The success of an exhibition in October 1920 in the Houldsworth Hall in Manchester, under the banner of ‘The Red Rose Guild of Arts and Crafts’ led to the foundation of the Red Rose Guild of Artworkers in January 1921. The name was changed in the early 1940s to 'The Red Rose Guild of Craftsmen' to reflect its emphasis on craftwork. Margaret Pilkington (1891-1974), set up the original exhibition and served on the committee for the first 40 years of the Guild's existence, for many of those years as Honorary Secretary and occasionally as Chairman.  In 1940 the Guild moved its headquarters to the Whitworth Art Gallery, and during the Second World War no exhibitions were held, but between 1940 and 1942 the Guild published a quarterly magazine, 'Crafts', edited by Harry Norris (1901-1968). After the war 'Crafts' reappeared as an annual publication, and the Guild began to extend its work, including sponsoring the Craft Centre of Great Britain. The Guild changed its name in the 1960s to the Red Rose Guild of Designer Craftsmen. There was always debate about whether a permanent outlet for displaying and selling craftwork would be the best method of operation, and from 1963 to 1974 there was a permanent exhibition space, at the Crane Gallery in South King Street, Manchester, and a limited company, the Northern Crafts Centre, was formed, with Harry Norris as the first Chairman. The deaths of senior members of the committee and the closure of the Northern Crafts Centre in 1974 were threats to the Guild's future, but Dr Henry Spittle, one of the remaining council members, organised a very successful exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in 1976, after which a new council took the Guild forward by once again staging annual exhibitions, usually at Manchester Polytechnic's Undercroft Gallery. However, the growth of local guilds, including the Northern Potters' Association, founded in 1977, and North-West Craftsmen, founded in 1980, left the Red Rose Guild increasingly irrelevant, and its last exhibition was held in 1985.

The archive comprises records from the period 1921-1962 (from the foundation of the Guild up to the foundation of the Northern Crafts Centre), and a few records of Guild activities after 1963.
Includes comprehensive records of the initial exhibition (1920) and the Annual Exhibitions 1921-1956, signed minutes of annual general meetings and committee meetings, 1923-1949, annual reports, 1922-1930 and 1936-1942, accounts for the years 1921-1929 and 1938, lists of members, histories of the Guild, and newspaper cuttings. Three files of correspondence survive from the period of the Second World War, on the subjects of the Central Institute of Art and Design scheme for training disabled people in craft workshops, the Exhibition of Modern British Crafts which toured the USA and the attempt to form a Master Craftsman Group within the Red Rose Guild.
No records from 1963-1974, when the Red Rose Guild was part of the Northern Crafts Centre, have been found, apart from a ‘Photograph file’, which appears date from the 1960s, probably related to applications to exhibit at Guild exhibitions, some routine correspondence and catalogues (of the 1967 exhibition of Leach pottery and of the 50th anniversary exhibition in 1971).
Records after 1974 comprise: the secretary's file, containing lists of members [1977], press releases [1977], instructions about exhibitions, 1977 and 1980, and newspaper cuttings; a publicity officer's file, containing copies of minutes and accounts, 1980-1982, a publicity leaflet, 1977, newsletters, 1979-1984, instructions and correspondence about exhibitions, 1980 and 1982, and correspondence with the Guild of Yorkshire Craftsmen 1980; and catalogues and posters for Guild exhibitions, 1976-1982.