Minimalists in History: Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

“The Guild of SS. Joseph and Dominic is a craft Guild, but is not primarily a craft Guild. It is primarily a religious fraternity for those who make things with their hands.”

– Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic members, announcing its existence

The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was an arts-and-crafts colony in England. Sculptor, typeface designer and letter cutter Eric Gill and printer and writer Hilary Pepler began the colony in Ditchling, Sussex in 1921.

The colony patterned itself after the medieval guild, which existed to protect and promote its members’ work.  An engraved stone plaque described the colony:

Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses

The colony’s values were based on the ethos of William Morris as well as Roman Catholicism. During the 1910s, Gill and Pepler had converted to Catholicism and become involved with Distributism, a movement that combined religious faith with the belief that workers should own land and live off its produce.

“[W]e have been concerned at arriving at a way of life and work which would not be the denial of individualism but the affirmation of truth.”

– Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic members, announcing its existence

Distributism is an economic ideology based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching. According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right, and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible, not centralized under the control of the state, a few individuals, or corporations. Distributism also values human life as a whole more than economic activity.

The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic’s constitution explained that the Guild was “a society of Catholic craftsmen who wish to make the Catholic Faith the rule, not only of their life but of their workmanship and to that end to live and work in association in order that mutual aid may strengthen individual effort.”

The idea was to create a community where wealth is measured by virtue rather than money and beauty, not output, is the goal of production. By 1922, more than 40 people lived at the colony. The craftsmen¹ included weavers, engravers, calligraphers, silver workers, stone carvers, carpenters and printers.

“The love of God means that work must be done according to an absolute standard of reasonableness; the love of our neighbour means that work must be done according to an absolute standard of serviceableness.”

– Constitution of the Guild St of Joseph and St Dominic

Eric Gill left Ditchling in 1924, but the Guild continued to flourish. Members of the Guild included Bernard Brocklehurst, Father Desmond Macready Chute, Ewan Clayton, Joseph Cribb, Kenneth Eager, Philip Hagreen, Edgar Holloway, David Jones, Jenny KilBride, Valentine KilBride, George Maxwell, Dunstan Pruden and Winefride Prude

The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic disbanded in 1989, and the workshops were demolished. To learn more about the Ditchling arts and crafts movement, visit the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.

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¹Unfortunately, the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was an all-male community for most of its existence, not admitting women until the 1970s.

6 thoughts on “Minimalists in History: Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic

  1. A community based on virtue not money sign me up. 🙂 Money has less value today than it did then so virtue and crafts makes much more sense to me.

    • Until I started research for my minimalists-in-history series, I had not realized how many communities had tried to live simply. Interesting – and unfortunate – that none seem to last (well, the Shakers have been around a long time, but there are only three left).

  2. Christy,
    I love this series, every post is so interesting.
    Love the constitution of these guilds!
    Wishing you well, Carol

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