Keith Day Pearce Murray was born on 5th May 1892 in Auckland, New Zealand and emigrated to Britain, with his parents, in 1906. He served with distinction with the Royal Air Force and Royal Flying Corps during the First World War earning the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre Belge, and from 1939 to 1941 he again served with the RAF. After the war he attended the Architectural School of Architecture (1919) and was elected an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ARIBA) on completion of his studies in 1921.
In this same year he started work in the offices of Maxwell Ayrton but the economic crash of 1929 forced him to seek other employment. He already collected early English glass and, inspired by the Modernist continental designs he had seen at the Paris Exposition of 1925 and the exhibition of Swedish Industrial Art in London (1931) he started designing glassware.
Hubert Williams-Thomas of Stevens & Williams glassworks, who wanted to develop a modern line to compete with Swedish imports, employed Murray on a freelance basis for two months a year after Whitefriars production methods had proved unsuitable for his designs. He worked exclusively for them on a freelance basis creating about 150 glass designs a year (1932-39). Murray also carried out several special commissions: a bathroom set as a wedding present for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, a set of wine glasses and tumblers for the Royal Institute of British Architect Banqueting Suite at Portland Place, glassware for SS Orion and a presentation glass plaque for the Architectural Association. Murray also worked on a freelance basis for Wedgwood pottery. His last design work for Wedgwood occurred during the period 1946 to 1948 when he assisted on elements of the Commonwealth table service, although many of his designs remained in production well into the 1950s. He also designed the decoration for the Savoy Hotel china and turned his hand to designing silver for Mappin & Webb in 1934.
Murray’s designs were celebrated by modernist critics of the day and his design work appeared in exhibitions from the outset. In 1933 there was an ‘Exhibition of new Wedgwood shapes designed by Keith Murray’ at John Lewis in Oxford Street, his work appeared in the exhibition ‘British industrial art in relation to the home’ at Dorland Hall, and he was awarded a Gold medal at the 5th Triennale Milan in this same year. As well as Britain Can Make It (1946), his work featured in the exhibition of British Art in Industry (1935), the Paris Exposition (1937) and Design at Work (1948). In 1936 he was appointed one of the first ten Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) and when he became Master of the RDI Faculty (1945 to 1947) he acted as an assessor for the dinner or tea service section of the W.R.N.S. design and art competition (1945) and a competition for a design for a drinking fountain (1946), both managed by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). He acted as a jury member, with James Hogan RDI and Wells Coates RDI, for the RSA’s Industrial Art Bursary competition for pressed glass, and like Duncan Grant RDI, he designed flower vases for the first RDI reception held in 1950 that Princess Elizabeth (HM The Queen) attended as President of the RSA.
Murray returned to his architectural career setting up a practice with Charles White in 1936. Their first major commission, appropriately, was the design of the new Wedgwood factory at Barlaston, Stoke on Trent and in 1939 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. After the Second World War he devoted himself to his architectural practice until his retirement in 1967. Their work included Hong Kong Air Terminal, the BEA Base at London Airport and numerous other industrial and office buildings. In 1951 he redesigned Wedgwood’s London showrooms with two other RDIs, R.Y. Goodden and R. D. Russell.
Murray died at the age of 88 on 16th May 1981.
Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946
- Group R: Glass – items 24, 52
- Group FF: Pottery – items 382, 383, 384, 385 386, 387, 389, 398, 399, 400, 479
To learn more about the work of Keith Murray, his relationships with other designers, and further resources, visit the Exploring British Design prototype web portal.
Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-M-82-1. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.