In 1903 his parents returned to England from Singapore. His father was unwell, but he agreed that his son could, at the age of sixteen, leave Beaumont and enrol at the Slade School of Art. As Leach as written, this decision brought him unbridled joy. At the Slade, although he resented drawing from the antique when there was the figure to study, he felt that this was where he wanted to be. The idyll was cut short when, after only a year, his father was diagnosed as having cancer of the liver with only a few months to live. Dutifully Leach lived with his parents, reluctantly promising on his father's deathbed to seek a more established and sound career in the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation.
For a time Leach stayed with his uncle and aunt, his mother's sister, in Manchester, where he fell in love with their daughter, his cousin Muriel, though because of Leach's young age, his lack of prospects and his close blood ties, they were forbidden to continue the relationship. Working in the headquarters of the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation in the City of London, Leach was desperately unhappy, and after a year, in utter despair and much to the anguish of his stepmother, he threw up his job and moved to the country. At the age of 21 he received his modest inheritance, and enrolled at the London School of Art, a small, independent institution run by Frank Brangwyn and other practising artists. The archive yields a prospectus for the year 1908, detailing the tutors and range of courses, an invaluable document evoking the intense study and liveliness of the school. Here a Japanese student named Kotaro Takamura, told Leach about Japan, reminding him of his own childhood and inspiring him to read Lafcadio, Hearn's vivid but romantic descriptions of old Japan. Stirred by his own memories and those of Kotaro he decided to return and teach etching, a skill he had learnt from Brangwyn, and at which he excelled. A chance meeting with Muriel revealed that neither had lost their love and it was finally agreed that they could marry.