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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Leo Bates

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Leo Bates has been recognized as a skilled illustrator in several fields, despite having a fairly small output, yet very little has been written about him.

He was born on 11 May 1890 in Liverpool, and named Leonard Fison Bates, the seventh and last child of William Taylor Bates (the manager of a flour mill, born in Essex in 1846) and his wife Charlotte Mary, née Johnson (born in Germany in 1848). The family had lived in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, for many years, before moving to South London in the mid-1870s. At the time of the 1881 census, they were living in Lower Deptford Road, Rotherhithe (with William working as a foreman in a flour mill). Two sons and a daughter were born there in 1877, 1881 and 1883, with two more sons, including Leonard, born in Liverpool in 1885 and 1890.

By 1891, the family had moved to Chilton Coton, a village near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, where they remained for at least the next 20 years.

Leonard Bates first came to public attention in July 1900, when The Coventry Evening Telegraph (11 July) reported on an inquest held in Nuneaton into the death of 11 year-old Charles Hibberd, who had died after falling into the road and being run over by a horse-drawn cart. He and Leonard, who were both on their way to school, had been playing, and there had been a suggestion that Leonard had pushed Charles. However, the Coroner instructed the jury to reject this, as there was no evidence, and they returned a verdict of accidental death.

It is not known what, if any, artistic training Leonard Bates had, but by the time of the 1911 census, he was describing himself as a black and white artist, working at the family home in Chilton Coton, although nothing attributed to him has been traced prior to 1919.

On 31 August 1915, at Chelsea Register Office, he married Maysie Torr. Born on 5 May 1890 in Paddington, she was the daughter of Edward Eli Torr, a watchmaker, and his wife Ruth Ashford, née Webling. They went on to have two children: Anthony John (born on 11 March 1920 – he went on to become an artist and writer) and Michael William (born on 2 March 1922). At the time of the marriage, Leonard was living at 65 Stadium Street, Chelsea, and Maysie at 30B Percival Street, Clerkenwell. They both subsequently moved to 19 Taylor Avenue, Kew Gardens, Surrey.

Prior to the births of his two sons, Leonard had served in the army during the First World War, signing up in Grantham on 28 December 1916 and enlisting in the Machine Gun Corps in January 1917, when his wife’s address was given as 25 Devonport Street, Shepherds Bush, London. When he was demobilised in February 1919 he gave his address as 29 St. Stephens Avenue, Shepherds Bush.

His first known illustrations, under what became his professional name of Leo Bates, appeared later that year, in a book of adventure stories written by Charles Gilson and published by Cassell & Co. He also painted the dustwrapper for a novel by “Sapper” (i.e. H.C. McNeile) published by Hodder & Stoughton. He went on to produce more dustwrappers for Hodder & Stoughton – how many is not known, but the accompanying checklist includes four. (His name also occasionally appeared on dustwrappers from other publishers). In 1920 he illustrated his first book for Blackie & Son, and he went on to illustrate at least another 25 books for the company, mainly boys’ adventure stories by authors such as Arthur O. Cooke, J.T. Gorman and Percy F. Westerman, and girls’ stories by authors such as Bessie Marchant, Joanna Lloyd and Nancy Breary. All told, he is credited with illustrating around 50 books, although his career spanned around 35 years, so he could not be described as prolific. It is, however, quite likely that many more of his illustrations were published anonymously.

His work also appeared in a number of periodicals in the 1920s and 1930s, including The Bookman, The Passing Show, The Captain, The Illustrated London News, The Wide World Magazine, The Detective Magazine (for which he produced several covers between 1923 and 1925), The Royal Magazine, The Bystander, The Tatler and The Strand Magazine.

In 1931, working out of 5 Brook Green Studios, Hammersmith, he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the one and only time.

During the 1920s, Bates and his family moved home two or three times, being recorded at 31 St. Stephens Avenue, Shepherds Bush in 1921, and 96 Hanover Road, Brondesbury Park, Willesden, in 1925. However, the marriage between Leonard and Maysie was not to last, and in October 1932 Leonard moved to Whitstable where he began cohabiting with Mary Webber. In December 1932 he and Mary moved to Telford House, 7 Sternhold Avenue, Streatham, and in October 1933 Maysie petitioned for a divorce, which was finalized a year later, with Leonard being ordered to pay maintenance to both Maysie and his two sons.

Leonard and Mary (who had been born on 22 May 1912 in Swansea) immediately married in Kensington. They went on to have a son, Richard John Fison Bates, born on 12 July 1935. (Mary also had a son from a previous relationship, Richard John Webber, born on 21 April 1925). At some point, they moved to Hillybroom, West Mersea, Colchester, where they were living in 1937.

A year after this, at the beginning of the Autumn Term 1938, Bates took a post as Art Master at Sedbergh School, Cumbria (although at the time it was in the West Riding of Yorkshire). He remained there until the end of the Summer Term 1941, living at 81 The Terrace, Sedbergh.

Mary appears to have died in 1941, and on 23 June 1945, in Paddington, Leonard married Winifred Marjorie Hale, born in British Guyana on 2 September 1907. She was a graduate of Girton College, Cambridge, and a former teacher and civil servant.

Bates continued his career as an illustrator after leaving Sedbergh, illustrating books mainly for Blackie & Son but also receiving commissions from the Oxford University Press, George Newnes, J.M. Dent & Sons, John Murray, the Brockhampton Press and Hodder & Stoughton. He also provided illustrations for the periodicals Britannia and Eve and The Sketch.

As an illustrator, his work was well-regarded. In 1924 The Bookman described Where the Rainbow Ends (a novelization of a children’s Christmas play first performed in 1911, written by Clifford Mills, and published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1921) as “one of the finest art books offered to children”). Brigid Pippin and Lucy Micklethwait, in The Dictionary of Book Illustrators: The Twentieth Century, commented that Bates was “A dexterous, fluent, even slick draughtsman who turned his hand mainly to boys’ adventure stories and girls’ school stories. He worked mainly in pencil, occasionally adding white chalk highlights or grey washes for half-tone reproduction.”

His last known work appeared in 1954, and he died in Falmouth in November 1957. His first wife died in 1964, and his third wife died in a nursing home in Bedfordshire on 27 August 1988. She left an estate valued at £82,613.


Books illustrated by Leo Bates
The Captives of the Caves and Other Stories of Adventure by Charles Gilson, Cassell & Co., 1919
Mufti by “Sapper”, Hodder & Stoughton, 1919 (dustwrapper)
Sally Makes Good: A Story of Tasmania by Bessie Marchant, Blackie & Son, 1920
The Vanity Girl by Compton Mackenzie, Cassell & Co., 1920 (dustwrapper)
Ambrose Lavendale, Diplomat by E. Phillips Oppenheim, Hodder & Stoughton, 1920 (dustwrapper)
The Honourable Algernon Knox, Detective by E. Phillips Oppenheim, Hodder & Stoughton, 1920 (dustwrapper)
The First Sir Percy: An Adventure of the Laughing Cavalier by Baroness Orczy, Hodder & Stoughton, 1920 (dustwrapper)
Where the Rainbow Ends by Clifford Mills, Hodder & Stoughton, 1921
Island Born: A Tale of Hawaii by Bessie Marchant, Blackie & Son, 1921
A Girl of the Pampas by Bessie Marchant, Blackie & Son, 1921
Stephen Goes to Sea by Arthur O. Cooke, Blackie & Son, 1922
Harriet Goes A-Roaming by Bessie Marchant, Blackie & Son, 1922
Songs for Youth (from Rudyard Kipling’s Collected Verse) by Rudyard Kipling, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924
Ben’s Adventure” Being the Tale of What Befell Ben Medlicott in the Years 1823 and 1824 by Arthur O. Cooke, Blackie & Son, 1925
Elephant Swamp by Ralph Durand, Blackie & Son, 1926
The Fulfilment of Daphne Bruno by Ernest Raymond, Cassell & Co., 1926 (dustwrapper)
A Shanghai Adventure by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1928
Burmese Wonder Tales by Donald A. Mackenzie, Blackie & Son, 1928
The Road to Mandalay by J.T. Gorman, Blackie & Son, 1929
Through the Air and the Jungle by J.T. Gorman, Blackie & Son, 1931
Planter Dick: A Story of Malaya by Arthur O. Cooke, Blackie & Son, 1932
The Lost Crown of Ghorpora by J.T. Gorman, Blackie & Son, 1935
The Big Book of Great Short Stories, Odhams Press, 1935 (with other artists)
Highly Inflammable by Max Saltmarsh, Michael Joseph, 1936 (dustwrapper)
The Secret Land by Caleb Hawer, Blackie & Son, 1938
At Grips with the Swastika by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1940
The Mystery of Station XR by Michael Poole, Blackie & Son, 1944
Brassbounders of the “Rosemount” by Shalimar, Oxford University Press, 1944
The Exploding Ray by C. Bernard Rutley, Blackie & Son, 1945
Catherine Goes to School by Joanna Lloyd, Blackie & Son, 1945
The Mystery of Gaily More by Jane Paterson Milne, Blackie & Son, 1946
Jane Runs Away from School by Joanna Lloyd, Blackie & Son, 1946
Monkey Ahoy! By West Lathrop, George Newnes Ltd., 1946
Newnes Engineer’s Reference Book ed. by F.J. Camm, George Newnes Ltd., 1946
The Impossible Prefect by Nancy Breary, Blackie & Son, 1947
Catherine, Head of the House by Joanna Lloyd, Blackie & Son, 1947
Audrey, A New Girl by Joanna Lloyd, Blackie & Son, 1948
The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1948 (re-issue)
Three New Girls by Joanna Lloyd, Blackie & Son, 1949
Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, John Murray, 1949 (dustwrapper)
“Nonsense!” Said the Tortoise by Margaret Joyce Baker, Brockhampton Press, 1949 (published in America as Homer the Tortoise)
I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy, Brockhampton Press, 1950 (re-issue)
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Brockhampton Press, 1951
Where the White Sambhur Roams by Richard Lionel Spittel, Hodder & Stoughton, 1951
Peril on the Amazon by Douglas V. Duff, Blackie & Son, 1953
Prince of Sherwood by John Kennett, Blackie & Son, 1954


  1. Found this very interesting and wanted to thank you for taking the time to research this and write it up.
    Leo Bates was a 3rd cousin 2x removed to me and I love learning about the people I have in my family tree.

  2. I have a very old black and white picture done by Leo Bates entitled “THE LOCKET’.. i am currently looking for a new home for it..