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Alfred Leete, graphic artist

Alfred Leete

Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete was born in Thorpe Achurch in Northamptonshire on 28th August 1882.  His parents, John and Harriet, were farmers.  John Leete gave up farming, due to ill health, in 1893 and the family moved to Weston-super-Mare, where Harriet ran a series of boarding houses.  Alfred attended Kingsholme School and the School of Science and Art (now Weston College).  At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a surveyor in Bristol.  He loved drawing and was a self-taught artist.  In 1897 the Daily Graphic paid him for a drawing and he went on to make regular contributions to the Bristol Magpie.

In 1899 Alfred Leete moved to London to work as an artist for a printer.  He went freelance in 1905, when the magazine Punch published one of his drawings.  Over the next few years he contributed cartoons and drawings to the comic Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, the Pall Mall Gazette, Strand Magazine, Tatler, Sketch, The Bystander, Punch and the London Opinion.  He specialised in comic illustration, cartoons, posters and advertisements. 

In November 1909 Alfred married Edith Jane Webb.  Their first child, a daughter called Betty, was born in 1910 but died a few weeks later. Their son Alfred John was born in 1914.

Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914.  On 5th September 1914 Alfred’s drawing of the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, pointing his finger, featured on the front cover of the London Opinion, with the words “Your Country Needs YOU” beneath the picture.  The image was later used by the magazine as an unofficial recruitment poster with the words “Britons [Kitchener] “Wants YOU”, Join Your Country’s Army!”.  The magazine also had this image displayed on advertising hoardings in London in the autumn of 1914. 

Poster Lord Kitchener
Alfred Leete’s iconic drawing of Lord Kitchener

In 1917 the American artist James Montgomery Flagg adapted Alfred’s drawing by substituting Uncle Sam for Lord Kitchener and using the slogan “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”.  It also inspired similar posters, which were produced in Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia.  In the Second World War Kitchener’s face was replaced by Churchill’s on a recruitment poster for the Australian Imperial Force.  Although Alfred Leete’s drawing of Lord Kitchener was never used as an official recruitment poster, it has become one of the most iconic and enduring images of the First World War.

During the First World War Alfred produced several comic cartoons, which made fun of the Germans. In 1916 he joined the Artists’ Rifles. He served with them on the Western Front in France and produced a series of drawings of his experiences there.

In the 1920s Alfred produced illustrations for successful advertising campaigns for companies such as Guinness, Bovril, London Underground, Younger’s Ales and Rowntree’s.  He often visited Weston-super-Mare and produced advertisements for local businesses and cartoons about local issues. In 1925 he designed the cover for the Weston-super-Mare Official Guide, which was entitled “Atlantic Breezes”.

Alfred Leete Atlantic Breezes
Atlantic Breezes 1

Alfred Leete was taken ill on a trip to Italy and he died of a brain haemorrhage at his home in Kensington, London on 17th June 1933.  He was buried in Milton Road Cemetery in Weston-super-Mare.

Grave of Alfred Leete
Alfred Leete’s grave in Milton Rd, Weston


Knightstone Island

Knightstone Island

Knightstone Island is now permanently linked to the northern end of Weston-super-Mare’s seafront but on a map dated 1806 it is shown as a separate island with a tidal causeway.

1806 Plan of Weston
Plan of Weston-super-Mare showing Knightstone Island in 1806

From The First Guide to Weston-super-Mare 1822, edited by Ernest Baker and reprinted in 1901.

Knightstone Island was acquired by the Pigott family in 1696 (they later became the Smyth-Pigotts) and they owned it until the early 19th century.  It was purchased in around 1820 by Mr John Howe from Bristol.  He constructed the first medicinal baths there, which were rented in 1822 by Benjamin Atwell.  There were hot and cold saltwater baths, a lodging house, public refreshment rooms and a reading room.  At that time the island was connected to the mainland by a natural pebble ridge, which was covered at high tide.

Reverend Thomas Pruen bought Knightstone Island in 1824.  He commissioned the construction of a causeway to the island, which was above the high tide level, and a low pier, which was used by pleasure boats.  He also built an open-air swimming pool on the shore, which was replenished by seawater at every high tide.  This was extended into the current Marine Lake in 1929.

Dr Edward Long Fox, a physician from Brislington, bought Knightstone Island c1828.  He and his son Dr F.K. Fox carried out further developments on the island, including raising the level of the causeway using Cornish granite, building a lodging house for patients and a new bath house. 

The island changed hands several more times after 1850 and the buildings on it were rebuilt or re-modelled several times. The island was eventually acquired by the local council.   They enlarged the island by building a new retaining wall on the north eastern side.  They built a new swimming pool and a Pavilion, which both opened in May 1902.  The Pavilion was designed by the architect J.S. Stewart and included refreshment rooms, a reading room, a billiard room and a theatre.  It had electric lighting and a hot water heating system.  Seawater was used in the swimming pool and a huge settling tank was constructed underneath the pool and pavilion.

In September 1903 hundreds of people were temporarily marooned on the island and Eddie Bryant, the Pavilion’s electrical engineer, was drowned when the causeway was swept away in a storm during a performance at the theatre.

Band concerts, plays, operas and other shows were performed at the Knightstone Pavilion and films were shown but the stage was too small for large productions.

By the 1970s Knightstone Pavilion was struggling financially and it finally closed in 1991. There were plans to convert the site into a leisure complex but these never came to anything and the buildings on Knightstone Island gradually deteriorated.

In 2006-7 the whole island was redeveloped.  The Bath House and front section of the ground floor of the Pavilion were converted into commercial premises.  The rest of the Pavilion and the swimming pool were converted into homes and two new apartment blocks were built on the island.  

The Queen visited to re-open the island’s perimeter walkway on 20th July 2007.  The Coronation Promenade was first opened in 1953 to celebrate her coronation.

Further Reading:

Knightstone: The Story of Weston-super-Mare’s ‘Island’ Theatre: Jonathan Shorney. Redcliffe Press, 2015

Bath House entrance
Entrances to the Bath House on the left and Swimming Pool on the right
Pavilion Knightstone
Knightstone Pavilion
2017 Knightstone
Knightstone Island in 2017
Plaque for Coronation Promenade
Plaque commemorating the re-opening of the Coronation Promenade by the Queen in 2007

 Marine Lake and Knightstone Island

Knightstone Island from across Marine Lake







Heritage Open Days, 7-10 September

A number of North Somerset venues are participating in Heritage Open Days this September.  Local venues include: