Edmund Bogg (1851-1931)

writer, countryman, rambler, bohemian
‘T’owd Chief’

Edmund BoggWas there really once a group of braves who had their pow-wows in Leeds, with cooking pot and bowl of firewater, their chieftain in feathered head-dress and war-paint, passing round the pipe of peace? Did they make sorties into the countryside – not with tomahawks but with sketch pads and notebooks? Yes, for these were the members of the Leeds Savage Club, founded around 1891 by Edmund Bogg, who is remembered today for his many fine books on the Yorkshire countryside he knew and loved so passionately.

Edmund Bogg came from Duggleby, a tiny hamlet in the Wolds, where his father was a wheelwright. He had little schooling. When he was twenty he came to Leeds in search of employment and tried his hand at joinery and then work as a ‘colourman’, mixing paints for artists. He came to love the artistic world with its bohemian flavour and finally set up in business as a picture dealer and framer with a gallery and workshop in Woodhouse Lane, living nearby with his wife Fanny and their young family. He gathered round him a group of young artists, some of whom he would pay to go off to paint in the countryside and supply him with pictures he could sell in his shop. Some like Owen Bowen were to become well-known and move on to wider success through his support.  

A tall, striking figure, with a bristling moustache, Bogg was well-known and popular with the artistic community, and loved their company. So he hit on the idea of a club, based on the Savage Club in London, which would bring artists, musicians and writers together and provide amusement and relief from the restrictive everyday world. A spirit of bohemianism was essential!  There were to be only fifty members, who would be called Savages, with a Chief as president, a Scribe as secretary, and Braves as committee men. This Red Indian theme was Edmund Bogg’s inspiration and he was chosen as the Chief, to preside in feathers and warpaint over the jolly and sometimes rowdy pow-wows in the Wigwam – the firewater (whisky punch) was powerful stuff.

Many artists and writers joined the Tribe and distinguished visitors were entertained. There were trips around the countryside too, rambling, camping, and sketching. They arranged concerts and events in the villages to raise funds for local causes, but began to lose their bohemian edge. By 1914 the Club had begun to fade away and came to an end in the 1930s. Luckily some of the funny, inventive invitation cards to the pow-wows, and props like the firewater bowl, cooking pot and Chief’s headdress and throne were kept safe and are now on view in the City Museum.

Meanwhile Edmund Bogg embarked on a new venture, combining his passion for the countryside with his self-taught love of history and literature. In 1892 he published ‘A Thousand Miles in Wharfedale’, an account of a journey with his artist friends, with lyrical descriptions of village and country, historical anecdotes, and delightful illustrations by friends like Percy Robinson and Gilbert Foster alongside his own photographs. Its success encouraged him – ‘Edenvale to the Plain of York’ followed, then ‘Two thousand miles of wandering in the Border Country and Lakeland’ and in 1902 the very popular ‘Old Kingdom of Elmet’, which includes an account of his hometown Leeds as he knew it a century ago, fascinating for the modern reader. More finely illustrated books on neighbouring areas followed, and new editions of his popular earlier works were published into the 1920s. He called them a labour of love. He loved the countryside and he loved words. His prose seems sentimental and overblown now, and came under fire at the time – in 1902 he apologised for the ‘abandon’ of his language which he said came from that ‘sense of joyfulness …peculiar to the heart of the born rambler’. Who can resist such a claim?

T’owd Chief, as he was still known, died at his home in Caledonian Road, Leeds, in 1931, aged 81. In his own words, the time had come for him to ‘bid adieu to the hills and vales, rivers and glens [and] glide gently down the river of life to journey’s end, like the beautiful Wharfe..’ He was remembered as a colourful eccentric, and a lover of the arts and the Yorkshire countryside.

Eveleigh Bradford
January 2013