Archibald Knox was born in the Isle of Man of Scottish parenthood. His designs were synonymous with British Art Nouveau and he is regarded as being a prominent influence in the Arts and Crafts movement. His Celtic designs and calligraphy are world famous and iconic in the Isle of Man. Today both his art work for Liberty & Co and his watercolours are highly sought after.

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Archibald Knox 1864-1933

The Knox’s of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire are a well established Scottish family tracing their roots back to the Scottish reformer John Knox. In his book ‘The Genealogy of the Knox’s of Kilbirnie’ (1855) William Logan gave a detailed genealogical account.     

William Knox (Kilbirnie) married Ann Carmichael (Lismore Island). Father and mother of Archibald Knox.  Logan described William as “a very ingenious young man.”

Their first child, Robert, was born.

Margaret Knox, sister of William Knox of Kilbirnie, married William Callister (Fisherman from Peel, Isle of Man). She was the first Knox to move to the Isle of Man. William was tragically  drowned when his fishing boat, the ‘Maggie Maddrell’ sank of the coast of Scotland. (1883).

William (26) and Ann (28) with their young son Robert moved to the Isle of Man. William “an exceptionally ingenious cabinet and machine-maker joins Moore’s Tromode Works, makers of high quality herring nets and sailcloth, who are moving towards industrialisation.”1

Archibald Knox, their 5th child, was born 9th April, Cronkbourne Village, Tromode,2 Isle of Man. He was educated at St. Barnabas Elementary School and at Douglas Grammar School.

William opened his own successful engineering company on the South Quay Douglas, ‘William Knox’s Engineering Works’. He was later joined by four of his five sons. “Archie” was to follow a different path, Art. In the coming years the Knox family ran several steam boats including the Douglas Head Ferry3 and were involved in converting the Island’s fishing fleet to the use of steam power. The firm were the pioneers of electric lighting for industrial purposes in the Isle of Man. William (AK’s elder brother) was the first to have a car on the Isle of Man which he assembled himself. 4

Aged 16 ‘Archie’ enrolled at the newly opened Douglas School of Art.      

Knox won examination prizes for ‘Outline’ and ‘Shaded Drawing’.  He taught part time at the Douglas Grammar School.

The Rev. Canon John Quine, MA (1857-1940) was appointed head teacher at the Douglas Grammar School. Knox and Quine became lifelong friends. Both had a keen interest in history and archaeology and were prominent members of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society.

Appointed pupil-teacher along with A.J. Collister (1869-1964) at the Douglas School of Art. He was influenced by John Miller Nicholson (1840-1913)5 and George Sheffield (1839 -1892) while a student at the School of Art.

He received a First Class Certificate examination result in ‘Principles of Ornament’ and ‘Design from Ornament’. This concluded his ten year study and he was awarded an ‘Art Masters Certificate’ Group 1.

Knox (aged 28) was awarded a silver medal, in a national competition, for his study ‘Historic styles of Ornament Relating to the Manx Runic Crosses’, and it would appear that this was very probably the basis for his illustrated article ‘Ancient Crosses in the Isle of Man’, which appeared in the magazine ‘The Builder’ dated 30th September 1893. 
A.J. Collister was now studying in London at the Royal College of Art where he gained a full London Diploma.

Carmichael Knox, younger brother of ‘Archie’ was drowned in Douglas Harbour.

Knox published an article in ‘The Builder’ entitled ‘Ancient Crosses in the Isle of Man’.6 Some of his main ideas were challenged by Romily Allen and Knox replied in a subsequent volume.

New Schools of Art were being opened and controlled centrally by the Board of Education in London. A.J. Collister having acquired the full London Diploma was appointed first head teacher of Redhill School of Art in Surrey.

Knox had an article published in ‘The Studio’ entitled ‘The Isle of Man as a Sketching Ground’. Began designing gravestones for Thomas Quayle, Isle of Man. “These monuments cover a period from 1896 through to his death in 1933 and show the development of his work over a greater period of time than any other individual aspect of his designs and artistic work.” 7

Left the Isle of Man for London and lived at Sherbrook Road, Fulham. 
Began teaching art with fellow Manxman A. J. Collister at Redhill School of Art.  During this time he also worked for the Silver Studio, where he befriended the current director Harry Napper. In August of that year he visited ‘Chickens Rock’ lighthouse off the Isle of Man in the company of Mr and Mrs. Napper and A.J.Collister.  

Knox was the main designer for Liberty & Co, ‘Cymric’ and ‘Tudric’ Celtic range of metalwork (frequently described as British Art Nouveau). Initially the Silver Studio sold on Knox’s designs to Liberty & Co. They in turn manufactured them under their own name. Knox remained a ‘ghost designer’ and was not given credit for his work.

Kingston-on-Thames, School of Art opened with A.J.Collister as Headteacher. Later he took on the rapidly growing Wimbledon School and dropped Redhill.

Knox returned to the Isle of Man and lived in the small village of Sulby. This is the high point of his career as a designer for Liberty & Co. He was in direct contact with Liberty & Co. While living in Sulby he submitted over 400 designs for all kinds of household items.

Returned to London and taught art at several Surrey Schools. Denise Tuckfied (Wren) kept copious notes of Knox’s lecture which she later wrote up. These still exist today.

Resigned his teaching post at Kingston-on-Thames, allegedly as a result of an adverse inspectors report and left for America. There may have been  other circumstances involved in his resignation. On leaving, in a rage, he dumped several drawings in a waste paper basket. These were rescued by his students many of which are now in the V&A print room. Included are the earliest pages of his illustrated manuscript  ‘ The Deer’s Cry’, on which he worked for over twenty years. The original is now in the Manx Museum and is regarded as a National Treasure.

His students resigned ‘en masse’ and set up the ‘Knox Guild of Design and Craft’ which was to operate until 1937. They took up residence at Market Place, Kingston-on-Thames. Knox was regarded by his devoted students as the ‘Master’ of the Guild and wrote their manifesto. Over the years they held many exhibitions and demonstrations of their work to promote Knox principles of Art and Design.

After a brief and unsuccessful sojourn in Philadelphia and New York he returned to the Isle of Man where he spent the rest of his life teaching and painting watercolours. John Miller Nicholson who was a major influence on Knox died in this year. Knox wrote an article in Mannin, Vol. 1,No.1, May 1913 entitled “John Miller Nicholson.”

1914 -1919                        
Knox was a censor at The Aliens Detention Camp, Knockaloe, near Peel, IOM during the Great War. In 1919 he wrote a letter to a member of the Guild describing life in the camp and spoke about the Book of Kells as ‘the work of angels’. Furniture designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Basset Locke was produced by internees at Knockaloe during this time.   

A Memorial stone, in typical Celtic design to commemorate the life of Arthur L. Liberty was designed by Knox at the request of the Liberty family and still stands in Lee, Buckinghamshire.

As Master of the Knox Guild of Design and Craft he exhibited hundreds of Watercolours at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1921, 1923, 1925. The catalogues for these exhibitions show his influence on members of the Guild. He kept in constant contact with them especially the two founding member, sisters Denise (Tuckfield) Wren and Winfred Tuckfield whom he visited at their Surrey home which was build and designed according to  Knox principles.

He was commissioned by the ‘Old Scholar’s Union’ of St. Ninian’s High School, Douglas to compose the illustrated Book of Remembrance and the Roll of Honour in memory of those who fought and died in the Great War 1914-1918. He also designed many other War Memorials throughout the Isle of Man.

Visited Italy - Ravenna and Milan.

Exhibited 80 Watercolours at National Gallery of Canada. A one-man exhibition. Catalogue.

Visited Dublin

He remained a bachelor all his life. On the 22 Feb. while working on the Hall Caine Memorial (now at Maughold Cemetery, Isle of Man) he died at the family home, (70 Athol Street, Douglas Isle of Man) aged 69, from a heart attack. He was buried at New Braddan Cemetery, Isle of Man.
His Gravestone reads;
 “Archibald Knox, Artist, humble servant of God in the ministry of the beautiful.”

  1. Stephen Martin   Archibald Knox   2001   p.300
  2. AK’s  birth certificate
  3. Captain Carter     Douglas Head Ferry     2003   
  4. The Manxman     Vol. 8, No.102 May 8th. 1897
  5. A. Knox - John Millar Nicholson Vol.1, No.1,  Mannin 1913
  6. A. Knox - Ancient Crosses in the Isle of Man   The Builder, Sept. 1893
  7. Yvonne Cresswell,  in Stephen Martin’s ‘Archibald Knox’  p.147

See Bibliography section for further reading.

Correspondence Address: The Archibald Knox Society, 36 Hutchinson Square, Douglas, Isle of Man, British Isles, IM2 4HWE
Tel: +44 (0)1624 665459
Registered Charity No. 983 (Isle of Man) Registered Company Number: 118177C
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