Gaskell Society Tour to Worcester, Malvern and Alfrick

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On Tuesday, 31 May, thirty nine members and friends began a tour designed to follow the Gaskell association with the area around Worcester and Malvern. Our first port of call was Worcester Cathedral, where we enjoyed Prince Arthur’s Chantry, King John’s tomb and reference to the Magna Carta. Our major concern was Sir Edward Elgar’s association with the cathedral which, along with the River Severn, inspired much of his music. >From the cathedral, we travelled to Elgar’s birth place, a small cottage, fine garden and repository for much of his music, letters, and Alice Elgar’s letters and diaries. The curator was able to read letters between Meta and Julia Gaskell and Alice and Edward Elgar. He was able to give some information during our visit but has consequently provided more precise details.

The Malvern Concert Club was founded by Elgar and

Arthur Troyte Griffith in 1903, with the aim of bringing the

very best chamber performances to Malvern. Mrs Holland

was present at the inaugural concert, performed by the

Brodsky Quartet in 1903. The three times that Mrs

Thurstan Holland is mentioned in Alice Elgar’s diaries are

for Malvern Concert Club performances by the Brodsky

Quartet in 1903, 1905 and 1907; these concerts were held

in the Imperial Hotel. Lady Elgar’s diary for 8th December,

1905 concert reads

“Had tea with Mrs T. Holland & the 4tet”. Adolph Brodsky

was head of the Royal Manchester College of Music, and

friend of Halle. They were both likely to be friends of Meta

and Julia Gaskell at that time.

On Wednesday, 1 June, we enjoyed a two hour tour of the splendid Madresfield Court, which has its origins in the 12th Century, was rebuilt in 1593 and is said to be the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead in the novel Brideshead Revisited. The house was part of a plan to, if necessary, move the UK Government to Worcester in 1942 and for the Royal Family to reside at Madresfield Court. The Court is rich in furniture, pictures, and a chapel decorated in the Arts and Crafts style by the Birmingham Group of artists.

After lunch at the Malvern Hills Hotel, we travelled to the village of Alfrick. Marianne Holland’s grave, after being obscured by valerian and other plants, is now identified beside the porch of the Church of St Mary Magdalene. We were welcomed by the Vicar, Anne Potter, and were given afternoon tea by members of the congregation. Several members of our group read items from the Parish Magazines of the period when Marianne was in residence at Alfrick Court. We were able to trace letters written by Elizabeth Gaskell when she was staying at Boughton House, Worcester, in 1850 and 1856, to show that Marianne had lived in the area from 1893 until her death in 1920 and that Marianne’s daughter Florence was the last to reside in West Malvern in 1942. So the association with the area lasted 92 years.

On Thursday, 2 June, the group visited Leigh Court Barn, which dates from probably 1325, and provided food and income for the monks of Pershore Abbey. Our final visit was to Wightwick Manor, a National Trust property, built in 1887. The Manor has a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, fabrics and ceramics. As always there is a Gaskell connection. Several of Elizabeth’s letters refer to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and John Ruskin and she met and conversed with them on several occasions.

This was another successful tour for Gaskell Society members, assisted by the stay at the comfortable Bank House Hotel and the good nature, conversation and knowledge of the members themselves.

Jean Alston