Resurrection Of The Leeds Savage Club.
On Saturday afternoon about a dozen people gathered in the boardroom of Temple Works to resurrect a roguish Victorian writer’s and artists’ group, The Leeds Savage Club. I can’t pretend it was the most incendiary meeting I’ve ever attended. How can you make poring over every sentence of a constitution and discussing every jot and tittle of a necessarily dry document exciting? Article 2, Paragraph 5, Clause 2 did cause some mild controversy, however, but not the heated debate I was hoping for. The boardroom was freezing. We were there for three hours, feeling the temperature slump by the minute. In the end people were wearing gloves, wrapping scarves around their ears, and hugging hot cups of strong tea. One guy even kept his hat on, though I suspect that’s some sort of Bohemian affectation. The constitution was ratified and rubber stamped though, and the Leeds Savage Club is raring to go and recruiting once more. Here’s more information from The Chief;
There is a certain feeling of serendipity associated with resurrecting a late Victorian, early Edwardian Society at Temple Works. I choose the word serendipity carefully, for you see the ancient Egyptian idea of resurrection was not of the dead rising from the ground. It was of a transmigration of the immortal soul into the next world.
The aesthetics of the Temple of Horus in Egypt found themselves three thousand years and three thousand miles later on the front of a Flax mill in Holbeck. Temple Works itself, after one hundred and seventy years of industrial use, is now beginning to rise with a new cultural purpose.
The original Leeds Savage Club was formed in the year 1898 at the studio of the artist Owen Bowen (1873-1967) in Cookbridge street. We can see from their original constitution that they formed with the following objective:
“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 and camping etc”
The meeting was overseen by Edmund Bogg (1850-1931), who owned a picture framing store at 3 Woodhouse Lane and was a prolific author of north country books. He was unanimously voted in as the first Chief. The last Chief would be the aforementioned Owen Bowen, who attempted to revive the club after a nine year hiatus in 1921 (the last meeting in the club’s minutes was October 11th 1912). Another name to note from that first meeting was the artist Mark Senior (1862-1927).
From the fourteen years that the club was in existence, there is a plethora of anecdotes to choose from when writing about their activities. Regular ‘Pow-wows’ were held at various studios, cafes and venues across Leeds. Artists of note visiting the city would have a Pow-wow thrown in their honour, with members of the club contributing their talents to the evening, whether it was with songs, yarns, paintings or poems. There are numerous mentions of the ‘firewater’ (whiskey punch) they would consume at such events, and there was a special firepot that had been made for the purpose.
Among others, the writers Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948) and George Olivier Onions (1873 – 1961) were honoured in this way, along with the artist Phil May (1864-1903).
The club also arranged many trips to capture the surrounding area with their talents, setting up camps on the moors. They also held events, such as mentioned in the Library World in 1899, a Smoking Concert at the Queens Hotel, of which the observer wrote:
” Notable for a comic vegetarian love ditty, and a weird recitation of Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’.”
The Savages were often invited to many a place. Indeed there is a story about the Savages being invited to give a concert at a church in Giggleswick; the minutes record that they turned up in full warpaint and feathers and the concert was met with repeated calls for an encore. The very next day, the Savages went to cross the Moors to Malham; here the minutes note that the weather was brilliantly fine and nearly killed half the tribe – I wonder whether the firewater, no doubt consumed the night before, had something to do with this.
Just as Temple Works was never used to entomb pharaohs or to worship falcon gods, the reincarnation of the Leeds Savage Club, while honouring the spirit and the nature of the first incarnation, is not intending to be a straightforward continuity of the previous incarnation.
I hate to use the word/idea of identity, as the word is bandied about too easily these days, but I think in this case, when faced with the question “Who is a 21st Century Leeds Savage ?”, I should give you, the reader, an idea of what we are trying to achieve.
A Leeds Savage is someone who draws, paints, sketches; writes prose, poetry, lyrics etc at any ability. I will stress: any ability. We don’t give a hoot if the extent of your portfolio of work is contained on your deskpad at work, or the furthest your poetry has ever got is your bedroom door. The important thing is that you don’t just talk about doing it, you do it. A Leeds Savage does not spend their time in cafes boasting about how one day they will write a book. Nor is a Leeds Savage someone who is looking for people to tell them how great they are.
Robert St-John Smith
The Leeds Savage Club
The Leeds Savage club signed their forming constitution at Temple Works on the 28th of February 2010
There is also a cabinet in the Leeds City Museum, dedicated to the original Savages group.
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