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Leicester Special Collections

'A visionary industrialist and campaigner for social reform’

Harry Peach (1874-1936)

Harry Peach (1874-1936)

By permision of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society

The title indicates how Peach is described in a 2019 book by Alan Powers – Bauhaus Goes West: Modern Art and Design in Britain and America. This echoes the opinion of Stephen Butt in his 2013 work The History of Leicester in 100 People: A talented and farsighted man, he combined entrepreneurial business ability with a desire to help and support the less privileged. 

The epithet industrialist comes from Peach’s creation of three successful companies: Dryad Cane Furniture (1907), which became the largest cane furniture manufacturer in Britain; Dryad Metal Works (1912), which produced everything from napkin rings to light fittings to war memorials; and Dryad Handicrafts (1917), which became the biggest handicrafts supplier in the world. 

Peach was a keen member of the Independent Labour Party, and when its leader, Ramsay MacDonald, came to Leicester in 1906 in a bid to become one of the town’s MPs, Peach was involved in organising an exhibition on sweated labour. He used photographs and factual information to illustrate the grim working conditions, and featured workers actually demonstrating their skills.  


Photo of the Dryad shop on St Nicholas Street

Image by permision of Leicester City Council. 

Harry Peach (1874-1936)

Harry Peach (1874-1936)

Libary of Congress Music Division.

The improvement of working conditions was one aim of the Arts and Crafts Movement, embodied in the words of John Ruskin and William Morris. Peach would become actively involved in aspects of this movement as a delegate to an exhibition in Germany staged in July 1914 by the Deutscher Werkbund, an organisation that aimed to integrate traditional crafts and industrial mass-production techniques. 

Returning to England, Peach was a signatory to a memorandum urging the government to take steps to promote links between design and industry. This laid the foundation for the creation of the Design and Industries Association (DIA) in May 1915, in which Peach was active. Another signatory was Benjamin Fletcher, a friend of Peach’s and head of the Leicester School of Art, a notable centre of Arts and Crafts-based training. Fletcher produced designs for Peach’s companies and introduced Peach to the writings of the architect W R Lethaby, a key figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement, who would become a close friend. 

Peach was also concerned with environmental matters, campaigning against litter pollution, intrusive advertising, ribbon development and industrial scrap heaps. In 1928 he organised a conference in Leicester on the despoliation of the countryside, with hundreds of photographs (some taken by him), many showing the horrors inflicted on the rural scene. He received support from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and King George V. A nationwide Save the Countryside campaign followed, leading eventually to Shell-Mex removing some 18,000 advertisements and hoardings. 

Peach was an early supporter of the idea of a university college in Leicester and became one of its first governors. He was also a major benefactor, with regular gifts (including furniture and paintings and at least 1,600 books). He is commemorated in the Harry Peach Library in the Law Building. 

Researched and written by Tony Moore