Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946)

Benjamin Creswick

Written by Annie Creswick Dawson

Occupations: Artist, Educator and Sculptor
Location: Coniston

Background and Early Life

Benjamin Creswick’s hard life as a Sheffield knife grinder was transformed by John Ruskin’s decision to establish for the working men of Sheffield an inspirational museum in the enfranchising garden suburb of Walkley where Creswick lived, appropriately, in Freedom Road.  His father, Edward Creswick (1810-1897), a spectacle maker, and mother Mary Thorp (1810-1896), had eight children. With his wife, Fanny Goodall (1855-1931), Benjamin had six children, two of whom, Charles and Jack, would forge significant careers as sculptors, bronze founders and silversmiths in Scotland.

As the son of an independent artisan, it is unclear why Creswick was apprenticed as a knife grinder. The early signs of lung disease, a common malaise among knife grinders, brought him to the attention of an enlightened local doctor, Dr John Balbirnie, who may have been instrumental in pointing Creswick towards the sculpture classes that were founded by Sheffield School of Art and run by First West York Engineers. As a result, Creswick exhibited at the Sheffield Society of Artists in 1876 to positive comment in the local press. He may also have pointed Creswick towards the new museum that had opened in Walkley – John Ruskin’s Guild of St George Museum – a museum that Ruskin dedicated to feed the minds of the working man.

Ruskin and Cumbria

Ruskin’s patronage of Creswick began in 1877, when Henry Swan, Ruskin’s curator, brought to his attention a portrait bust of Ruskin that Creswick had modelled in terra cotta. Ruskin immediately saw  “a true and pure genius”  in Creswick. Later that year, Ruskin invited Creswick to Brantwood to facilitate sittings for a second portrait bust. In May 1879, he arranged lodgings in Coniston for Creswick and his family with a Mrs Milligan and supported them in their new Cumbrian life and thereafter for a period of four years. Research by Dr Stuart Eagles locates the Creswicks’ lodgings as being with Frances and Joseph Milligan at Dixon Ground in Coniston. 

Ruskin’s principles influenced Benjamin Creswick throughout a long and fruitful life. Creswick’s move to London in the late 1870s, saw him welcomed into the circle of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942). Ruskin’s patronage was a key factor in this and other connections that Creswick made from his Cumbrian years onwards, as with Ruskin’s friend and publisher George Allen (1832-1907). From this time onwards, Creswick’s career was stellar. Apart from the early training in Sheffield, he was largely self-taught. Creswick rose to become a member of the Century Guild and Bromsgrove Guild. His sculptures adorn buildings across the country, perhaps the most impressive of which is the frieze at Cutler’s Hall in London, which depicts the work of the cutler in forging, grinding, hafting and fitting knives and scissors.  Latterly, he became Professor of Sculpture at Birmingham Municipal School of Art [now Birmingham School of Art]. Benjamin Creswick’s life is a living testament to Ruskin’s Guild of St George Museum at Walkley having transformed lives. 

From 1903 onwards, Creswick and his wife Fanny lived in Sutton Coldfield, where he passed away at the great age of 93; a great age for one who started out in life as a knife grinder. Benjamin was buried on 1 February 1946 in the churchyard of their local church, St Michael’s Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield. A proposal is underway for Creswick to be remembered with a blue plaque on one of the listed buildings in Birmingham that are decorated with his remarkable work. 


  • ’Benjamin Creswick’, Annie Creswick Dawson with Paul Dawson, pub. The Guild of St George, 2015, 14-17
  • Family Search records search accessed Apr 2021
  • ‘From Pen to Press: George Allen and the Pathway to Print in the Nineteenth Century’, Paul Dawson, Friends of Brantwood Newsletter, Spring 2002 (not paginated)
  • ‘Unpublished Letters from John Ruskin to Henry & Emily Swan 1877-1878’, Volume V [EL3. R956 Ms1, v6] Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia
  • Unpublished work by Dr Stuart Eagles