • WCA/1/1/2/2: published between 1875 and 1914
      • WCA/1/1/3: Illustrated periodicals
    • WCA/1/2: Commercial design
      • WCA/1/2/1: Interior design
        • WCA/1/2/1/1: Wallpapers (including related paper and leather friezes and ceiling papers)
        • WCA/1/2/1/2: Textiles (including carpets and rugs)
        • WCA/1/2/1/3: Furniture design (including doors)
        • WCA/1/2/1/4: Ornament (incl. plasterwork, gesso, fireplaces, jewellery and picture frames)
        • WCA/1/2/1/5: Interior design commissions
      • WCA/1/2/2: Ceramics
        • WCA/1/2/2/1: Tiles
        • WCA/1/2/2/2: Vessels
      • WCA/1/2/3: Costume
        • WCA/1/2/3/1: Female costume design
        • WCA/1/2/3/2: Male costume design
        • WCA/1/2/3/3: Children's costume design
        • WCA/1/2/3/4: Photography produced for 'Aglaia'
      • WCA/1/2/4: Stained glass
      • WCA/1/2/5: Greetings cards and calendars
      • WCA/1/2/6: Other printed material
        • WCA/1/2/6/1: Advertisements and promotional material
        • WCA/1/2/6/2: Certificates and awards
        • WCA/1/2/6/3: Company / organization logos (non-political)
    • WCA/1/3: Non-commercial design
      • WCA/1/3/1: Personal and family use
      • WCA/1/3/2: Created for friends / acquaintances (including bookplates)
    • WCA/1/4: Sketches and studies with colour
      • WCA/1/4/1: Landscapes
      • WCA/1/4/2: Flower studies
      • WCA/1/4/3: Animal studies
        • WCA/1/4/3/1: Pets
        • WCA/1/4/3/2: Other animals
      • WCA/1/4/4: Portraits
      • WCA/1/4/5: Figure studies (including drapery)
      • WCA/1/4/6: Studies for paintings
      • WCA/1/4/7: Contained sketchbooks / notebooks
    • WCA/1/5: Finished paintings
      • WCA/1/5/1: Landscapes
      • WCA/1/5/2: Portraits
      • WCA/1/5/3: Other material
    • WCA/1/6: Photographic reproductions
      • WCA/1/6/1: Painting and drawings
      • WCA/1/6/2: Design
    • WCA/1/7: Education
      • WCA/1/7/1: Lecture material
      • WCA/1/7/2: Other material
    • WCA/1/8: Political and societies
    • WCA/1/9: Works by others (including Crane's children)
    • WCA/1/10: Miscellaneous
  • WCA/2: Personal papers (held at the John Rylands Library)
    • WCA/2/1: Correspondence
      • WCA/2/1/1: Personal correspondence
      • WCA/2/1/2: Professional correspondence and related material
    • WCA/2/2: Commonplace books and journals
      • WCA/2/2/1: Commonplace books
      • WCA/2/2/2: Journals and day-books
      • WCA/2/2/3: Other manuscript notebooks
    • WCA/2/3: Written works
      • WCA/2/3/1: Manuscripts
      • WCA/2/3/2: Published works
      • WCA/2/3/3: Printed proofs
    • WCA/2/4: Printed books, catalogues and ephemera
      • WCA/2/4/1: Books belonging to Walter and Mary Frances Crane
      • WCA/2/4/2: Catalogues relating to Crane's exhibitions and publications
      • WCA/2/4/3: Miscellaneous printed material with designs by Crane
      • WCA/2/4/4: Crane family scrap-books
      • WCA/2/4/5: Printed ephemera
    • WCA/2/5: Manuscript material
    • WCA/2/6: Photographic material
      • WCA/2/6/1: Photographs and formal portraits of Walter Crane
      • WCA/2/6/2: Photographs and formal portraits of Mary Frances Crane
      • WCA/2/6/3: Family photographs
      • WCA/2/6/4: Photographs of friends and colleagues
      • WCA/2/6/5: Photographs of homes and gardens
      • WCA/2/6/6: Photographic reproductions
    • WCA/2/7: Honours and awards
      • WCA/2/7/1: Certificates
      • WCA/2/7/2: Medals
    • WCA/2/8: Printing blocks
      • WCA/2/8/1: Printing blocks for Renascence: A Book of Verse
      • WCA/2/8/2: Other printing blocks.

Note on the referencing of material in the Walter Crane Archive held by The Whitworth Art Gallery: Gallery references use dot separators (WCA., etc.), in accordance with their in-house practice. However, for consistency, in this catalogue all reference codes are represented by forward slashes: WCA/2/1/1/1, etc.

Access Information

The archive is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The archive was jointly purchased by the Whitworth Art Gallery and the John Rylands University Library from Anthony Crane, grandson of Walter Crane, for £376,475 in 2002. Funding was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, the Friends of the Whitworth and the Friends of the National Libraries.

Other Finding Aids

A complete online catalogue of the items in this collection held by The Whitworth Art Gallery is available at

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 in 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 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 Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archive remained in Walter Crane's studio on the artist's death in 1915, and was inherited by his grandson, Anthony Crane, in the early 1940s. Apart from elementary conservation, indexing and correlation, it remained unchanged. In 2001 the archive was sold to the Houghton Library at Harvard University, but a temporary export stop was placed on the archive by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This enabled the Whitworth Art Gallery and the John Rylands University Library to raise the funds necessary for the purchase of the archive.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

Walter Crane material held elsewhere in the UK includes:

  • Kensington and Chelsea Libraries and Arts Service: papers including correspondence and portfolios, 1884-1915, ref. 42500;
  • University of London Library: Crane's notebooks from 1865 to 1884; see online catalogue at;
  • The London School of Economics, British Library of Political and Economic Science, Archives Division: some Crane material in its collection of letters to the Fabian Society; see online catalogue at; also some correspondence with the Independent Labour Party;
  • University College London, Special Collections: letters from Crane to Sir Francis Galton, 1905-6; see online catalogue at;
  • Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department: letters from Crane to Dugald Sutherland MacColl (National Gallery), 1907-1912;
  • The British Library, Manuscript Collections: correspondence with the Macmillans, 1874-1914, ref. Add MS 55232, and letters to George Bernard Shaw, 1885-1904, ref. Add MS 50531;
  • Richmond Local Studies Library: correspondence with Douglas Sladen, 1897-1900;
  • The Labour Party Archives at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester: correspondence in the Frederick Pickles Collection, ref. LP/PIC/1-48;
  • The John Rylands University Library also holds some letters from Crane to M.H. Spielmann, 1888-1903, ref. Eng MS 1291 .

Crane material held outside the UK includes:

  • Harvard University, Houghton Library: correspondence and sketches, 1868-1914, and letters to James Stanley Little, 1886-1914;
  • Yale University, Beinecke Library: letters and literary manuscripts;
  • University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center: correspondence with John Lane.


  • Walter Crane, Renascence, A Book of Verse (London: Elkin Mathews, 1891);
  • Walter Crane, Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New (London: George Bell & Co., 1896);
  • Walter Crane, The Bases of Design (London: Bell & Co., 1898);
  • Walter Crane, Line and Form (London: George Bell & Co., 1900);
  • Walter Crane, Ideals in Art (London: George Bell & Co., 1905);
  • Walter Crane, An Artist's Reminiscences (London: Methuen & Co., 1907);
  • Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999);
  • Paul G. Konody, The Art of Walter Crane (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902);
  • Greg Smith and Sarah Hyde (eds), Walter Crane: Artist, Designer and Socialist (London: Lund Humphries, in association with the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, 1989);
  • Isobel Spencer, Walter Crane (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1975);
  • Edmund Spenser, Spenser's Faerie Queen: a poem in six books, edited by T.J. Wise (London: George Allen, 1897).