The Leeds Savage Club reforms

They first formed 112 years ago and, as well as indulging in the arts, developed a cult tribal hierarchy and staged concerts where they performed war songs.

Now The Leeds Savage Club has reformed – but this time it's all about writing and painting, as Arts Editor Rod McPhee found out..

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Robert St-John Smith laughs at the idea that The Leeds Savage Club is the equivalent of Glee club.

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Both are organisations set up for a minority with a deep passion for

the arts coming together to indulge their pleasures. But despite laughing it's not a comparison lost on him.

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"Yeah, I think there'd be a few members bashful about admitting it," he says. "But there is this kind of idea, this romantic idea, of misfits – basically anybody who's into their writing and sketching falls into that category."

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Robert is chief (his official title) of the organisation which was set up just two months ago with the aim of providing some kind of community for the expression of anyone with a creative bent.

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It's not a new idea, in fact The Leeds Savage Club existed at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. It was established in 1898 and lasted just 14 years but in that time earned itself a rather high profile.

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Their special 'rituals' earned a special place in local history, in fact a display can be found marking its existence in Leeds City Museum on Cookridge Street.

The origin of the unusual name is believed to be that of Richard Savage, an artist who was suitably bohemian and rebellious that he served as an anti-hero for the club members.

The new incarnation has yet to gain the same momentum (or the same rituals). At the moment it boasts just 14 full time members who are mainly interested in sketching and writing, but they hope to expand those interests.

They meet twice a fortnight and plan to produce an annual compendium of all their work. But what do members personally get out of being a part of the club?

"It's all about getting people who want to write and sketch together and be a part of Leeds history," says Robert. "Interestingly everyone has a camera these days but what we can do is have an artist or a poet put their own take on life in Leeds.

"The important thing is that the organisation is about people DOING it. We don't care if their work is on a sketch pad at work, or their poetry has never been heard beyond their own bedroom door, so long as people do it.

"If that's the case then the Savages will support you. But if you're looking for self-gratification or a bunch of followers then, sorry, that's just not what we are about."

The original club – which took its name from the similar Savage Club of London – had the same ethos of allowing artists to indulge their pleasures but it also had a philanthropic element.

The club frequently put on concerts benefiting such causes as the Gateforth Hall Hospital and Wetherby Nurses Association, funded by the Lord and Lady Mayoress, the Judges of Assize, Lord Allerton and the Earl of Harewood.

However, perhaps more surprisingly, the Leeds club also differed from the London model by developing its own unique rituals. Savages sat on the stage at these concerts and sang a 'war song' at curtain up, written by members of the club.

The Leeds Savages held their first meeting in January 1899 at Mr Owen Bowen's studio in Cookridge Street, where he painted evocative landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales. At this meeting, Mr Edwin Bogg, was unanimously elected 'Chief' (or Chairman) of the club.

Bogg was a framer who had kick-started Bowen's career by buying and funding his art when the painter was just sixteen. Below the 'Chief', a treasurer and Scribe, Mr Scriven, was also elected and a committee of eight 'braves', to preside over a maximum of fifty members.

At present the 21st Century Savage Club is all about the art. The odd rituals and philanthropy they're not so sure about.

"I'm not sure we'd be up for dancing around doing war chants," laughs accountant Heather Lloyd, 26, "But there is something rather exciting about being associated with this old, bohemian club.

"I think it does serve a very practical purpose though. We all have these rather conventional day jobs and have this passion which we really want to express. That's it really – though it is funny people thinking we all hold meetings and because we're savages we might be stood around with helmets and spears or something – nothing

could be further from the truth."

The club, currently free to join, aims to meet in an array of venues. This week it was The Grove pub in Holbeck, but they're developing an ever-growing relationship with the new artistic hub of the Temple Works building just down the road in Holbeck Urban Village.

The grand 19th Century building was constructed to process flax, and the industrialist who owned the factory chose to build it in the style of the country from which flax originates. Hence the facade is that of an ancient Egyptian temple.

The link with mystical resurrection isn't lost on some of the more spiritual members of the second incarnation of the Savages, but for others it is far more functional.

"It's also about the writing for me, nothing else," adds Peter Etherington, 35, one of the new gang. "We're all into very different things, you know, I like my sci-fi, Robert likes his funny short stories, other people are into poetry and it's just great to come together and share in it all.

"My day job is completely different to my passion for writing – I'm a software developer – and I think there might well be a lot of other people out there in the same situation who want some sort of outlet.

"And up until now there hasn't been many opportunities to express this kind of thing, which is a real shame because there's probably quite a lot of talent out there. Who knows, working together we might just get more attention and some of our work may well go somewhere."

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