Ruskin Avenue, TW9

Place Name

John Ruskin (February 8, 1819 – January 20, 1900), was the leading art critic of the Victorian era and a regular visitor to Richmond in his younger days – although why he was is honoured with a street name here is a mystery as he certainly didn’t do the town any favours in later life. As a boy his family would visit a friend of his father, Dr Grant, a doctor who lived in “a respectable house halfway down Richmond Hill”. He later wrote: “Every now and then, in the summer mornings, or the gaily frost white winter comes, we used, papa and mamma, and Mary and I, to drive over Clapham and Wandsworth Commons to breakfast picnic with Dr Grant at the Star and Garter. Breakfast much impressed on my mind. Partly by the pretty views from the windows; but more because, my orthodox breakfast, even in travelling, was of stale baker’s bread; at these Starry picnics I was allowed new French rolls.” Many years later, in 1886, Duke Street Chapel wrote an appeal to the great man asking if he would help pay off a debt. His pompous reply was recounted in full in Bygone Richmond: “Sir, I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world the precisely least likely to give you a farthing. My first word to all men and boys who care to hear me is ‘Don’t get into debt. Starve and go to heaven – but don’t borrow. Try first begging – I don’t mind if it’s really needful – stealing! But don’t buy things you can’t pay for!’ And of all manner of debtors pious people building churches they can’t pay for, are the most detestable nonsense to me. Can’t you preach and pray behind the hedges – or in a sandpit – or a coal hole first? And of all manner of churches thus idiotically built, iron churches are the damnablest to me. And of all the sects and believers in any ruling spirit – Hindoos, Turks, Feather Idolaters, and Mumbo Jumbo, Log and Fire Worshippers – who want churches, your modern Evangelical sect is the most absurd, and entirely objectionable and unendurable to me! All which they might very easily have found out from my books – any other sort of sect would! – before bothering me to write it to them. Ever, nevertheless, and in all this saying, you faithful servant.” Not one to miss a trick the recipient promptly sold the latter for a guinea, thus raising some small contribution. Pomposity aside Ruskin was a tour de force of his era, an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker, and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy. He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19thCentury and up to the First World War. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability, and craft. However, he was also a little weird. On April 10, 1848 he married Effie Gray, a renowned beauty. From the start the union was doomed, many have speculated why. It has been suggested he was shocked by her pubic hair, or the fact that possibly on their wedding night she was menstruating – either way the marriage was never consummated and was annulled in 1854. There has also been much debate about whether he was a paedophile, the general view is not, or at least if he was, that he never acted on his attraction. The road was so named in 1905.




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