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A visit to Elgar’s birthplace “the Firs” in Lower Broadheath started well with lunch in the courtyard of the property which has been operated since last year by the National Trust.
A tour of the gardens revealed a statue of Elgar gazing out over the Malverns in the distance together with a fresco of him on his much loved bicycle.
A short video detailing the families history was viewed followed by a guided tour of the cottage of Elgar’s birth by very informative guides. Elgar was born in the cottage in 1857 the only one of 7 siblings born there and where he lived for the next 2 years before the family moved to No. 10 High Street,Worcester where his father opened his music shop.
Elgar eventually became a piano tuner and was able to display the royal seal of approval from the Dowager Queen Adelaide living then in Great Witley Court.
Elgar was known for his love of nature, riding his bike and flying a kite whereas writing music was seen as a chore. He wrote the scores with a fountain pen as they were never altered the music already composed in his brain ready for documentation. International fame came his way after he wrote the Enigma Variations in 1899, although his wife Caroline Roberts was always convinced of his talent. She acted as his business manager and social secretary, dealt with his mood swings and was a ‘perceptive musical critic’.
Elgar was awarded a baronetcy in 1931 choosing the title Sir Edward Elgar 1st Baronet of Broadheath – after the village where he was born.
An entertaining and educational evening with Henry Sandon who identified and valued several items produced by members of the audience including a twin handled C19 vase, a late C19 Dresden vase featuring a street scene and a female Toby Jug by Martha Gunn who used to assist ladies bathing in Regency days in Brighton who were “taking the water”. Henry brought a photo of himself valuing Ozzy the Owl at an Antiques Road Show in Northampton carried in a plastic carrier bag before being valued at £20,000 and later sold for £22,000 now residing in the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent.
He then invited all present to the re-opening of the revamped Worcester Porcelain Museum on 30th June 11am.
At the end of the evening he was presented with bread pudding by one of his most avid fans who has clocked up 220 road show visits and a box of cheese from the Civic Society.
Mustn’t forget to help him celebrate his 90th birthday on 2nd August!
Even with such a busy life he managed to find a ‘cosy’ home in Worcestershire namely Wolverton Hall where with his wife he raised a family of 4 sons and where he attempts to spend as many weekends as possible his favourite place being the garden where he writes the odd novel or 2 in longhand, only fitting for a descendant of the brother of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
During the talk given by James Pettifer on 14th November in St. Andrews Hall on the origins of what became known as Pettifer’s Yard i.e. 19 High Street, he showed an old map of what was a Saxon settlement around Pershore with the Avon even then becoming known as a trade artery. We were told that if Chaucer is read it is made clear that the Saxon times produced the equivalent of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll!
Amongst No. 19’s claim to fame was being one of the first in Pershore to have a Thomas Crapper toilet installed, although the building at the rear was an C18 woolbarn during the times when wool stapling was at its height and one of the sources of local wealth.
A talk was given by Keith Goddard one of the extremely knowledgeable trustees of Number 8, beginning with a little of the history of the building originally called Portland House and much more about the conversion from a very rundown building to a community centre featuring a theatre, dance studio, meeting rooms and café.
He showed an early photo dated approx. 1890 with the next one dated 1905 featuring a retail shop called Greenhous with a Georgian style frontage after which in 1960 the Co-op installed 2 bay windows, it later became the YMCA charity shop.
Wychavon District Council agreed to buy the building and after 5 years when Number 8 proved it was a viable proposition, agreed a 99 year lease at a literally peppercorn rent. Number 8 Theatre and Community Arts Centre opened its doors in December 2004 having run a makeshift cinema for a while every Saturday night at the rear of the charity shop.
The various phases of the building were shown from excavating a mediaeval cooking pot which it is rumoured later became a chamber pot, found in a cellar under the rear yard of the property, through to its latest refit his year after which it was officially re-opened on 28th September. Who knows what the future holds?
From the outset the community enjoyed daily Anglo-Catholic worship which continues to the present time. Residency in the community has been expanded to welcome practising Anglicans from anywhere in the country. Many visitors still attend Sunday celebrations of the Mass.
Both the Almshouses and St Leonards Church, a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture, were designed by Philip Charles Hardwick,a member of the Oxford Movement. This was reflected in the Anglo Catholic choir school tradition. The choristers, who boarded within the community, sang in daily services until the choir school closed in 1945.
The church is famous for its frescos, devised by Revd James Skinner, the first vicar-warden. Frescos of saints, (female!) surround the walls of the St Leonards. St Leonards, a grade 1 listed building, continues to benefit from the generous donations of benefactors.
Within the community were the cloisters, reconstructed medieval chapel, theological library and the Grand Hall. It was there that two of the residents plied us with coffee, tea and cake.