Archibald Knox (1864-1933)

Archibald Knox, c1910.

On the outbreak of war the designer Archibald Knox, an influential figure in the art nouveau movement, took an active role at the Knockaloe Internment Camp where he took control of censorship department which dealt with the correspondence sent by internees.

Knox, born in the Isle of Man to Scottish parents, attended Douglas Grammar School before moving on to Douglas School of Art where he became heavily influenced by the ‘Celtic’ art work and designs on the islands many medieval stone crosses (Moore 1959). Knox would go on to teach at the Douglas school, before taking up positions at Redhill (Surrey, 1897) and Kingston-upon-Thames Art School (1899). His watercolours, graphic designs and typefaces received acclaim, but it was his metalwork designs for the department store Liberty’s which made him world famous. On his death he was described as “an artist of poetical sensibilities who had a very healthy influence upon the decorative art of his time” and praised as “one of the pioneers in breaking away from naturalistic and ‘period’ designs and bringing decorative art into closer relations with contemporary life” (The Times, 20 March 1933: 14, c). Indeed, as Tuckfield observed

As T.E. Brown [the Manx National Poet] has given the poetry of your people, so has Mr. Knox given in watercolour the poetry of your skies, shores, and buildings, painted your boats, trees, and bridges, flecked with sunlight and shade as no other man has painted them (Tuckfield 1916: 383).

Knox returned to the Isle of Man in 1913 taking up his old position teaching at the Douglas School of Art, before being co-opted into assisting at the camp. As an intensely private man, a feeling exacerbated by the secrecy associated with his position, little is known of this period of Knox’s life. A letter to his friend Mrs Holding hints at his feelings toward life in the camp and his duties, complaining bitterly of the monotony of his work. He recounted:

I had the same post from the day I started work Nov. 9. 1914 until I left Oct 25 1919: 1,207,000 parcels passed through my department and up to about the end of 1915 it was a hard worked post: the office was understaffed and you would have laughed to think if you had seen me at some of the jobs I had to do: but after that time the staff was enlarged and I had an easier time of it: but the staff was always too small and I had more work to do that could be rightly and completely done (Knox 1919: 1).

Our business was to intercept communications: there was always some new trick – an epidemic of the same trick: but for the last 13 months we had comparative peace: they must have admitted a defeat for we seldom found anything. At one time for several months there were tins of preserved meat – according to the label assurance also it was made in a neutral country: for ‘meat’ would have been comforting if they had got it for it was a fortnight’s newspapers rolled and folded packed and sealed to deceive even a censor. Those were specifically prepared for PsOW parcels but the same game was tried in all sorts of amateur ways, baked in loaves, in tins of fat, sewn up in a chest protector, sewn in a piece of cabbage leaf buried in a tine of sauerkraut, cuttings fitted in medical [??] packed in an [??] bottle, and so on. The last parcel that arrive in Oct 1915 was a long canister of ‘tobacco-substitute’ but ¾ of its contents were german newspapers: papers with the story of Kitchener’s death, the battle of Jutland reached the office within 10 days of the event. The wonder was why they persisted so long in the effort to get their newspapers into the camp: their loaves cakes sausages were relentlessly opened every thing that might contain a message: for their own comfort one would have thought they would have told their friends to stop: but the yearning for authentic news seemed strong to the last (Knox 1919: 2-3).

In any spare time Knox surveyed the dilapidated buildings around the Camp. He also worked on one of his final works, ‘the Deers Cry’, an illuminated manuscript, in the style of the Book of Kells or Durrow, influenced by the poem/hymn of the same name and attributed to St Patrick (Cubbon & Knox 1983). Identified by Cubbon as the "aesthetic fulfilment, [of] beauty laced with religious mystery" (Cubbon & Knox 1983: 4), even if Knox himself complained at the cessation of hostilities’ that much of the work would “be I think mostly wasted” due the difficulties of balancing his duties with his art. The designs used in this, and other, work certainly attest to Knox’s Anglo-Catholicism (Martin 2008). In the aftermath of war Knox continued his artistic work, designing a number of gravestones, most notably the monument to Manx author Hall Caine, along with a number of local war memorials, which like ‘the Deer’s Cry’ are instilled with symbolism that hint at Knox's belief, albeit tinged with effects of war (Martin 2008).


Cubbon, A and A, Knox (1983). Pages from Deer’s Cry, Illuminated Lettering by Archibald Knox. Manx National Heritage: Douglas.

Knox, A (1919). Letter from Archibald Knox to Mrs Holding, dated 26 October 1919. Unpublished. Transcription of letter MNHL 9952/2.

Martin, S (2008). ‘Reflections on Archibald Knox: The Inaugural Lecture of the Archibald Knox Society.’ The Journal of the Archibald Knox Society 1 (pp. 20-2).

Moore, RB (1959). Archibald Knox: A Memoir. The Manx Museum and National Trust: Douglas.

Quilliam, L (2006). ‘Knox, Archibald. Art Nouveau Artist and Designer for Libery & Co., London’. (pp. 277-279). Dollin Kelly (ed.). New Manx Worthies. Manx Heritage Foundation: Douglas.

Tuckfield, W. (1916). ‘Archibald Knox’. Mannin 7 (pp. 381-384).