Tuesday 1 July 2014

Music and memories at RVW's family home

Leith Hill Place from the South - (c) National Trust Images / Andrew Butler
Leith Hill Place from the South
(c) National Trust Images / Andrew Butler
On Sunday we spent a happy hour or two at Leith Hill Place near Dorking. Situated on Leith Hall, with fabulous views over the Downs, the house is on the Leith Hill estate and has been owned by the National Trust since the 1940's when the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams gave it to the National Trust. The house had been bought in the 19th century by Josiah Wedgwood III, grandson of the famous potter and grandfather of RVW. It was subsequently lived in by Josiah and his wife Caroline (sister of the naturalist Charles Darwin), and their daughters (including RVW's mother). 

After RVW's mother's early widowhood (in 1875) she and RVW returned to the house to live there. From the age of three RVW was brought up at Leith Hill Place, so it is very much an essential stop for anyone interested in RVW and his music. The house is without original contents and the Trust has opened it up as a work in progress. On the second floor, there is a sound-scape which uses music and letters to evoke RVW's life and there is a regular concert series, with Roderick Williams performing on July 5, and the Hepplewhite Piano Trio on 12 July.

Leith Hill Place tea room © John Miller
Leith Hill Place tea room
(image from National Trust)
© John Miller
As you wander round the music of RVW is ever present, but the information and displays in the house also include Charles Darwin (who visited often, and RVW's mother and sisters helped him collect worms when they were children) and RVW's cousin Sir Ralph Wedgwood (architect of the London and North Eastern Railway network) who was the Trust's first tenant in the 1940's. You are encouraged to sit, read, listen and explore, the staff (volunteers) are friendly and enthusiastic, and when we visited there was a lovely smell of baking. In the kitchen there was a fabulous selection of cakes and freshly baked scones; to be eaten in the dining room with a view of the South Downs.

Visiting the house makes it clear what a well-to-do background RVW came from; it isn't an exceptionally large house but would certainly have been attractively comfortable. In the Terrace Room there is a small display about the way the room looked originally, with pictures of it in the 1950's when Sir Ralph Wedgwood was the tenant. Plus the information that three of the pictures in the room were important enough that one is now in the Paul Mellon Centre and two are in the Wedgewood museum.

Alexandra Kennedy
Alexandra Kennedy
On Saturday 5 July, Roderick Williams (baritone), Gary Matthewman (piano) and John Greening (reader) are performing their programme Music and Poetry of the Great War. Then on 12 July, the Hepplewhite Piano Trio will be performing Frank Bridge's Phantasy Trio and music by Astor Piazolla. On 19 July the performers are soprano Alexandra Kennedy (a descendant of the Wedgwood family), Violeta Barrena (violin) and Rupert Compston (piano) and their programme includes RVW's Three Vocalises, Linen Lea and Along the Field. Finally on 9 August, an all day vocal workshop and concert See Nature Rejoicing celebrating nature and its influence on British poets and composers including poetry by Ursula Vaughan Williams (RVW's second wife) and RVW himself.

Concerts start at 6.30pm and include an interval drink. They take place in the terrace room, which forms an attractive but intimate setting, with glorious views. Further information and booking from the NT's Leith Hill Place website.

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