Resurrection Of The Leeds Savage Club.

Mar 1, 2010 by     30 Comments    Posted under: Archive


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.

In return the Leeds Savage Club will give you support in the form of regular meetings, workshops and events. We will promote you (if you want us to) within and outside the club and also provide plenty of social opportunities and most importantly, become a part of Leeds.

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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  • really sorry folks! It’s taken me 2 years to get back and read your comments. If any of you are still in existence I’d be happy to post photos etc on the site – watch this space!

    • Hi Yvonne – it was lovely to see your comment on here just now, and it would be great to get back in touch about your great great uncle E C Spruce. I am giving a talk about him in November at the AGM of the Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery (where his Sam Wilson Memorial is one of the ‘star attractions’). I will try to email you separately. Regards, Alison

  • I was very interested to hear of the revival of this club. My great great uncle, Edward caldwell spruce (RA), was a Leeds sculptor and a founder member of the club – I have pics of him in full warpaint and he made the bowl used by the club (don’t know what for!). He also sculpted a bust of phil May.

    • That’s a great story! Would love to see the pics. The bowl was used for booze, I believe. Would you fancy coming down here and having a natter to the Savages?

    • Dear Yvonne,
      I’m Curator at the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes ( National Museum of Fine Arts)of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.I was looking- through the Internet- for some news about your great great uncle Edward Caldwell Spruce when I found this Web Site TEMPLE WORKS Leeds , and saw your message.The reason why I’m emailing you is the following:in the rear façade of our museum’s building we have a series of wonderful reliefs signed by Edward Caldwell Spruce.The reliefs are all allegorical ( Allegories of Architecture, Sculpture,Painting and Ancient & Renaissance Art).But we know almost nothing about him.We know that the Leeds Art Gallery has a few of his sculptures (05 works,I think).And that he was born in 1849 and died in 1923( or 1922).Where? Was he an englishman or a scotsman?Could you send me something biographical about him?Would you like to receive images of his reliefs? They are beautiful.
      Please, answer me.I’ll be waiting.
      With my best wishes,
      Pedro Martins C. Xexeo
      Museu Nacional de Belas Artes- Rio de Janeiro

      • Hi Pedro – I came across this during a web search for E C Spruce. This reply is a bit late but I would love to find out more about the Rio de Janeiro relief panels. I did quite a lot of research about Spruce a few years back and wrote my University dissertation on him so I can tell you lots more about his other work. I will try to email you separately.

    • Dear Yvonne
      I came across your email concerning Edward Caldwell Spruce and the savage club quite by chance.

      There is constant refernce, in everything wrtitten about him, to him having a studio in Cowper Street Leeds. Do you by any chance know where in Cowper Street.

      Many thanks


    • Yvonne I am chair of the friends of Beckett St Cemetery where ECS is buried did you know?

      I would love to know more about him

      Alun Pugh [Headingley]

  • Good Luck Savages! How about arranging some camping and rambling soon?

    I am sure the lovely people at BARCA would do a great deal on Lumley Fee.

    Mike Chitty

  • Indeed, Richard, I too first encountered the ‘Savage’s’ in Leeds Museum. I remember the name evoked a visceral response. Who would have thought that one day, I too, would become a Savage.

    Do we look like a bunch of Savage’s in the photo?

  • What a great idea. I only know of the Savages from my visits to the Leeds Museum. When is your warpaint coming out?

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