2.5 Consolidation, Pepler’s departure, re-consolidation – 1926 to 1945

Notwithstanding Gill’s departure, the Guild held together and continued to attract able and intelligent craftsmen. In 1925 Valentine KilBride started a weavers’ workshop and in 1926 became a full member of the Guild. The falling away of its early rigour is evidenced by the dropping, in 1928, of the requirement that Guild members had to become Dominican Tertiaries and, taking advantage of this, its activities were expanded in 1932 when Dunstan Pruden, a gifted silversmith joined the community.

Outside the workshops, late 1930s. (back) Joseph Cribb, Valentine KilBride, George Maxwell, Bernard Brocklehurst, (front) Dunstan Pruden, Noel Knapp-Tabbener

The Guild also developed a congenial social life, the high point being the St Dominic’s celebrations on 4th August each year, generally consisting of a sports day, tea in the orchard, a performance of a drama in the evening and a pub supper. In details like this, the quality of life that the Guild enjoyed shines through. Inevitably though, as with all human affairs, problems were brewing. Hilary Pepler was becoming something of a national, even international figure, and there was a sense of estrangement between him and the other craftsmen who retained their belief in the simple life. The underlying tension came to a head in 1933, the issue being Pepler’s employment of a non-Catholic to assist in his print shop. Pepler was expelled, but the terms of settlement remained the subject of legal dispute for some time. Eventually, Pepler vacated his premises on the common and reopened in Ditchling in 1937 under the name ‘The Ditchling Press’.

The last of the founders had now left, and the spirit of innovation and experiment seems to have been overtaken by a more settled and resigned philosophy. A high point though was the arrival of a promising sculptor, Gill’s nephew John Skelton, who became apprenticed to Cribb. The war-years though, were not kind to the Guild. The KilBride and Brocklehurst families had to abandon the weaving workshop due to lack of silk; casualties of the fighting included George Maxwell’s son Stephen, Cribb’s former assistant Albert Leany and the eldest KilBride son.

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