This History is largely based on the years 1963 to the present (2020). This covers current long-standing members’ personal recollections, and includes the whole period of the Hamer legacy.
The start – a concern for high standards. The Society was founded in 1890, when a group of gentlemen, under the leadership of the Rev. W. Foxley Norris, to ‘discuss the advisableness of forming an Art Society’. Foxley Norris, at that time Vicar of Almondbury, later Dean of Westminster, became the first President. Other founder members were Peace Sykes (Vice-President), his sons George (Treasurer) and Henry, all distinguished artists and educators, and Joseph Mackenzie (Secretary). The Society suffered an early blow when Mackenzie died in a shipwreck off New Zealand in 1894. Foxley Norris set the tone of the new Society in his tribute to Mackenzie: ‘I had a wholesome dread of the ordinary sketching club or portfolio society, but it seemed to me that in him we had a safeguard against anything dilettante, against anything amateurish, half-hearted, or slipshod’. This aspiration to professional level standards was to dominate the society for over a century. The practice of admitting members based on the standard of their work, as judged by the Council, continued in various forms throughout the 20th century; by the 1960s there were categories including Full, Associate and Ordinary members, and even ‘non-painting’ members such as husbands or wives.
Membership inequalities. Full members had priority for submitting work for exhibitions, while ordinary members could not exhibit at all, though independent selectors have been used throughout. Tensions over the membership categories had emerged by the 1960s. Members could occasionally apply for ‘upgrading’ to Full or Associate membership, sometimes to be disappointed. Dissatisfaction at the dominance of Full members in Annual Exhibitions was becoming regularly expressed. Only Full members were allowed to vote at meetings at which policies were decided, which came to be seen as particularly unjust when some Associate members actually served on the Council.
The radical change to open membership. Michael Antonas had been a Council member, as Secretary and Syllabus Secretary, during the 1990s, and in 2001 was elected President. He decided at the Annual General Meeting in March 2002 to propose a motion to abolish all membership categories. Serious objections were expressed by long standing members, including former Presidents, but perhaps remarkably, the record shows that of 32 members present, the vote was almost unanimously in favour. The Society entered a new era of open membership, though selection for Annual Exhibitions continues, which it could fairly be considered even more necessary since there is no vetting of new members’ work. Michael has said recently ‘when I became President the grouping of members according to their ability ended, and also I managed to change the need for people to submit paintings when they joined. These changes I believe made the Society more accessible’.
The Annual Exhibition – high point of the year: submission and selection. Annual Exhibitions began in 1891, staged at various venues, firstly Tinker’s Gallery, then a ‘Municipal Art Gallery’ apparently located in the John William Street area, and from 1940 in the present Art Gallery in the Library building. The numbering of the Annual Exhibitions indicates that only 5 or 6 years have been missed, in times of war. At least since 1963, the Annual Exhibition has been held in the autumn, on varying dates in September, October and November. A selection of works was taken on to Smith Art Gallery Brighouse but this practice seemed to have ceased in the early 1980s. Members submitted work for selection by an independent selector, who could usually be a practising artist, an art educator, or a gallery manager. The number of works submitted has reduced over the years. Up to 1995, over 200 works were submitted most years, occasionally reaching over 300. The membership however has remained fairly stable – the total of Full and Associate members ranged between 70 and 90 up to 2002 (this total being added to by non-exhibiting members of around 20 to 30). Since membership has been open, total membership has remained between 80 and 100, but with the number submitted averaging around 150. It seems that in former years, almost all members who could submit work did so, yet with open membership there is a higher proportion of members who do not choose to exhibit. The number selected has also reduced from an average of 150 to around 110. In past years, the Society was given more space in the Art Gallery, and there has been a policy by Gallery managers to limit the selection to avoid the display looking too crammed. From 2000, award winning students (see the section on the Hamer bequest below) were also invited to exhibit, limiting space for members’ work. An on-going issue has been whether every member should have the right to have work exhibited, as against a strict ‘on merit’ principle. Since membership categories were abolished in 2002, all members are eligible to exhibit, and some selectors choose to include all members, but it could also be said that assessing the standard of work remains important.
Annual Exhibition openings – a formal occasion becoming less so. For many years, the preview and opening event took place on the Friday evening before public opening. Reflecting the taste of the times, sherry would be served, and caterers brought in to provide a buffet. The Mayor, or Deputy Mayor of the local authority would be invited, along with an invited notable guest to be the official opener. The Head of Cultural Services also attended, and all three gave speeches. Since 2011, the event has been simplified, so that only the Mayor or Deputy attends, and speaks briefly along with the President. Refreshments consist simply of wine / soft drinks and nibbles. Council spending cuts have since 2016 ruled out Friday evening openings, and the event is held on the first Saturday afternoon.
Exhibition awards – an increase in recent years There seems to be no evidence of awards for individual pictures in the Exhibition until 1992, when a member, Eleanor Sykes, had died the previous year and left a legacy of £1000 to the Society. Miss Sykes was the grand-daughter of Peace Sykes, and daughter of George Sykes, both founder members, and had her 90th birthday in 1986, having first joined as a member in 1923. It was proposed in 1992 that this money would be used to fund a prize for the most original or outstanding work in the Exhibition, as chosen by the selector. The Eleanor Sykes Award has been given every year since then with a prize of £50. For some years the picture was displayed separately on an antique easel but this was found to be impractical. Around 2000 it was decided to run a public vote for the ‘favourite picture’ which has also continued to the present time. From 2011, the winning picture was featured on the posters and the exterior banner, and for two years on the catalogues, later to be combined with the Eleanor Sykes winner and those of more recent awards – the Pat Pridmore award for best portrait or life drawing, and best new exhibitor..
Sales – never vast, welcome but less important than the Exhibition itself. The number of works selected for the Exhibition has ranged from nearly 200 to the present number of just over 100. Where it has been possible to discover the number sold, the highest has been 28, with some years below 10. One strange year was 1972, when an unusually low number for the time was exhibited (114), because of a severe selector, yet the sales figure of 22 was unusually high. Most years between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s showed sales of over 20, but it would appear that this figure has not been reached since then. As with so many art exhibitions, it is impossible to account for variations in sales figures, and all members have to maintain the belief that putting on a high quality exhibition is what matters most.
Exhibition catalogues. In early years, a formally printed catalogue without any illustration was the norm. Around 1939, a new Society logo appeared (later to appear also on the Syllabus and Rule Book covers). The main elements of this appeared to be a ‘Venus de Milo’ figure and a background tree, apparently designed by a Society member (yet to be researched) This was used most years up to 2001. (See the section below on how and when this was replaced for all Society publications). There were often issues over who would fund this publication, the Society or the Gallery, and cheaper typed and photocopied versions were used in some years such as 1978. Special catalogues were produced for notable anniversary Exhibitions. The 75th, in 1971, carried an image of an ink drawing of an artist at work outside, and included a very informative history of the Society and accounts of the first five Presidents from 1890 to 1968. The Exhibition itself included 54 works by past members. For the 100th Exhibition in 1996, the catalogue took the form of an impressive booklet containing photos, adverts, and article on the Society’s history, with a front cover featuring an archive watercolour by J H Lobley. As in 1971, works were included from the permanent collection of former members’ work. For nine years after 2001, instead of the long-serving logo, members’ designs from their own artwork were chosen for the covers, latterly at a May meeting when members voted for their choice. This was not considered a reliable format, and in 2011 and 2012, the public favourite winner of the previous year featured on the cover. In 2012 however the Society produced its own labels for each picture, replacing a difficult system of only identifying pictures with a catalogue number, and it was therefore decided to cease printing catalogues, and produce instead just a spreadsheet for organisers’ reference. The catalogue returned however in 2018, printed in small numbers for use in the Gallery only, for which Linda Downs, Exhibition Secretary since 2013, compiled a cover in the days just before the opening, with images of award winners from the current Exhibition, including the exhibition team’s favourites.
Reporting of the Annual Exhibition. For many years a regular report could be expected to appear in the Huddersfield Examiner, and a photographer would be present at the official opening. During the 2000s members eagerly awaited the report and critique by the much-respected David Hammond. One such report was entitled ‘Landscapes a bit flat’ when he took the view that much work was still too conventional, reflecting the long tradition of working only from observation. Later however, David would often comment on the variety of work on display, which he commended. David Hammond had already become freelance, and following his death in 2012, no arts reporter was appointed. Coverage by the Examiner became increasingly spasmodic, critical comment disappeared, and eventually the most to be expected was publication of the Society’s own report.
The arrival of a large legacy and how it was to be used. By 1963, the Society Council had been organising Annual Exhibitions, managing membership, running fortnightly Saturday meetings, and keeping finances in a viable position. In 1964, however, a significant new obligation emerged, which has continued to the present day. John James Hamer was a prominent member for many years as well as Head of the School of Art, and was President for four years before his death in 1944. His widow, Mrs. Mary Hamer, was also a member and continued so until her own death in 1964. It then emerged that in her will she had left the very significant sum of £10000 (enough to buy a good sized house at that time) to the Society, in memory of her late husband. The only specific requirement in the will was that the money be used to award ‘scholarships’ to students of art at ‘local institutions.’ The phrase ‘for the general purposes thereof’ elsewhere in the will has been used as the basis for using the Hamer Bequest money for other spending on the Society. It was assumed from the start that spending on the awards and on the Society should be from income arising from investing the legacy amount. The annual accounts for the years 1966 onwards show that every year part of the income was transferred to HAS for spending on such items as refurbishment of the rooms, furniture, demonstrations and lectures, painting weekends, models, accountancy costs, and a new seat for the Gallery.
Making the Awards – problematical and time consuming. In view of the ‘Scholarship’ request, Council members felt obliged to take on the very time-consuming work of reviewing applications, interviewing applicants, seeing their work, and deciding whether awards should be made. Initially multiple awards were made of £50 to £100, in two stages, the second of which required applicants to produce a ‘thesis’, often on an art historical visit or study. Initially students from the Technical College Schools of Art and Architecture were nominated by the Department Heads, then later adverts were circulated within the colleges, and then more widely to attract young practising artists. Reading the theses took time, and some were considered inadequate. In 1971, Pat Pridmore became Hamer Award secretary, a post she maintained with dedication for 35 years, including during her own Presidency. Doubts about standards emerged early on, as the Council was reluctant to give away the Hamer money too easily. In 1984, the multiple awards were replaced by a single major award of £500, advertised nationally. The task of viewing hundreds of slides of applicants’ work became even more burdensome – in 1990 former President Barbara Ellis expressed the view that ‘selecting Senior had become so time consuming, without satisfactory result, that Council should seriously consider discontinuing it’. In 1993 it was decided to return to the original format, limiting the Award to local colleges, with students nominated by the Principals. This worked successfully with Huddersfield University and then Bretton Hall, but the offer to Sheffield University in 1996 brought such a poor response that no award was made. From 1997 Huddersfield University and Technical College were again involved, but by 2001 responses from these had also become poor and the award went into abeyance. Alongside the main awards, since 1971, small amounts were offered to school pupils, eventually involving exhibiting at AC Gallery, with free framing offered, then on to be included in the Annual Exhibition. At first this also involved selection by Council from examples of pupils’ work, though later relied on schools’ nominations. The Junior Award was discontinued in 2010. The Senior Award was made once in 2004, with awards to sixth form colleges, but in 2011, a full revival was arranged. Working with Huddersfield University and Kirklees College, again involving a certain element of selection by Council members, awards of around £200 and £100 were made to two students of each institution. As in the past, these students were invited to exhibit in the Annual Exhibition. This arrangement still proved too time consuming, so after a short break, in 2014 the Award was established in its present form, with awards going to two students each from three sixth form colleges, nominated by the college staff, and requiring award winners simply to make a presentation of their work to a Saturday meeting. The spending on two students from each of three colleges amounted to around £750, the highest level since the start of the awards.
Managing the capital, high interest rates, and consistent underspend of the income. The arrival of £10000 in 1964 had of course other significant financial implications. It was never made clear whether the capital or just the interest was to be spent on the awards and the Society, but in practice it was only the interest income that was used. Occasionally suggestions were made to spend much of the money on buying new premises – in 1969, Leonard Rangeley, who was to become President 17 years later, said ‘the money could be used for a building to house the Society when we had to vacate Estate Buildings and ought to start looking for accommodation now’. Coincidentally it was during Leonard Rangeley’s Presidency in 1988 that the Society did have to leave its premises (see later). More time and involvement were therefore made necessary to organise investments of the capital in stocks and shares and/or long term bonds. Even with using only the income however, a pattern emerged. The amounts spent annually on both the awards and on the Society were consistently lower than the income, especially when the major award was in abeyance for around ten years. The investments yielded income annually, and the surplus accumulated into an ‘investment reserve’. The original £10000 rose to over £50000, reflecting the underspend and of course generous interest rates, sometimes over 10% per annum. Despite this, Council members, particularly Treasurers, including John Barnes and Denis Harper, were reluctant to use it for day to day expenditure, so there were frequent increases in subscriptions and even fund raising events.
Spending on the awards – should £10000 have been the limit? Although the Hamer Awards were funded only from investment income, and therefore not from the original legacy capital, in fact £10000 had already been spent on the awards over the years to 1993, and the total spent by 2019 amounts to around £19800. It was never assumed that the award should only continue up to the point when £10000 had been spent, so it has continued indefinitely, well beyond the original legacy amount. The same incidentally is true of the Eleanor Sykes award in the Annual Exhibition – an initial legacy of £1000 gave rise to a £50 prize for selector’s choice of picture, yet having been running for 38 years, a total of £1900 has now been paid out. Spending beyond the original legacies has been possible because of the significant increase in total investment value, and therefore income, since the legacies were made.
Post global financial crisis – the assets reduce. Since 2008 of course, interest rates on investments have dropped markedly, and since 2012 it has been necessary increasingly to transfer amounts from the investments as they mature to the current account to meet annual expenditure. From 2006, the Hamer Legacy ceased to be shown as a separate entity in the Annual Accounts with its own income and expenditure. The total investment amount was £55945 in 2013, but now (2019) stands at around £34000. Carol Wood, serving as Treasurer every year since 2008, has justifiably expressed concern about the reduction in the assets, with expenditure exceeded income every year. The substantial increase in Saturday meeting fees and the increase in the subscription to £25, in 2013/14, were intended to offset this imbalance. Since 2017 the Hamer legacy amount has no longer been identified separately in the accounts, so in effect by taking money out of the assets means that ‘Hamer’ money is spent on anything at all thought worthwhile for members’ benefit. Continuing expenditure on the Hamer Awards is now (2019) generous (actually at a higher level than investment income). At some future point the Society will need to make the transition to being annually self-financing.
The departure from sole use premises. The Society had sole use premises for nearly 100 years in Estate Buildings, Railway Street, initially owned by Ramsden Estates then eventually by Huddersfield, later Kirklees Council and held on a long term rental basis, renegotiated every few years. Saturday afternoon and Council meetings took place, later Monday and Wednesday evening sessions, and the rest of the time the premises were available for members to work. This long period was much appreciated by members, though there were minor issues such as responsibility for cleaning. In 1988 Kirklees Council presented the Society with a new contract in which rents were raised to a level considered unaffordable. Using the Hamer legacy for rent was not considered acceptable, but thought was given to purchasing premises, recalling Leonard Rangeley’s view in 1969 (see earlier) The assets, even though increased from the original £10000, were worth less in real terms against property prices, and there were also doubts about on-going maintenance of Society-owned premises, so the purchase was rejected. The Society, led by Leonard Rangeley, had to find other premises which would have to be rented on a sessional basis and shared with other user groups. Mr Rangeley had connections with St Thomas’s Church, Longroyd Bridge, which the Society accepted as its venue for meetings.
Three more venue moves over 18 years. There were many implications of leaving sole use premises, including the accumulation of furniture and equipment, and of a picture collection consisting of donations by members and demonstrators, which were available to be viewed regularly by members. Over the years of meeting at St Thomas’s, tensions developed, arising from the needs of other user groups and lack of respect for the Society’s pictures displayed on the walls. The Church authorities tried to relocate Society meetings to less appropriate spaces within the premises. In 1995 a second move was made, under the leadership of President Betty Thornton, this time to the Brian Jackson Centre. Furniture, equipment and pictures were again transferred. A similar pattern to St Thomas’s gradually emerged – Brian Jackson developed its role as a children’s centre, restricting the Society’s use, the rent was almost doubled, and there was pressure to remove furniture and equipment. After six years in 2001 the Society decided to move for a third time, with Michael Antonas now President, when the venue became the Masonic Hall in Greenhead Road. This was a comfortable venue, but always somewhat inappropriate as much of it was carpeted. The picture collection now had to be stored in a loft area, which did not help its condition. The collection had been reduced by selling some pictures in 1997, though this was seen as much a fund-raising action rather than storage reduction. Use of the Masonic Hall, like St. Thomas’s and Brian Jackson, lasted only around five or six years. Though things ran smoothly, eventually in 2006 the Masonic organisation needed the spaces, so yet another search was undertaken by the Council under President Brian Richardson. The choice was Gledholt Methodist Church.
Thirteen years at Gledholt, until history repeated itself. Gledholt proved a very acceptable venue, with an easily accessible and spacious ground floor hall (the main church being on the upper floor). Saturday meetings and full day workshops (now an increasing feature) were held, as well as a new Life Drawing group, though there was not availability for the Portrait Group which met at Paddock Quaker Friends Meeting House. These were very settled and happy years until circumstances changed in 2015. A dance school began, initially on Saturday mornings, preventing any more full day workshops. The dance school expanded into Saturday afternoons, using the Church above the hall, causing Society meetings to be disturbed by noise, and inconvenience in having to carry chairs from rooms being used by the dancers. In March 2019, the Society was told it could only be offered the Church, which being carpeted, full of heavy chairs, and with tables having to be carried upstairs, was deemed totally unsatisfactory, so the years of Saturdays at Gledholt came to an end. From September 2019, Saturday meetings were being shared between two main venues, Moldgreen United Reformed Church and Paddock Friends Quaker Meeting House, with a few at S2R Create Space.
The Society organisers – the ‘Council’ The organising committee of the Society has been known for many years, perhaps rather formally, as the Council (though it was known as the Committee in the early years). The key posts have been President, Secretary, Treasurer and Exhibition Secretary (prefixed by ‘Hon.’ in more formal times). In recent years, the rules have stated that a President’s term of office should be three years, with the option of one further term, but before 1968 most Presidents served much longer terms – see the Presidents section later. Vice Presidents have not had a specific role apart from deputising for the President in his or her absence; until around 2000 there were up to six Vice-Presidents each year, often former Presidents, but more recently there have been only one or two. The role of putting together the annual programme, still known by the rather formal name of ‘Syllabus’ has been performed by a named Syllabus Secretary, though for many years this was part of the role of the Secretary, as was dealing with membership applications. Since 2009 there has been a named Membership Secretary. In addition to the Council, two or three Trustees are appointed. They are mostly members, who may or may not be on the Council, but from 1986 to 2018 staff members of Simpson Wood, accountants, namely Eric Lord followed by Mike Nicholas, acted as Trustees taking the role of contact with management of the assets and contact with the banks. Mike Nicholas retired in 2018, at which point David Whiting (President) took over the bank contact role, all three Trustees now being members. The picture collection, in storage and unseen for 30 years, and the antique easel. The collection of paintings was amassed throughout the Society’s existence from 1890 and stored at its premises, so access was easy and works were regularly on display to members. From 1988, the collection had to go into storage at the various rented venues. At St Thomas’s Church, issues rose of damage to paintings left on display when the Society was not present. Storage problems continued, and during the time the Society was meeting at the Masonic Hall, it was packed into boxes by President Brian Richardson, so became less and less accessible. Storage was not possible at all at Gledholt, so space was rented in a loft at Parkwood Methodist Church, Longwood. Brian Richardson took time to photograph the collection and create a slide show, but otherwise the works were never seen. The situation came to a head in 2019 when Parkwood closed and the collection had to be removed. President David Whiting, with the agreement of Council, organised the disposal of most of the collection, some on long term loan to members, establishments such as care homes and a hospital, a number being sold to a dealer, while retaining a number of key pieces to make a manageable collection that could be viewed occasionally by members. A similar dilemma existed with the antique easel, used on various occasions over the years (its age and origins are not yet discovered) including display of the Eleanor Sykes winner from 1992, but this practice ceased in 2011, on the grounds that visitors tended to give it less attention and that it was an obstruction. The easel was retained by member Dr Jane Carter for 8 years, until she requested its removal. David Whiting, with the agreement of Council, organised its sale for £200.
Saturday meetings – changing formats for changing times. Saturday meetings have been the core activity of the Society for many years, originally referred to as the Winter Syllabus, running between October and April, but extended around the 1990s to September to May. Around the 1960s, ‘lectures’ were still predominant, given by both visiting speakers and members, with occasional demonstrations. An important feature of meetings was the display of members’ work on the walls, easily organised with having sole use premises. The event began at 2.30pm with viewing members’ work, the main meeting starting at 3pm after refreshments. Attendances often exceeded 50 people, including non-painting members, which made conditions so crowded that there were requests for fewer non-painters to attend, and even restrictions on admitting new such members for a while. By the mid-1990s, demonstrations had become the main form of meetings, with possibly one illustrated lecture on art, and full day workshops had appeared, usually two each year. Displays of members’ work continued in a reduced form, just two members showing work, and it was usual for the visiting demonstrator to be asked to make a critique of the work. Some felt unable to do this, and by 2011 the system of ‘members’ presentations’ became the norm, removing any element of criticism and enabling members to know about each other’s work. The critique element continued for some years in the mid-2000s with a whole meeting devoted to an invited visitor (sometimes the previous year’s selector) commenting on work brought by members. The changes at Gledholt in 2015 meant workshops continued but for afternoons only, which proved restrictive. Full day workshops began again by using Moldgreen, before actually leaving Gledholt, and by 2019 workshops had become the main form of meeting, with only around five demonstrations, and art lectures had disappeared. The increase in workshops was based on their obvious popularity with members. Members have always been provided with a Syllabus card, which until around 2000 was pocket size (4 by 3 inches) and triple folded. This increased to a triple folded A4, but in 2009 the Syllabus card was the most noticeable feature in a radical re-imaging (see ‘The Society’s logo’ below)
Saturday meetings – charges for attending. Originally it was seen as part of the advantage of paying the subscription that members could attend any meetings free of charge, but following the need to hire premises, financial concerns led to calls for charges to be made. For many years up to 2013, a modest £1 was asked for attendance at Saturday meetings. Concern, particularly from the Treasurer, about the regular drawing out of Hamer legacy based funds, still over £50000 in 2013, prompted the view that the income from members should be closer to the cost of meetings, which with rent and paid demonstrators could amount to between £140 and £200, with income from members of around £20. In 2013, the cost of Saturday meetings was £1200 plus room hire, but income from members only £350.The decision to raise fees to £4 for an afternoon and £8 for a full day was accepted by members, and seemed to have no effect on attendances.
The summer months – art on location. Originally the Saturday meetings programme was referred to as the ‘Winter Syllabus’, a month shorter at each end than more recently. The ‘Summer Syllabus’ had members being even more active than in the winter, with weekly sketching sessions arranged at local venues every Saturday afternoon from April to September. This ran for many years, appearing as a printed syllabus for 1948 onwards. There were specific events also, of two types. A painting day or ‘summer outing’ on a Sunday in June, for which a coach would be hired to take members to more distant destinations, examples being Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, and Derbyshire. Although this outing had been running from 1964, it did not acquire the title ‘Hamer Painting Day’ until around 1995, when perhaps the Society wished to clarify what the Hamer money was used for. These outings, despite requiring lengthy coach trips, also finished with an evening meal in the area visited, which was no longer organised after 2003. There would always be an indoor venue booked in case of poor weather, which inevitably occurred in several years. The other outdoor events were painting weekends, based on locations nearer to Huddersfield, examples being Farnley Tyas, Slaithwaite, Cawthorne, and Hepworth. As with the painting days, an indoor venue was booked, often village or church halls, the availability of which affected the choice of location. The weekends were known in the 1960s as Carnegie weekends, because of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, and were run along with Halifax and Wakefield Art Societies. This grant ceased but the weekends continued, and in 1982 became known as Hamer weekends, earlier than the painting days also acquired this title. Around 2000, tutors were often engaged for all or part of the weekends, some being experienced Society members. The painting day in 2009 to Wycoller in Lancashire, though successful, was the last involving a coach trip, all painting days since being more local, based on members’ using their own cars. At this time also, the weekends had become unviable. Attendances were very thin, and the organisation had long standing weaknesses in that members could arrive and leave at any time over the two days without arranging to meet up at any point. In 2012 the weekend was replaced by a second painting day, and organisers started taking lists of members planning to attend, and having an introductory meet up and review at the end. Attendances became more reliable, and in 2015 a third day in August was introduced. From 2012, the term Hamer was gradually dropped, particularly because the Hamer legacy fund disappeared as a separate entity in the Society’s accounts, and the term Outdoor Days is used.
The social side – formal occasions declined but a recent Christmas revival. The Society, like many other social organisations, regarded it as an expectation to hold formal ‘suit and tie and evening dress’ events up to the 1980s. Guests including the Mayor and Mayoress, and notable speakers, would be invited, an example being the 75th anniversary (of the Society’s founding) dinner in 1965, at Whiteley’s restaurant. In following years there was less support for dining in an outside venue and the Society’s own rooms were used. Occasionally the Exhibition, if a special ‘number’ such as the 75th in 1971, would be the occasion for a dinner – 126 members and guests were reported for this event. There followed a period of around ten years when the Greenhead Masonic Hall was the venue for the dinners, usually held around November, but support appears to have waned in 1981. There was one further dinner at the Masonic in 1988, and then a Centenary Dinner in 1990 in June, on the actual day of the Society’s founding in 1890, at the George Hotel. For the following years the only social events were Christmas parties, which involved a buffet, games and entertainment. A radical change came in 2008. Gallery visits just before Christmas, followed by a Christmas lunch, were started with a trip to Manchester. These events went well, but it was decided from 2016 to separate the festive lunch from the gallery visit. Christmas lunches at local restaurants have become a popular and very pleasant occasion. Not on Saturdays – the weekly groups, portrait and life drawing. Although Saturday afternoons had been the time of the main meetings for many years up to the 1960s, activities on weekday evenings began to be introduced, partly to cater for members who could not attend Saturdays. During the 1950s the syllabus list mentions ‘studio meetings’ held on weekdays. In 1967 Monday evening groups ‘with models’ were being organised by Leonard Rangeley, to be followed in 1971 by Pat Pridmore. These became known as portrait groups, and were well-attended, expanding to Wednesday evenings by 1976. Pat ran the groups continuously for the next 30 years, including during her Presidency, until resigning through ill-health in 2006. These groups almost became a parallel society, holding their own Christmas parties for example. They used the Society’s own premises until 1988, (causing occasional tensions over the state of the rooms) and after 1988 mainly used the same venue as for Saturdays. The group continued on Monday evenings after Pat’s departure under various organisers, a quiet period during which attendances were modest, until becoming once again a vibrant and well attended group from late 2016 under the leadership of John Steadman. Life drawing, with nude models, had been a very occasional feature of portrait groups, but in 2010, a separate life drawing group was set up by Jill Moynan, with daytime meetings, and has continued to attract a committed and dedicated following.
Communication – into the modern age. As with all organisations until the end of the 20th century, all communication, in the Society’s case to individual or all members, or to outside persons participating in Society events, was by letter. Publicity and information about the Society meanwhile was distributed locally, for instance through the local press or by leaflets. The first decade of the 21st century marked a radical development in global communication in the form of the internet. During Olwen Kitson’s Presidency, in late 2008, the Council decided to enter the digital world. David Whiting as Secretary organised a meeting during which an email account was set up with Googlemail, and a website created using the Webeden organisation. Since then the number of members with internet access has grown, and there are now less than ten members without this, who receive important messages by post. The website carried details of Society events and a gallery of members’ work, thus introducing a way of potential new members to know about the Society through the internet. By 2014 there were only less than ten members without internet, who would still receive some important messages by post. The only document now still printed and posted out to all members is the annual Syllabus, which aims to be attractive and a handy record of events. John Steadman has led the initiative to give the Society a presence on Facebook, and events are now regularly reported and pictured by Rachel Sykes.
The Society’s logo – a radical change in 2008. As has been mentioned under ‘Exhibition catalogues’ and ‘Saturday meetings’ a logo had been created by a Society member around 1939 (further research may reveal more details), consisting of a ‘Venus de Milo’ figure, with what appeared to be a jug above her head, against a background of trees. This had appeared on most Exhibition catalogues until 2000, and was the main image also on the printed Syllabus and the Rule Book. In 2008, a new member of Council challenged the antiquity of this, which no current members knew the meaning and origins of, and it was agreed to adopt a new logo. A competition was organised for a new logo design, and the design by Jill Moynan, an experienced graphic designer, was chosen, and approved at the 2009 AGM. This was a radical change, in which the word ‘art’ in multiple colours was larger than Huddersfield or Society. Along with this, Jill compiled new accompanying designs for the Syllabus and Rule Book, with a ‘Mondrian-style’ use of geometric forms and flat bold colours, and incorporated it into the Newsletter of which she became the editor in 2009, and the logo has been used for letterheads and all publications.
The Newsletter – a regular look at Society activities. Before 2005, newsletters to members were irregular and occasional, and typically consisted of a page written by the President or a Council member, on an old-fashioned typewriter and photocopied. In 2005 it was decided to launch a multi-page publication, with reports of meetings, information on future events, and photos. Mary McKenzie was the first editor, and creator of the modern Newsletter, though as seen above, Jill Moynan took over as Newsletter editor around the time her new logo emerged, and gave the publication a new look incorporating the logo. The Newsletter has been posted on the website since 2008, but also printed and posted, until this was limited to a few members, the remainder being able to download it from the website and print if required.
Gallery visits – one major phase, then the Christmas series, occasional since. Although many outdoor practical activities were held over the years up to 1980, it was through the initiative of Barbara Ellis, new President in 1980, that a whole series of visits to galleries across the country, including London’s Royal Academy, began. These trips made use of coach transport, and became known as ‘Gallery Goers’ and were open to non-members. The trips appeared to have continued until around 1990, and as well as London included Liverpool, Manchester, and Oxford. Gallery visits did not feature on syllabuses again until 2008, as noted above, when they were linked to a Christmas lunch. The locations visited were Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield (The Hepworth), Sheffield, Bradford, and York. Since 2016, gallery visits have been included on the Syllabus at various times during each year, or more recently added to the programme as appropriate. Notable members. Several of our past members were nationally known, and their work can still be found for sale and/or referenced on the internet. These include John Hodgson Lobley, Arthur Netherwood, Noel Spencer, Marion Rhodes (well known for her etchings of Huddersfield’s industrial landscapes) and more recently former President and watercolourist Ernest Midwood. Long-serving Vice-President Harold Blackburn, as well as being a prolific artist, has a lasting achievement in his design of a mosaic panel, still in existence, on Ramsden Street. Certain figures have occupied prominent positions in art education; two founder members, Peace Sykes and his son George, were Art Masters at the Huddersfield Mechanics Institute, former President John James Hamer was for many years Head of the School of Art, Huddersfield Technical College, and former President Norman Culley was Head of Architecture at the same college, as well as being a well-respected architect in the town. Of current members, Bruce Mulcahy has maintained his membership since winning the Senior Hamer Award in 1991, alongside a very successful career as a professional artist, always working outdoors. Andrew Jenkin joined the Society early in his career, and we have seen him achieve much commercial success with his paintings in the form of greetings cards, for example, as well as expanding into book illustration and teaching. Jean Parkinson, has had work exhibited four times at the Royal Academy Summer Show, and her membership length of 65 years is the second longest on record (only exceeded by Mrs. B Vickerman – 68 years (1925-1993). Founder member Grace Williamson was a member for over 60 years, as were former Presidents Norman Culley and K. Mary Whittell, with 61 and 47 years on the Council respectively. Current members and former Presidents Olwen Kitson and Betty Thornton have been members for 57 and 55 years respectively (34 and 19 on Council), and Pat Pridmore, who died in 2013, had done 53 years with 38 on Council. The records show five others with over 50 years membership.
Harold Blackburn mural
THE SOCIETY PRESIDENTS
There have been twenty Presidents since the Society’s founding in 1890. Rev William Foxley Norris 1890 – 1903 Rev. Norris (1859 – 1937) was Vicar of Almondbury from 1888 to 1901, the son of Canon Foxley Norris. His wise guidance and his enlistment of support for the new Society from influential local people undoubtedly played a major part in its rapid establishment as a reputable Society with a contribution to make to the town. Primarily a watercolourist, Norris had a characteristic style and was particularly good at skies and atmospheric effects. Like Turner he loved the Thames – three of his pictures in the 1894 exhibition had this setting. His visit to Italy in 1896 provided eight of his ten pictures in that year’s exhibition. He had a distinguished career in the Church, becoming Dean of York from 1917 to 1925 and then Dean of Westminster. He continued to paint and became Honorary Chaplain to the Royal Academy.
George Thomson 1903 – 1918 George Thomson (1842 – 1921) entered his father’s manufacturing firm and soon became the principal executive. He was a friend of Ruskin, and became Master of Guild of St. George, which Ruskin founded. In Huddersfield, he was elected a Councillor in 1898. His great interest was education, which started when he acted as Hon. Secretary of the Mechanics Institute. This later became the Technical College to which Thomson was elected a governor. He was twice Mayor, and was a freeman of Huddersfield. Apparently George Thomson never painted, but was a ‘critic of works exhibited in London during his life’. Turner was his favourite artist. Ernest Woodhead 1918 – 1940 Ernest Woodhead (1857 – 1944) was a scholar, journalist, librettist, politician, public administrator and sportsman, and excelled in all. He was the son of Joseph Woodhead, founder of the Examiner, of which he became editor at the age of 28. He gained an M.A. in languages, taught economics at the Technical College, where he later became Chairman of Governors. He was a rugby international in his youth, and played golf in his later years, captaining Fixby at the age of 80. He became Mayor and a freeman of the Borough of Huddersfield. He was a member of the Society from its beginning in 1890, served on the Committee from 1891, and continued until his death in 1944 (53 years). He was a competent watercolourist, and exhibited for fifty years, the titles of his works often including a descriptive verse. His fondness for travel often resulted in pictures for exhibition, including Norway (1894) and the Alps (1896).
John James Hamer 1940 – 1944 John James Hamer (1867 – 1944) began teaching art at Rugby School at the age of 17. He studied at the Royal College of Art from 1886 – 1892 and later in Paris. He later became Headmaster of Londonderry School of Art and held the posts of Inspector and examiner for the Board of Education in Ireland and Chief Examiner in drawing for the Welsh Board. He became Headmaster of Huddersfield School of Art in 1906, a post he held until his retirement in 1932. As Headmaster he encouraged and fostered the association of the School of Art with the Art Society, which he had joined in 1907, playing a major part in introducing the Society’s Scholarship scheme in the early 1920s. He became a Vice-President of the Society in 1908. He was an excellent draughtsman and watercolourist. In 1932 he married Mary Wilson, who became a Vice-President shortly after his death and continued in this role until her own death in 1964. Mrs. Hamer presented 45 of her late husband’s paintings to the Society in 1961. His memory is continued within the Society in the bequest given by Mrs Hamer.
Norman Culley 1945 – 1968 Norman Culley (1880 – 1969) was admitted to the Technical College at the exceptionally early age of 11, and continued his association with the College for over 60 years as student, teacher, and Lecturer in Charge of Architecture from 1906 to 1954. He took his A.R.I.B.A. in 1904, and his F.R.I.B.A. in 1920 and became President of the West Yorkshire Society of Architects. He was architect to many firms in the district and is perhaps best known for the High Street Buildings. He joined Huddersfield Art Society and began exhibiting in 1906, and served on the Council from 1907. He is the longest-serving President in the Society’s history. He sought and received the support of the Society in making proposals concerning significant architectural schemes in the town. He suggested a new civic centre on the site of the old Cloth Hall, and was disappointed when this was given to a cinema, and the Library and Art Gallery were built near the Town Hall. He also led the campaign in the 1960s to place the new Civic Centre up the hill from the Town Hall, which was successful. Individual recollections: ‘A very tiny man with a shock of hair and tiny twinkling eyes. Mr Culley found it hard to remember who he was introducing, or even seeing the pictures properly, but no-one had the heart to tell him to stand down’ ‘He and his wife were friends with the Hamers, this probably led to the Hamer legacy in Mrs Hamer’s will’. Kathleen Mary Whittell 1968 – 1971 K. Mary Whittell (1912 - 2009) took up a teaching career, and studied art with a view to specialising in the subject, attending classes at the Huddersfield School of Art. She took the National Society of Art Masters Examinations, and studied under Edward Akroyd and later under Noel Spencer, both prominent members of the Art Society. Miss Whittell therefore joined the Art Society in 1944. She exhibited works in a wide range of media including pastel, oil, watercolour, wood carving, etching and embroidery. She became Secretary of the Society in 1948, and in that capacity handled the preparations for the Festival of Britain Exhibition of the Art Society, and later the 60th Annual Exhibition. She became a Vice-President in 1957 before succeeding Mr. Norman Culley as the first woman to hold the Presidency. She continued as an active and influential Vice-President of Council until 1993, and served two more years as a Council member. Individual recollections: ‘Very direct, a bit too dominating, the males weren’t too keen, the Society lost a bit of excitement but was run very efficiently. A very thorough Church of England member. Four female members of HAS went abroad on holiday, KMW dictated what we had to like or dislike!’ ‘Stern maiden lady’
Dr. William Scott 1971 – 1974 William Errington Scott (1905 - 1981) took the Presidency of the Society one year after retiring as Principal of Huddersfield Technical College, a post he had held for 24 years. Born in Jarrow, he gained a B.Sc. degree at Durham University and later an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Chemistry. As well as a lecturing career, he was also manager of a metal and chemical company. He was awarded an MBE for his work during World War 2 on gas identification. He had many outside interests, including cricket, tennis and rock collecting, but had a lifelong interest in the arts. He became President of Huddersfield Philharmonic Society after his Presidency of H.A.S. He was a keen watercolourist, and as President and Society member he was said to be kind, modest and understanding, belying his illustrious career in education and science. He re-joined the Society Council in 1978, serving as a Vice-President until shortly before his death. Individual recollections: ‘A kind, understanding man’.
Ernest Midwood 1974 – 1978 Ernest Midwood (1917 – 1993) served in World War 2 and became a prisoner of war in Austria. Whilst there he painted scenery for camp shows. After the war he studied art under Edward Akroyd, joined H.A.S. in 1959 as an associate member, becoming a full member in 1963. In 1964 he took on the role of Treasurer on the death of John Dransfield, and served in this role for four years. He became a very competent watercolourist, his work selling well both locally and further afield. His painting of Pack Horse Yard was presented to Prime Minister Harold Wilson. His jovial informality as President contrasted with the more academic approach of his predecessors. Following the end of his term of office in 1978 he remained on the Council until his death, mainly as a Vice-President. Individual recollections: ‘Always painted the local pub on HAS outings, then went in the pub to get them to buy the painting. Always used the same size, same colours, same skies’.
Barbara Tattersall 1978 – 1980 Barbara Tattersall (1907 – 1983) had a career as a teacher, both in infant schools, then at Royd Edge school for disadvantaged pupils, art being her subject specialism, having taken a teaching degree in London. Her art covered a wide range of media and subjects, including still lifes, flowers, local views and buildings. She had a painting selected for the Royal Academy Summer Show. After joining the Society in 1945, she served as Treasurer for several years around 1960, (her husband Arthur became the Society’s accountant) and was then a Vice-President from 1964 to 1978. Outside the Society, she was President of the Ladies’ Section of the YMCA. She lived at Farnley Tyas, and invited Society members to visit. Individual recollections: Lovely lady, kind and supportive’.
Barbara Ellis 1980 – 1983 Barbara Ellis (1932 - 2002) originated from Hull, where she attended the grammar school, and was associated for many years with Ferens Art Gallery. This was the start of her lifelong love of art galleries, and she was renowned for her organisation of ‘Gallery Goers’ outings to all areas of the country. She was a Friend of the Royal Academy, and took members to the Summer Exhibition. There were sometimes six outings in a year. Before becoming President, she was Exhibition Secretary for five years, and after completing her term of office remained on the Council until 2000 as a Vice-President. Though not trained in art, she ran classes at her home in Lindley and at Woodsome Hall Golf Club. As a spare time activity, Barbara produced designs for her husband Ian for his silversmith work. She was a member of the Light Opera Company and painted scenery for their productions. She specialised in sketching and pen and ink work.
John Berry 1983 – 1985 John Berry (1930 – 2020) was evacuated as a youngster during World War 2 to a family at Colthouse, near Hawkshead in the Lake District. He got to know the author Arthur Ransome, who wrote the Swallows and Amazons books, and eventually himself wrote an autobiography inspired by Ransome and his real-life characters. He was part of a mill owning family in Huddersfield, whose business unfortunately failed in the 1960s. John built a fine studio in his attic and attempted to gain commissions for painting as an alternative career. These included portraits of children at public schools across the country. Individual recollections: ‘He didn’t enjoy the child portraits, as parents were often dissatisfied’.
Leonard Rangeley 1985 – 1991 During the Presidency of Leonard Rangeley (1914 - 2008), it was decided to leave the Society’s long term rented premises at Estate Buildings due to much increased rent; he was a member of St Thomas’s Church at Longroyd Bridge and arranged for the Society to move its venue there. He served as a Vice-President for 19 years before his Presidency and six years after. Early in his time on the Council, in July 1964, he organised an outing to Coventry Cathedral, which became the forerunner of the annual painting days. As President, he oversaw the year of Centenary Celebrations in 1990, of which the main event was a dinner at the George Hotel on June 1st. His specialism in art was precise pastel paintings, and had a piece accepted by the Royal Pastel Society. He was a watch repairer by trade. (Individual recollections: ‘No real sense of humour, but keen to teach us n how to do pastel work’.
John Thornton (1940? – 2018) had a successful career as an Art teacher and later as a head teacher. He began his career in middle schools in Bradford, and was appointed Head of Art for the newly opened Tong Comprehensive School in 1964. A charismatic personality and strong disciplinarian, he became Head of Year. He left Tong to become Head Teacher of Buttershaw Middle School. He joined HAS in 1975, and applied his teaching skills to organising and tutoring outdoor painting days. He also ran private art classes for many years. He had a long association with St John’s Church at Birkby, where he married his wife Carol, and where he ran activities for young people.
Betty Thornton 1993 – 1996 Betty Thornton attended Huddersfield School of Art, gaining a Diploma in Art and Crafts, and went on to work in a drawing office. She had an early love of art, and joined Huddersfield Art Society aged 36 after bringing up her family. She served on the Council for many years, holding several posts including Exhibition Secretary and Syllabus Secretary. During her Presidency the conditions at St Thomas’s Church became unsatisfactory, and Betty oversaw the move to the Brian Jackson Centre. Betty taught art classes for over 30 years, supported by the Cooperative Society, with exhibitions of students’ work at Huddersfield Parish Church. Betty’s art work has always been colourful and vibrant, often using mixed media, and she continues to produce and exhibit new work at the age of 90 despite reduced mobility.
Pat Pridmore 1996 – 2001 Pat Pridmore (1930 – 2013) was a daughter of Roger Kaye, who ran Cliffe and Co engineering works at Longroyd Bridge. Her first public shows featured drawings of her father’s workshop. Although she suffered ill health in her youth, she qualified as an artist at Huddersfield Art School, and went to work for Huddersfield Borough Council as a technical artist. She joined HAS in her twenties, one of the youngest members. She became devoted to the Society, arranging portrait groups for over 40 years, as well as outdoor painting trips. She also took the role of Hamer Award organiser from 1970, introducing the Junior Awards for school pupils in 1971. Her interest in the Society included a dedicated collection of Society archives. Watercolours were her first chosen medium, but she also worked in oils and pastels, particularly for her very accomplished portraits. She also arranged exhibitions for local artists at the Sports Centre, Royal Infirmary and other venues. Pat was married to Ronnie for over 50 years and lived at Kaye Lane, Almondbury. Individual recollections: ‘She was very quietly spoken and didn’t seem to able to raise her voice’ ‘She was very stubborn but generous’. ‘She loved an elaborate Christmas party which we all took part in and received a good quality gift from Pat’.
Michael Antonas 2001 – 2005 Michael Antonas (born 1938) is from London and spent most of his early life working as an analytical chemist, and later as a public librarian. He moved north to Huddersfield and joined the Society in 1987. Michael joined the Council in 1990, acting at different times as Secretary and Syllabus Secretary, before becoming President in 2001. Early in his Presidency he was called upon to organise a move to new premises when the Brian Jackson Centre became unavailable due to a change of use and also increased rent. Michael therefore organised the move to the Masonic Hall in Greenhead Road. He had for many years felt unhappy with the long-established selective system of membership in the Society according to perceived ability, and at the AGM of March 2002 he proposed a radical change to the rules whereby there would be a single class of membership open to all. Despite strong opposition from long standing members, the motion was passed overwhelmingly, thus changing the nature of the society from that point onwards. Michael left the Society soon after retiring as President but re-joined as an active member in 2018.
Brian Richardson 2005 – 2008 Brian Richardson had the role of Syllabus Secretary under the Presidency of Michael Antonas before taking over as President. He had close connections with Huddersfield Art Gallery, as he worked there as a Gallery officer. His connections with Kirklees Council were also a factor in his arranging for the Society to take part in Kirklees’ Fun in the Park summer events. During his Presidency, the Masonic Hall ceased to be available as a venue for the Society, and Brian therefore organised the search for new premises, eventually deciding on Gledholt Methodist Church. It was not possible to store the Society’s archive collection here, and eventually it was moved to Parkwood Chapel, Longwood. Brian produced a slide show using the Power Point software during this time. Brian did a great deal of work on the Society archives, and started to deposit all the material collected over the years in the West Yorkshire Archive in Huddersfield Library.
Olwen Kitson 2008 – 2011 Olwen Kitson (nee Barlow, later Mrs Haigh) (born 1934) had been a member of the Society since 1963 and served on the Council from 1977, becoming a Vice-President in 2000 before finally becoming President in 2008. Olwen had an early talent for music, and played violin with Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and studied music at Huddersfield Technical College, but sadly by the age of 21, she developed hearing difficulties and had to give up music. This encouraged her lifelong love of Art. She worked as a photographers’ artist, later moving to Swanage, Dorset to run a dining room. She returned to Huddersfield, and with her second husband Brian has been a regular attender of St John’s Church Birkby. Despite personal difficulties, Olwen has been one of the most regular and enthusiastic members of the Society for many years.
Matthew Evans 2011 – 2017 Matthew Evans trained in Graphic Design and for many years worked as a designer for Hallmark cards. Before joining H.A.S. in 2000, he attended Brighouse Art Circle and has continued to do so. He has specialised in pastels for some time, as well as favouring the subjects of sunsets and flower gardens. By agreeing to serve two terms as President, he has been the longest serving President since Norman Culley. He continues to be an active member of the Council since finishing his term. He has given demonstrations and worked in the community, including with pupils at local schools. Matthew pursues a very active life in art whilst having a full time job with Lloyds Bank, and is very much a family man, his wife Helen and daughter Amy often assisting with Society activities.
David Whiting 2017 – 2020 David Whiting taught Art in secondary and comprehensive schools for 28 years, which overlapped with 22 years as an adult education tutor, with five years as a curriculum coordinator for Huddersfield Technical College, and finally three years running independent classes at Almondbury. David joined HAS in 2000 and Council in 2003, serving as Exhibition Secretary, Secretary, Syllabus Secretary, outdoor day organiser and Vice President. David led the setting up of the HAS website and email in 2008. David took over responsibility for the archives from Pat Pridmore, and is the author of this history.