Collector, entrepreneur, retail buyer, raconteur…

Ken Stradling. Copyright

Ken Stradling. ©

Ken Stradling MBE was a man who made a lifelong passion for design into a stellar career, shaping the tastes of Bristol as buyer and MD of the Bristol Guild. Rather like like his contemporary, Sir Terence Conran, during his long career in retail, Ken Stradling MBE was an influential advocate, distributor and collector of world-class modern design from Europe and the Nordic regions.

The Ken Stradling Collection abounds in beautifully designed and desirable objects. Some are very valuable items by high-end artists and designers such as Eric Ravilious or Marcel Breuer; others are popular classics that are still very affordable – it’s a wonderfully democratic collection. Ken’s career is fascinating within the context of histories of design and consumption from the post-war through the sixties, seventies and beyond.

Ken was born and raised in Bristol, attending Bristol Grammar School. The school’s headmaster, J.E. Barton, was an authority on art and design and was a huge and remarkable influence on him. Ken’s mother took him to auctions where, as a teenager, his first purchase was a piece of Eltonware, the local art pottery of the earlier 20th century. See the video below to see Ken talking about this item.

Between 1939 and 1948 Ken served in the Army, after which he became Assistant Manager of the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts. In 1958 Ken married Betty Haggar, a painter who taught art at Clifton High School. They began to travel in Europe, Scandanavia and as far as Czechoslovakia buying for the Guild. After Betty’s untimely death in 1964 Ken continued to develop the Guild into an outstanding retail destination for modern craft and design.

Ken created a Trust which would develop this incredible and diverse collection as an educational resource for future generations. Since it opened in 2014, the Stradling Collection’s education programme has excited and inspired secondary school children, students and teachers, within and beyond Bristol. It also tells valuable stories about the history of design through its exhibition programme.

In 2020 Ken was awarded an MBE “for services to the Arts in Bristol”. The award ceremony took place at his Collection and the award was made by the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, Peaches Golding. It was a timely recognition of the huge contribution he made to his city and its cultural life.

Kenneth Walter Stradling MBE
2 January 1922 – 31 July 2022

Photo: Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, Peaches Golding, presenting Ken Stradling with his MBE in 2020 ©Barbara Evripidou/

Photo: Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, Peaches Golding, presenting Ken Stradling with his MBE in 2020 ©Barbara Evripidou/

“Ken Stradling was a major influence in my life from the day I went to work at the Bristol Guild of Applied Art in 1962.

“Working for Ken was like a doctorate in design, he introduced me to the most interesting and exciting people and places including the Council for Industrial Design, the Design Centre and the Craftsman Potters’ shop. He also arranged for me to study interior design part-time at the Art College.

“So many people have been influenced and educated directly by Ken and many thousands more have been able to enjoy the very best of Applied Art chosen by Ken in the Guild. Ken made the Guild a beacon of the best contemporary interior design in the days before Conran and Habitat, I don’t think there was a shop in the country that was its equal.”

Ken and Val Shelton, Shelton Pottery

Interviews with Ken Stradling

[Still, above: glass bowl, Zdena Strobachová, made 1960]

Video from our 2022 exhibition A Lifelong Passion for Design: Ken Stradling at 100, celebrating Ken Stradling’s long and remarkable career.

Curator of the exhibition, Trustee Cleo Witt reflects on Ken’s life and his Collection in this review of the exhibition which benefitted from a grant by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This video also features excerpts from an interview with Ken from 2008.
(N.B. sound and video out of sync as original rushes are missing.)

[Still, above: Bowl by Sam Haile, made c. 1938]

Video from 2015 in which the late, great Ken Stradling talks about some of his favourite items in the Collection with Keith Warmington

This footage includes his first acquisition, some Eltonware purchased as a young teenager;  a Czech glass bowl by Zdena Strobachová, purchased in Prague in 1961; the humorous ‘Bathers’ by toy maker Sam Smith,  purchased in 1961 at Arnolfini when it was in the Triangle in Clifton; a bowl by potter Sam Haile who was represented by the Bristol Guild; a wooden box from the late ’70s early ’80s by Howard Raybould and sold at Guild; a glass piece by Timo Sarpaneva made in Venice, Ken’s most recent acquisition at the time. At the end Ken discusses the philosophy of his Collection as a resource.