After spending Easter with family in Worcester, it seemed as though I had been away from Cambridge a long time when I got back on Sunday. It is good to be back!
Wanting to make the most of the sunny weather in Worcestershire, my sister and I thought we would visit the Elgar Birthplace Museum, which is about three miles outside Worcester, in Lower Broadheath. It was somewhere we had been for outings when we were younger, but neither of us had been for about ten years, and so ended up improvising slightly – we chose a bus going in what we decided was about the right direction and hoped for the best. The chatty bus driver assured us that we were indeed on the right bus and said he would let us know when we got to the right stop ‘if he remembered’ thus lending a pleasing air of unpredictability to our adventure…
The travel gods were on our side, however, and we were deposited on the side of the road next to a sign that said ‘Elgar Birthplace Museum’. After wandering up and down the narrow country road for a few minutes (neither of us are blessed with a sense of direction), and then being pointed in the right direction by a dog-walker with a Labrador (who was ecstatic to see us and gave us the impression we were the most exciting people ever to walk through Lower Broadheath (the Labrador, that is, not the dog walker)) we found the museum entrance and our adventure began in earnest.
The museum is made up of two buildings – the Elgar Visitor Centre and the actual cottage where Elgar was born – and a lovely cottage garden. In the visitor centre they have a film and event room, named ‘The Carice Elgar Room’ after Elgar’s daughter, as well as an exhibition space and gift shop (selling a lot of very tempting books and scores). We were greeted by friendly staff handing us chocolate mini eggs as it was Good Friday, so we definitely chose the right day to visit!
After watching the introductory film in the visitor centre, we wandered out and found my favourite portrait of Elgar on the wall outside.
And also some instruments to play! These were probably intended for the museum’s younger visitors, but since we seemed to be the youngest people around that day it seemed only polite to have a go!
And then on towards the birthplace cottage, where we found Elgar himself, sitting on a bench at the bottom of the garden, gazing towards the Malvern Hills.
Going in to the cottage, the first thing you see is Elgar’s piano, which bears the ‘Elgar Brothers’ stamp, and came from the shop which Elgar’s father ran in Worcester High Street.
Past the piano room, there is a study housing Elgar’s gramophone player, heavy wooden music stand, pendulum clock, and exhibition cases with various pieces of music manuscript, Elgar’s ink well, spectacles, and pipes.
Up the stairs, there is the Birthroom, the Hobbies Room, and the Travel Room, holding collections of things relevant to many different periods of Elgar’s life. The Birthroom collections include early photographs, family furniture, and sketches by Elgar, and in the Hobbies Room there is evidence of Elgar’s many other interests beside music, such as cycling and woodwork (there is an Aeolian harp build by Elgar!). There are lots of things from Elgar’s travels and projects in the next room, such as a cast of his hand made in Rome, and concert programmes from performances of Elgar’s work, for example at the 1890 Three Choirs Festival, as well as various interesting newspaper snippets.
By this time, we were conscious that we should probably get going to catch the bus back into Worcester, since the buses were few and far between on Good Friday! After being pressed with more Easter chocolate on our way out, we went on our way, and were picked up by the same bus driver as had driven us there, who said we should finish our day out by visiting the Elgar statue at the end of Worcester High Street, since we would pass by there anyway. So it was there, opposite the cathedral and very close to where the Elgar Brothers music shop used to be, that our adventure ended!
If this post has inspired you to look into Elgar, there’s plenty of material available both at the UL (Elgar complete edition at MR200.bb.3.1-), lots of borrowable music (remember to check the card catalogues), and Elgar literature including Darling Chuck: the Carice letters. At the Pendlebury there is more music and literature. The Pen also has a CD of Elgar conducting The dream of Gerontius and a fascinating CD featuring the sketches of Symphony no. 3, which was left incomplete at Elgar’s death : CD.M.561.
All photos by kind permission of Nelly Crane.