The Leeds Savage Club: A Brief History

This week on the Secret Library, we hear from Karen Downham in our Local and Family History department, who looks at the Leeds Savage Club, a group active in the early 1900s, and whose members had a strong influence on the city of Leeds, and beyond.

Selecting a book to take to one of our Speed Dating the Library Treasures events earlier in the year led me to our small collection of original materials from the Leeds Savage Club, and as is often the way, led to further research and the development of a display for the Local & Family History department.

Leeds Savage Club was founded in 1898 by writer and art dealer Edmund Bogg, along with painters Owen Bowen and Mark Senior, architect Percy Robinson, sculptor Edward Caldwell Spruce, and artist and cartoonist J.H. Dodgson. Bogg came to Leeds from the Yorkshire Wolds in the early 1870s, finding work as a joiner and as an artist’s colourman. He gathered a group of artists around him, encouraging young artists to go into the countryside to paint, and financing their trips and materials.

The first formal meeting of the Savage Club was held on 6th January 1899 at artist Owen Bowen’s studio on Cookridge Street. The club was based on the London Savage Club, which was founded in 1857 by a group of artists and writers, who took their name from Richard Savage, English poet and satirist, and subject of Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage, who died in prison in 1743. The Leeds club formulated their own set of procedures, and were completely separate from the London Club. Included were artists, musicians, and writers – all with a bohemian outlook – many becoming well known in their own right, and many were also influential in the development of the city of Leeds. Some Leeds members also belonged to the Thoresby Society. An extract from the rule book (of which the department has a copy) states:

The Objective of the club shall be to develop and foster the true spirit of Bohemianism, social and congenial good-fellowship, and encourage good music, art, literary and Kindred subjects, also rambling, camping etc….

Edmund Bogg, who was something of a formidable figure, was elected as “Chief”, and gave an address detailing the activities of the past year before the formal establishment of the club. The club had a Native American theme, with a limit of 50 members, known as “Savages”, the secretary was the “Scribe”, and the eight committee members were known as “Braves”. Meetings were referred to as “pow-wows”. Although this theme is something very much “of its’ time” and was likely well-meaning, today it would raise issues of acceptability and cultural appropriation. Many joined, and meetings were held regularly at Bogg’s workshop behind his artists’ supplies shop on Lands Lane. Entertainment was often provide by visiting actors, musicians and comedians, accompanied by the ritual of drinking whisky from the “Firewater Pot”, which was designed by member Edward Caldwell Spruce, made at Burmantofts Pottery, and now part of the collections at Leeds Museums. The “Pow-Wows” were held in celebration of a variety of occasions, marked by readings of papers on the topics of art, literature, sport and architecture. The Annual Dinners were held at the “Wigwam”, Bogg’s studio at 3 Woodhouse Lane, with a hot-pot supper and more entertainment by visiting guests.

The Local & Family History Library holds a collection of posters and invitations to these events created by the members, displaying their artistic skills. Concerts were often given to raise funds for a variety of local and national charitable causes, such as hospitals and lifeboats, and there were many camping and hiking trips, mostly arranged by Bogg, who had a love of the countryside in general and the Dales in particular, and was rarely absent from any of the meetings. The chief’s headdress, and those worn by the Braves and Savages, were introduced by member and cartoonist Kester in around 1907. However, some were not happy with Bogg’s autocratic style, and interest was beginning to wane, with at least one resignation, and he stepped down in 1908, triggering election of a new chief. It was decided that no one should be chief for more than a year, and Bogg was succeeded by Caldwell-Spruce for a year, and then Owen Bowen for a year after that. Bogg was made an honorary life member and given the title “T’Owd Chief”. The club began to fade sometime after that, and the last recorded meeting was held in October 1912, although when Bogg died in 1931 a ceremony was held and he was honoured as Chief.

Various memorabilia have been kept and are held in the Leeds City Museum, including the chief’s headdress, cooking pot, and the chief’s chair, which has undergone restoration work through Friends Of Leeds Museum. The Local & Family History library hold the Minute Books, Address Books, Rule Book, and a collection of literature from the club. Biographies of some of the higher profile members follow.  

Edmund Bogg (1850 – 1931)

From The Yorkshire Owl, 13th June 1893

Edmund Bogg was born in 1851 in the hamlet of Duggleby, on the Yorkshire Wolds; his father Eli was a wheelwright. Edmund came to Leeds age 20, working first as a warehouseman, and then as a joiner and artist’s colourman before setting up a shop supplying artists materials, and a business as a picture dealer and framer at Wade Street, and Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. Bogg married Fanny Capes in 1874, and they had three children, the youngest, Florence helping her father out in the shop. He gathered a group of artists around him, and set up the Attic Aboders Art Club, who met in a cottage in Barwick-in-Elmet.

From The Barwicker, No.7 September 1987. Drawing by Ernest Forbes

Around the late 1890s he set up the Leeds Savage Club, with a handful of other artists, and was elected as its’ president, a role which he held for most of the clubs’ existence, and was always known as ‘T’Owd Chief’ even after he was no longer in charge. Bogg was also a prolific writer of books on Yorkshire villages and the surrounding countryside, including well-known titles such as A Thousand Miles In Wensleydale and Richmondshire’ Many of the books are illustrated with drawings by Savage Club members, and we hold a large number of them here in Local & Family History.

Owen Bowen (1873-1967)

From The Dalesman magazine, October 1993

Owen Bowen was a British painter, known mostly for his Impressionist still life work and landscapes depicting the Yorkshire countryside with an air of nostalgia. Born in 1873 in Leeds, England, Bowen was educated during evenings in his adolescence at Leeds School of Art before working as a pottery designer and lithography apprentice. In the early 20th century, Bowen travelled to Holland, where he painted maritime landscapes and windmill scenes. He went on to form the Leeds School of Art, now known as the Owen Bowen School of Art. Before his death at the age of 94 in 1967, Bowen exhibited his work regularly throughout England, showing at the Walker Gallery and the Royal Cambrian Academy. Bowen was a member of the Attic Aboders artist group.

From The Dalesman magazine,  August 1967

  Percy Robinson (1868 – 1950)

Percy Robinson was born on Cropper Gate, off West Street, and although from a poor background became a well-known architect and was influential in the development of the built environment in Leeds. As a young man he studies art at Wortley Mechanics Institute, and later at Leeds School of Arts. He was apprenticed to various architects’ practices before setting up his own practice, Robinson & Birkinshaw, in Albion Street in 1890. It will have been around this time that he met author and artist’s materials retailer Edmund Bogg, who together with Robinson, Edward Caldwell Spruce, Mark Senior, Owen Bowen and Kester (J.H. Dodgson) were founder members of Leeds Savage Club   in 1891. Robinson also illustrated many of Boggs’ books on the Yorkshire landscape. In partnership with William Alban Jones, also a Savage Club member, he won competitions for the design of plans for Bethnal Green Town Hall, Hove Library, and the Villa Marina Kursaal on Douglas, Isle of Man. Other buildings in Leeds designed by Percy Robinson include:

  • Rawcliffe’s store, Duncan Street
  • Leeds Exchange, Briggate (1907)
  • Fireman’s Flats, Park Lane (1909)
  • Leeds Union Children’s Homes
  • Armley Library
  • Leeds Training College Hostel
  • Yorkshire Building Society, Briggate & Boar Lane

Robinson was President of the West Yorkshire Society of Architects 1908-10, and published two books on LeedsRelics of Old Leeds, and Leeds Old and New. He also exhibited drawings at the Royal Academy, and on top of all the above, was said to possess an excellent singing voice!

23rd March 1900 Armley Library, architect Percy Robinson’s design and drawing. The library opened to the public in 1902, it was the first purpose built library in Leeds. A lending department, reading room and separate ladies room were provided. Later, the basement area was a children’s library. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net

ALFRED TURNER ( 1873 – 1922)

Alfred Turner was born in York in 1873 and spent his early journalistic career on the staffs of the Yorkshire Gazette, Leeds Daily News, and Blackpool Gazette & News. In the 1890s he worked at Yorkshire Evening Post and Yorkshire Post as a drama critic and book reviewer, and became Editor of the Yorkshire evening Post in 1904. During this time he lived in Thorner, became a member of Leeds Savage Club, and wrote three volumes of poems.

From obituary in Yorkshire Evening Post 14th December 1922, and in Leeds Obituary Notices, Vol. 6, p.214

In 1911 he left Leeds for London to become Assistant Editor of the London Evening News, at which time the Savage Club held a farewell “Pow-wow” for him. He wrote two plays during his time in London, but retired through ill health in 1921, and died in 1922 near Scarborough.

EDWARD CALDWELL SPRUCE (1865 – 1922)

Edward Caldwell spruce was a sculptor and artist who worked mainly in Leeds. Born in Knutsford, Cheshire in 1865, he worked in a local tile factory before moving to work at Burmantofts Pottery as a principal modeller. One of his works from this time was the panels on the Midland Hotel, Manchester. He went to Paris to study art, and on returning set up as a freelance worker, with his own studio in Chapeltown, Leeds, where he undertook many commissions, including busts of Leeds dignitaries. Spruce was Scribe (secretary) for the Leeds Savage Club for many years, and was Chief for one of the years following Bogg’s resignation.

1911 Caldwell Spruce had at one time been a designer at the Leeds Pottery. Seen here in his studio finishing a bust of Lord Airedale, first Lord Mayor of Leeds. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net

He died in 1922 in Leeds, and is buried in Beckett Street Cemetery. One of his well-known works is the monument to fellow Savage Club member Samuel Wilson (1851-1918) in Lawnswood Cemetery, pictured below:

Samuel Wilson (1851- 1918)

Samuel Wilson was chairman of Joshua Wilson & Sons, worsted coating manufacturers of Bean Ings Mills, and was closely involved with the City Art gallery. He left all his paintings, porcelain, bronzes and furniture to the City of Leeds on the death of his wife Ann, and also £100 to the Headingley-cum-Burley Burial Board for the upkeep of the memorial, now a Grade II monument, created for him by Edward Caldwell Spruce.

Ernest Forbes Holgate (1879 – 1962)

Ernest Forbes – he dropped the Holgate at some point – was born in Leeds, and was a member of ‘Ye Attic Arts Club’, and the ‘Attic Aboders’, and contributed many drawings to Edmund Bogg’s books on the Yorkshire Dales. The club stopped around the time of WW1, in which Forbes served, and was gassed.

From The Dalesman magazine, October 1987
From The Dalesman magazine, October 1987

By 1920 Forbes had become a leading artist, exhibiting work at The Royal Academy and the Royal Portrait Society. He also worked in Fleet Street as a cartoonist, and undertook commissions for The Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening News, and Leeds Daily News. He lived the last part of his life in Harrogate.

J.H. DODGSON a.k.a KESTER (1872-1953)

From Collection Of Savage Club Literature 1908-1921 

James H. Dodgson was an artist, who also worked as cartoonist for the Yorkshire Evening Post from 1900 – 1920s, publishing under the pseudonym ‘Kester’. He also drew cartoons for the publication Yorkshire Tyke.

Dodgson also served as chief of the Savage Club around 1911, and was a member of the Attic Aboders.

WILLIAM ALBAN JONES (1875 – 1960)

Undated Postcard view of ‘Torridon’ Teachers Training College Hostel. Later the building was used by the Wool Industries Research Association. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net

William Alban Jones was born in 1875 in London, his family moving to Leeds after the death of his father around 1880. He left school at the age of 12 to work in his mother’s grocery shop, but by 1888, with a talent for drawing, had started work in an architect’s office and enrolled at Leeds School for Arts, Science & Technology. In 1892 he won a national silver medal for the design of a pair of cottages, and in 1894 published cartoons in the Yorkshire journal “Round the Town” under the pseudonym ‘Silam’. He was a founder member of the Attic Abode Art Club, and a member of Leeds Savage Club. In 1904 Alban Jones set up his own practice in Albion Street, Leeds, teaming up with architect Percy Robinson in 1905. Together they won the design competition for Hove Public Library, the Marina Kursaal at Douglas, Isle of Man, and many others, until the partnership finished around 1914.

From 1916 Alban Jones teamed up with John E. Stocks, designing local authority housing schemes, and individual houses, and was President of Leeds & Yorkshire Architectural Society for 1924-6. His son Dennis Mason Jones continued the firm after the death of Stocks in 1951, and Alban Jones in 1960.

FRANK M. WILLIAMSON

From Collection Of Savage Club Literature 1908-1921 

Frank M. Williamson was a British artist and cartoonist, painting in an Art-Deco style, and creating political cartoons during WW1. He also worked as an illustrator for children’s books and comics in the inter-war period.

Fritz Althaus / Frederick Kerr (1863 – 1962)

Extract from the 1881 census showing Friedrich aged 17 and living with parents in Paddington, London. His occupation is given as Artist In Watercolour.

Fritz (Friedrich Bernhard) was born in Kent to a German father who was a Professor of Music, and a portrait-painter mother. He studied in London, then Exeter, and was a prolific marine artist. By 1908 he was living in Headingley, with wife Margaret, but changed his name to Frederick B Kerr in 1914, due to the atmosphere surrounding WW1. Under the name Kerr, he was made Professor of Art at Leeds University.

Extract from the 1939 Register, taken at the start of WW2, showing Frederick, now Kerr, aged 76 and living in Runcorn, Cheshire. His occupation is Art Master (retired).

Other Members and Guests:

  • George Theodore Lowe – artist
  • Dick Wilson – singer
  • W.Cockerlyne – organist & pianist
  • E. Glover Bingham – organist & pianist
  • Mark Senior – artist. Attic Aboder
  • Tom Child – singer
  • Harry Blackie – singer
  • Harry Gale – actor
  • George. O. Cattle – singer

Leeds Savage Club Re-forms

The Savage Club was re-established in 2010 at Temple Works by a modern day group wanting to bring together people with a passion for writing and the arts, and act as a developmental area hub for writers and artists in the Leeds area. They aim to hold regular meetings, although not in the style of the old club, and in a variety of venues. The plan is to swap ideas, produce prose, poetry, sketches and paintings, and sample each other’s art. Their new logo is shown below:

From the Savage Club Facebook page

In 2012 the group published Assorted Savagery – a selection of art and fiction by their members:

From www.lulu.com

The group’s Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/LeedsSavage and they can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LeedsSavage.

To see any of the books and other stock referred to here, please contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk. An appointment may be required to view certain items. 

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