Skip to main content

W. G. Collingwood archive

Watercolour portrait of Mrs Beever, by William Gershom Collingwood (1854-1932)Watercolour portrait of Mrs Beever, by William Gershom Collingwood (1854-1932)
Watercolour portrait of Mrs Beever, by William Gershom Collingwood (1854-1932)

Browse the online catalogue.

The Collingwoods were a well-connected family of artists, based in the Lake District. Their archive contains the correspondence and personal papers of four generations of the family, starting with artist and teacher William Collingwood (1819-1903). His son William Gershom Collingwood (1854-1932) was also a professional artist, and a Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Reading. He was perhaps best known for his friendship with John Ruskin (1819-1900). The archive contains correspondence from Ruskin, as well as sketchbooks and artworks belonging to both men. W. G. Collingwood published a number of books, and was actively involved with the Lake District Artists' Society. The archive contains W. G. Collingwood’s correspondence, notebooks, drafts, diaries, and hand-drawn maps.

W. G. Collingwood's wife, Edith Mary Isaac (1857-1928), known as 'Dorrie', was a respected and commercially successful artist, specialising in miniaturist paintings. Her sketchbooks, and 30 diaries are held in the archive, including those kept during the First World War. The archive also contains over 700 letters to her vast network of friends and acquaintances, as well as extensive correspondence sent from her family, the Isaacs. Arthur Ransome (1884-1967) was a close family friend, who based his book Swallows and Amazons on his experiences of sailing with the Collingwoods' grandchildren, and around 200 of his letters to the family can be found in the archive.

William and Edith home-schooled their children, and all three daughters followed in their parents' artistic footsteps to some degree. Dora Collingwood (1886-1964) was a gifted painter and studied art in Paris. She married a doctor, Ernest Altounyan, and lived in a number of locations, including Aleppo during the First World War. Her husband and father-in-law ran a pioneering training hospital, and she assisted them in providing aid for refugees fleeing the Armenian Genocide (1915-23). Barbara Collingwood (1887-1961) was a respected sculptor, and her sketchbooks, 50 diaries and c. 700 letters are held in the archive. The Collingwoods' youngest daughter, Ursula Collingwood (1891-1962), trained and worked as a midwife in London and the Lake District from around 1912-1925, but in the 1940s began teaching art at Blackwell School. From the 1950s until her death, she worked as a farmer at Underbarrow in the Lake District. William and Edith's only son Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943) is a celebrated historian and philosopher, and is also known for his work in the field of archaeology. Cardiff University is home to the British Idealism and Collingwood Centre, a centre dedicated in part to R. G. Collingwood's research contributions and writings. The archive contains his letters and diaries.

Barbara Collingwood married Major Oscar Theodor Gnosspelius (1878-1953), a civil-engineer who built monoplanes and conducted early aeronautic experiments on Lake Windermere, many of which are documented in his notebooks and photo albums. They had one child, Janet Gnosspelius (1927-2010), who forged a career as an architect and historian. We have her to thank for the care and collection of her family's archive. Her sketchbooks, 50 diaries, c. 200 letters, and extensive family history research are held within the collection.

Ruskin and Ransome rediscovered – a literary, philosophical, and artistic portrait from the Lake District

National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants Programme - awarded Cardiff University £38,601 to complete detailed cataloguing of the most complex element of the archive - around 4,000 letters exchanged between four generations of the family and their wide circle of friends and acquaintances. The University was one of eight successful applicants for the highly competitive funding, and received the largest grant awarded by the programme in 2016.

Aside from the correspondence, the collection includes rare books, postcards, legal documents, photographs, sketches, paintings, and diaries spanning three centuries.

Contact us

Our professional team is here to help you to make the most out of our collections.

Special Collections and Archives