Wonderful story about how the Museum acquired a silver box, as well as drawings, by Archibald Knox from the potter Rosemary Wren. The speaker is David Coachworth who came to work in the V&A in 1963, now retired. Rosemary’s mother, the potter Denise Wren, had been a student of Knox’s and couldn’t resist buying the box with money she was supposed to spend on a new bed.
Transcript: David Coachworth interviewed by Dr Matthew Partington
I was one of the key reasons why we all know quite a lot now, not as much as people think, about the design of Archibald Knox. A certain amount of – he was known as a name, he was known to be a designer for Liberty’s metalwork and Shirley Bury [Deputy Keeper, Department of Metalwork, 1972-82, Keeper 1982-85] has actually written an article for Apollo I think it was, that mentioned him. And one day I was in Hugh Wakefield’s office [Keeper, Department of Circulation, 1960–76] with the potter Rosemary Wren and I said… “Just by chance Rosemary did your mother…” because I knew her mother had been to art school, and I said, “Did your mother ever hear about a man called Archibald Knox ?” And she said, “He’s the god of our household! My mother’s entire life has been circling around Archibald Knox!” And I found out then that Denise Wren , who was in her eighties by then, had indeed studied under Archibald Knox and had kept a mass of (his) drawings. He had walked out of the school of art in the end because they had accused him, according to her, they had accused him of teaching art nouveau, which was wicked design. And he said, “I don’t teach art nouveau”, and left and went back to the Isle of Man where he came from.
She later found when clearing out his office, in his waste paper basket, a mass of designs and drawings by Archibald Knox and she said, “What do I do with them Mr. Knox?” and he said, “You can throw them away if you like or keep them, I don’t care.” And she kept them. And eventually I went down to visit her at the house she and her husband had built in Oxshott and she had all these drawings in a large box under her bed which was marvelous. And they are now nearly all in the V&A collection. I took Shirley Bury down with me of course because I knew this was a great area of interest for her.
(But that was another example; she would have been a great fund of recorded information.) Some of her stories I remember – but the Museum does have the best silver box, always called the Knox Box which is quite a big square box studded with square opals; and that came from Denise. And Denise’s story on that was, she called it her ‘bed box’ because she and her husband desperately needed a new bed and she came up to London straight after the War with money to buy a bed and in Liberty’s window she saw this box, and they were throwing out all that old art nouveau rubbish! She rushed in and bought it, so they never did get a bed, not on that occasion anyway. But she had this lovely silver box which fortunately the Museum bought from her.