“ The birthplace of Edward Elgar / Address: Crown East Lane / Lower Broadheath / Worcester WR2 6RH / Tel: 01905 333224 „
As the Malvern Hills rise out of the haze of a beautiful spring day, we turn down a little village lane with a tiny church on the corner with a very unusual wooden spire. The village is the village of Lower Broadheath, and as you drive up past a country hedgerow on the right, you could have no idea that hidden behind it, next to the village pub 'the plough' is the birthplace of one of our most famous composers, Sir Edward Elgar.
The moment you step out of the car there is a feeling of peace and calm, the car park is ample big enough with a few picnic tables laid out under a few cherry trees, which at the moment look glorious with all their blossom. You then make your way down to the modern visitors centre.
If you agree to gift aid you get a 12 month season ticket to come back as many times as you like. This is where I caused a few problems, as I visited with my 2 girls the entrance fee would be £13, but I bought a family ticket for £14 certainly not begrudging the extra £1 which would go towards the upkeep of the cottage. My reasoning was, if we returned my husband would probably be with us. The poor lady on the desk really struggled to get her head around that one.
You also get free audio guides to take around with you, and for each section when you have a spoken section there is another option to listen to the piece of music that is mentioned in the cabinet, but many people just go and sit in the garden and listen to the music.
Within the modern visitors centre there are a small number of glass cabinets containing things mainly connected with his music like the violin that he learnt on as a child, his mother's clarinet and many scores that he was working on, including the final page of what was supposed to be the 'Pomp and Circumstance' as I piano teacher, I'd like to think I can read music, but I couldn't work out much that was familiar from it.
I love looking at original manuscripts, especially when you think back to your school days when teachers would tell you off for every mistake and if your work wasn't neat. Then you look at the work of people like Elgar, who are very accomplished and influential and honestly their original work is a mess. He'd fail a grade 5 theory exam on neatness alone, the sticks on the notes are all the wrong way round, they are doodled all over and there are scribbles and crossings out all over it. Mind you the messy manuscripts don't come close to an exhibition that I saw recently of Percy Shelly's work where his doodles really did look like the inspiration for Beavis and Butthead.
Then there are the sweet personal things, like his old hymn book from the local church, where he has scribbled out the harmony, written 'bad' underneath it and written in his own. Mind you, I've done the same thing with the New English Hymnal.
He was well decorated during his life with various medals and honorary degrees and one of the notices indicates that he only accepted his knighthood because his in-laws had not supported his marriage to his wife Alice, who clearly was his soul mate, because they felt that she had married beneath her.
This reminded me so much of my own grandparent's house only much smaller, the rooms are very small and pokey and there are only two downstairs rooms and three upstairs. The highlight for me though was of course his piano, which is beautifully carved and has the candle holders on it.
The cottage isn't furnished as you might have expected, it is just more personal effects from the Elgar family, all in display cabinets and to be honest I was a little disappointed at this, the cabinets could easily be moved to the main building and they could furnish it in a turn of the last century way which I do think would be more appealing.
In the second downstairs room there is a lovely old gramophone, with all the needles in the needle holder... that was an interesting one to explain to my iPod generation girls.
You then move upstairs to the room where he was born, this reminds me of my grandparents attic, very little light, low ceilings, squeaky floorboards and you will struggle with the stairs if you have mobility problems, they are not very big. There is a copy of the birth certificate in here, which I was a little disappointed with as it was not the original and was a copy that was procured in the seventies.
The highlight of the other rooms was his set of golf clubs, typical Edwardian wooden clubs with the tiny little bag.
The final room upstairs contained various signed photographs, all personalised to Elgar: Henry Woods, Yehudi Menuhin and Richard Strauss. There was also more evidence of his doodles as they had a page from the Daily Telegraph from 26th April 1932 which was ANZAC day so they had pictures of the soldiers at the Cenotaph which Elgar has added cats and dogs to, he also gave General Gouraud a pair of comedy glasses and the ladies in the Harvey Nichols ad gained top hats and pipes.
The garden is a typical cottage garden, there are two gravelled paths running through the middle so the girls could push their hoops down it. The garden also reminded me of my grandparents' house, the same blue forget me nots, the red tulips that are just passing their best. In a couple of months' time the roses will be in full bloom and it will be truly beautiful. There is also a bronze statue of Elgar at the bottom sat on a bench looking out over his beloved Malvern Hills.
Elgar was a very keen cyclist and walker and spent many hours and covered many miles exploring the Malverns. They have set up an official Elgar route that is signposted with little brown signs with what I think is supposed to be a violin on them, but it looks more like a guitar. If you are visiting this area and are interested in the music of Elgar it is worth driving round the Elgar Route as it is a great way to discover some of the pretty little villages in this region.
The museum does organise special events throughout the year, including talks and recitals which look like they could be really interesting and are all detailed on the website www. elgarmuseum.org
There is of course the obligatory shop, which also has a good selection of Elgar sheet music, so my Eldest is trying to get to grips with the opening of his Cello Concerto - I think I'll stick with listening to the Jacqueline du Pre version though for the time being.
As for a visit to Elgar's house, it is a lovely way to spend an hour or two, the garden is an area of peace and tranquillity, if you are interested in music and music history it is definitely for you, although I do think they could have made more of the cottage. It is interesting seeing things from the late Victorian/Edwardian age and it is when we start to enter the modern age. If however you don't have even a passing interest in music of the early 20th Century, it is probably not for you. I also think the average child would not particularly enjoy it, my kids though are just odd and they really did like it.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH