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A note on Kenneth Eager and Ditchling

23/12/2013

Kenneth Eager was a craftsman and carver who worked at Ditchling with Joseph Cribb, Eric Gill’s first apprentice. Ditchling, a village in Sussex, England, ditchling commonwas chosen by Gill as a place to experiment with his idea of a community of like-minded people, Catholics all, who gathered to create what became the Third Order of St Dominic (TOSD) – a sort of commune that adhered strictly to Catholic ritual and ceremony. Eager continued working at Ditchling long after the death of Cribb in 1967. Infact, he stayed until the Ditchling experiment finally ended in 1989. He was 84.

There is little I can find about Eager’s solo work. But what follows is an account given by Michael Harvey of his own genesis as a letter carver and his memories of going to Ditchling in 1954 to meet Cribb and his workmen (including Eager).

‘Joseph Cribb was a wiry-haired man, the hair quite grey, who carried on the craft of tombstone maker, letter carver and sculptor of religious subjects…Joesph had two assistants, Noel and Kenneth, ex-apprentices who had trained with him as he had with Gill fifty years before. These younger men did not live on the common but travelled in every day like commuters, Kenneth all the way from Brighton on the other side of the Downs. When a figure needed carving, Joseph sometimes allowed his assistants to do most of the work, leaving the expressive parts such as hands and faces to complete himself. Consequently, in later years when Joseph was no longer around, both craftsmen had some difficulty in these areas.’

He concludes: ‘The workshops on Ditchling Common were pulled down a few years ago, replaced by two pretentious “executive” houses, but in the churchyard many fine gravestones show the hands of the carvers who worked in the stone shop built by Eric Gill and Joseph Cribb’. Perhaps some of those are by the hand of Kenneth Eager?

[From Matrix 27, A review for printers and bibliophiles, 2007, Whittington Press.]

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