Elgar explored country lanes on two wheels
EDWARD Elgar is regarded by many as the most celebrated English composer, but perhaps less well known is his enthusiasm for cycling.
It was on two wheels that Elgar became well acquainted with Tewkesbury and its environs.
The composer of The Enigma Variations was living in Alexandra Road, Malvern when at the age of 43 in 1900 he bought his first bicycle – a Royal Sunbeam, acquired for a princely £21/ 10/ 00 (£1, 200 in today’s values).
He took lessons from a local man named Squire Little and in a month had mastered the machine.
Elgar’s wife Alice took lessons too, but didn’t share her husband’s penchant for pedalling. She did, however, keep a record of each cycling trip made by Edward.
From it we learn that the cycling season started in March and in that month, 1901 Elgar cocked his leg over the Sunbeam’s crossbar and struck out for Upton on Severn via Hanley Swan.
Mrs Elgar’s journal reveals that by June Edward was facing the decision of whether or not to renew the tyres on his bike, the existing pair having covered an estimated 1,300 miles since new.
The great composer’s angst didn’t end there. When Sunbeam introduced a new model featuring an innovation that allowed the rider to free wheel, Elgar ordered one straight away.
This arrived in 1903, but Edward’s ecstacy was shortlived, as the bike had faulty brakes.
Rosa Burley, a family friend and former headmistress of the school in Malvern where he once gave violin lessons, often accompanied Elgar on cycling outings.
In her memoirs Rosa Burley wrote: “Our cycling trips began in earnest after Gerontius... There cannot have been a lane within 20 miles of Malvern that we did not ultimately find ... to Upton, to Tewkesbury or Hereford, to the Vale of Evesham ... to the lovely villages on the west side of the hills ... as we rode, he would often become silent and I knew that some new melody or, more probably, some new piece of orchestral texture, had occurred to him”.
None of the composer’s bikes survive.
His cycling maps have though, complete with the routes covered carefully marked in.
If you’re a fan of BBC Radio 4 Extra you may have rediscovered (or discovered) the delights of super suave sleuth Paul Temple.
The signature tune, called Coronation Scott was written by Vivian Ellis (1904-1996) who was a pupil of Cheltenham College.
Ellis was a prolific and highly successful writer of such stage musicals as Bless the Bride, Streamline, Big Ben, Tough at the Top and The Water Gypsies.
He penned about 70 altogether and from the 1920s to the mid 1950s there
» To share your pictures and memories of local people, places and events, please email them to noste[email protected] gmail.com
was always at least one Ellis show running in London’s theatreland.
Cheltonian Philip Lane (born 1950), a former pupil of the boys’ grammar school, is another well regarded composer of light music.
His big screen credits include music for The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes. There’s a long list of TV work too, including the jaunty tune to Captain Pugwash.
Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010), who lived near Minchinhampton, was one of the country’s most successful com- posers of music for TV, film, ballet and the concert hall.
A former student of the Guildhall School of Music, his credits include the themes to Brideshead Revisited, The Forsyte Saga and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, all of which collected gold discs, music for Dr Who, BBC Dickens adaptations such as Martin Chuzzlewit and the score for Labyrinth, which starred Charles Dance.
Edward Elgar used to tour Tewkesbury and the Malverns by bike
Philip Lane wrote many themes for TV and film, including Captain Pugwash, above
Vivian Ellis write several well-known tunes
Geoffrey Burgon wrote the themes to the Forsyte Saga and Brideshead Revisited