A forgotten Christmas tradition from the archives
22 December 2017 - Keith Rowntree
With Christmas almost here we asked university archivist Keith Rowntree to dig into the history of the estate for something suitably seasonal.
One of our university’s little-celebrated connections, and one with a Christmas twist, is with the Leeds School of Art that in 1927 developed into the Leeds College of Art. In 1969 the Art College moved from its home in Vernon Street to brand new premises on Woodhouse Lane. This was part of Leeds City Council’s plans to gather Further Education Colleges onto one site. Leeds Central Colleges emerged during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, during this process, the Art College was split in two, much to the alarm of staff. The senior Art College moved to the Central Colleges site to form part of Leeds Polytechnic in 1970 and has evolved into our own School of Art, Architecture & Design. Meanwhile the Branch College of Leeds College of Art remained in Rossington Street, later taking over the vacant Vernon Street building, this College evolved into what we know today as Leeds Arts University.
A seasonal tradition at the Art College was the production of a Christmas card, sent on behalf of the Principal, Staff and Students. Cards went to local dignitaries such as the Lord Mayor of Leeds and Earl of Harewood, as well as the Royal Family and political leaders such as the Prime Minister. The heyday of these cards seems to have been during the 1930s and there was an even mix of spiritual, nativity themes and secular subjects such as snowy scenes of Leeds.
Cards included calligraphic skills mixed with print of varying media, including linocuts and etchings. They were produced by both staff and students although often the artists are not recorded. One tutor, central to the tradition, was Edward Bouverie Hoyton, a printmaker, listed as a member of staff in the Leeds College of Art prospectuses from 1934 to 1939. Throughout this period, he was a teacher within the School of Industrial Design and Crafts. He taught a full range of print techniques including: dry point, etching, aquatint, mezzotint, soft ground etching, wood engraving and colour printing. Over the years Hoyton worked at Leeds, his card designs reflected his Christian beliefs and often returned to ’The Adoration of the Shepherds’, a theme connected to his prestigious Prix de Rome award.
The Christmas card tradition appears to have died out in the 1940s, undoubtedly hastened by paper shortages during the Second World War, and seems not to have been revived.