RUSKIN, John 1819-1900. Writer, thinker and artist. Ruskin, whose work was so influential, spent his most creative years in the Dulwich area. From 1823 he and his parents lived at a house on the west side of Herne Hill, moving from there in 1843 to a larger house and estate at the top of Denmark Hill, on the east side, just within the old manor of Dulwich. Ruskin’s father, a wine merchant, was typical of the prosperous people moving out of the City in the 18th and early 19th century to places such as Dulwich and Herne Hill.

Ruskin’s autobiography, ‘Praeterita’, has many vivid recollections of the rural beauty of Dulwich as it was in his youth. Ruskin’s first drawings were of Dulwich and his first introduction to great paintings was at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Later, as a lecturer at the Working Men’s College, he brought his students to sketch in Dulwich Woods. At Denmark Hill Ruskin entertained the most famous names in Victorian art and literature. Paintings by Turner adorned the house. It was only in 1872, after the railways had come and the neighbourhood was losing its rural character, that Ruskin moved away to the Lake District.

The two houses where Ruskin lived have both gone. 26 Herne Hill occupies the site of the first of them. A plaque in St Paul’s Church, Herne Hill, commemorates Ruskin’s residence in the parish. 163 Denmark Hill survived as Ruskin Manor Hotel until 1949 when it was demolished to build a council housing estate. Simpson’s Alley, an old footpath from Herne Hill to Dulwich, has been appropriately renamed Ruskin Walk. Ruskin Park, opened in 1907, was also named after the neighbourhood’s most famous resident. Ruskin’s greatest personal legacy to south London must be the magnificent east window of St Giles’ Church, Peckham Road, Camberwell, which he and a colleague designed in 1844. It is the only surviving stained glass by John Ruskin. 

Mary Boast