Stepping into Ruskin’s shoes

A costumed re-enactment of the Inaugural Lecture to the Cambridge School of Art by John Ruskin is to take place at the first home of his protégée, Wisbech-born Octavia Hill.

The 1858 lecture by the Victorian polymath, an early mentor of the town’s most famous daughter who went on to become a celebrated social reformer and a co-founder of the National Trust, is being recreated by  actor, art historian and Ruskin lookalike Paul O’Keefe, as performed at the opening of Anglia Ruskin University.

A campaigner as well as an artist, Ruskin helped to set Octavia Hill on the path of social reform, using his inheritance to buy the first houses in which she collected rents and refined her own ideas and techniques, which would later be known as ‘the Octavia Hill method’.

Dr O’Keefe, who has been performing Ruskin’s lectures in character for two decades, animates the stern, opinionated Victorian with his muttonchops, dramatic page turning, grim expression, starched collar and frock coat, as well as eliciting humour from the printed lectures.

Previous performances as Ruskin include appearances at the Edinburgh Festival and the National Portrait Gallery, and O’Keefe has been praised by ‘Edinburgh Spotlight’ for his ‘smart, bombastic’ portrayal of the giant of the nineteenth century art world.

The re-enactment of a celebrated lectern moment in academic history is at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House at 7 South Brink, Wisbech, on Friday, June 28.   The start time is 7.30pm for 7.45pm and the £10 admission fee is payable at the door.   More information can be obtained by telephoning the museum on 01945-476358 or by emailing .