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  • Writer's pictureGiulia Pittiglio

Jacks from the Past: the Story of JohnKin Davies

JohnKin Albert Davies was born in 1853 in London, England to a working-class family. His mother and father were shopkeepers in the city where they spent most of their time, but had their family home situated on the outskirts of town, where JohnKin and his siblings could attend a public school. Growing up in a working class family in nineteenth century England, JohnKin came to understand the importance of hard work at a very early

age. Secondary education was never much of an option for such a family, and this meant the rDavies children would have to develop their talents and skills outside of the classroom in order to make a living.

JohnKin was always fascinated with the kinds of objects and tools he’d find in his parent’s shop. Everything from trinkets like music boxes, and old jewelry cases to handmade clothing, hand-bound books, and more. When JohnKin was about 16 years old, he took a particular interest in the process of forging metal after walking past a blacksmithing forge just outside of town. He noticed as the men at work heated, molded, and forged the material into various shapes and tools. He was instantly captured by their strength and technique and felt compelled to learn more. He re-visited the forge the next day, and then again the day after that. After a few visits, he was invited inside by one of the blacksmiths who had seen him from the window. He was asked if he wanted to see the process from a closer perspective.

JohnKin ended up spending a few weeks after this visiting the forge. He would go on to make acquaintances with the other blacksmiths and even try his hand at their techniques. He was always intrigued by how structured yet creative and fluid the whole process could be. He would learn the ancient processes step by step, passed down from one blacksmith to another, and once he got comfortable enough, he would be able to create his own unique pieces. This was what excited JohnKin most about blacksmithing.

After a couple of years of taking on apprenticeships and learning from older blacksmiths around London, JohnKin was compelled to open up a forge of his own. He had been selling his own creations in his parent’s shop and in markets around town. He felt confident enough in his own craft to pursue this next endeavour. This was until he met the leader of the Arts and Craft movement, William Morris, at a crafting convention taking place in London in 1873. Morris was inspired by the passion and drive that JohnKin possessed, reminding him of a younger self. The two ended up chatting about craftsmanship for a while, exchanging ideas about blacksmithing and design that the other didn’t know about.

Once this went on for long enough, William Morris decided to invite JohnKin to stay with him at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. Morris quickly became invested in the talent and spirit of the young man before him, knowing that such qualities could only exist in someone who would go on to do great things. Morris had just taken ownership of the Manor and moved there with his family. There was extra room in the guest house for JohnKin to stay and develop his own crafts beyond just blacksmithing. This was a very exciting opportunity for JohnKin, one he knew he couldn’t pass up. His dreams of opening up his own blacksmithing forge would have to wait.

JohnKin went on to spend the following year living at Kelmscott Manor, learning from William Morris, sharing ideas with him and even becoming politically active in the socialist movement. The two men got along quite well and it was a mutually beneficial relationship. It was not long before JohnKin was showcasing his own work at the same crafting conference where the two initially met, becoming an influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement.



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