Diamond Valley

Sophia St. John Whitty
Sophia St. John Whitty (1877-1924) designer, woodcarver, teacher and co-operativist was born at 69 Upper Leeson St., Dublin. She studied woodcarving at South Kensington School of Art, Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, Italy, Austria and in Bruges, Belguim. She lived at Old Connaught, close to the Valley of Diamonds, and drew inspiration from the surrounding nature.

  Bray Technical College  

In 1902 she began teaching woodcarving to church choirboys in Bray and in 1904 she was appointed teacher of woodcarving at the newly opened Bray Technical School (Colaiste Raithin), one of the first in the country. To Whitty's design, assisted by her colleague Kathleen Scott, the class executed the carved walnut woodwork of Christchurch Bray, recognised to be one of the finest churches in the country. Two fine neo-Gothic pieces in Christchurch include Whitty's own carving work, the angels of prayer and praise on the prayer desk and St. Patrick on the lectern.

Angel carved by Whitty St Patrick carved by Whitty

The abundance of orders received by the carving class, including commissions from numerous churches throughout Ireland, led to the formation in 1905 of a co-operative society, the Bray Art Furniture Industry, attached to the technical school, with Whitty as manager, designer and instructor and employing up to 50 craft workers. Their work, including domestic furniture fashioned from native woods, was showcased in a shop on Bray's Main St which opened in 1907. The Bray Art Furniture Industry spearheaded an important revival of woodcarving in Ireland, associated with the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. The outbreak of World War I led to a drastic decline in orders and the cancellation of important international commissions, resulting in the immediate closure of the Bray Art Furniture Industry in 1914.

From 1909, to the end of her life, Sophia St. John Whitty lived with her mother at 'Old Bawn', Old Connaught, Bray, and was fondly remembered in the Old Connaught/ Little Bray/ Valley of the Diamonds area both for the culture of woodcarving she nurtured and for the childrens parties she hosted each Christmas. She never married.

Next to woodcarving, her other great passion was nature and she travelled through the Co. Wicklow countryside alone by bicycle or with her mother in their little Peugeot car collecting inspiration for essays which she published in the national newspapers. In 1924, following Whitty's death, a collection of her nature essays was published in a book called The Flaming Wheel.

Sophia St. John Whitty is buried in Enniskerry.

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