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Enigma surrounding Elgar's childhood visits to churchyard uncovered
Updated 5:39pm Tuesday 3rd June 2014 in News
Geoff Sansome and Rev Jo Musson at St John Baptist Church, Claines, with the top of Helen Leslie's tomb on which Sir Edward Elgar used to sit and read great composers' musical scores including Beethoven. Picture by Jonathan Barry 201459780.
DETECTIVE work has unlocked the 140 year old mystery of composer Sir Edward Elgar's childhood visits to a village's churchyard to study the scores of great composers.
It has long been known that the composer's maternal grandparents' graves lie in St John Baptist Church churchyard but Geoff Sansome, from Hawford, near Claines, has uncovered another link which has brought to life an old story about Elgar.
Since 2007, Mr Sansome has been trying to uncover the location of the tomb which lies near Elgar's grandparents' resting place where, as a boy, he would sit and read his favourite scores of composers including Beethoven.
The clue as to which tomb Elgar sat on came from a letter Alice Elgar wrote about a visit to Severn Grange, Claines to visit the Whinfield family, to Alice Stuart Wortley saying that "E [Edward] and I have just been out to a fine old Church and seeing the tomb of 'Helen Leslie' - early last century but E. used to think it a pretty name and used to walk out of the town with a Score - perhaps Pastoral Symph. - and sit on the stone and read it -"
For years, Mr Sansome was puzzled about the whereabouts of Helen Leslie's tomb and whether it was in Claines but trawls of the graveyard and burial records turned up no clues.
He said: “Claines has some fine altar tombs which would be great for sitting on but none of them provided any clue to Helen Leslie.
"All the graves were researched and documented in the 1970s also but there was nothing from that time.
"But over the years some of the tombs have obviously become broken or moved and there was a significant “tidy up” in the 1950s.”
Fortunately, a man known only as Vincent made records of Claines' churchyard in 1874 and Mr Sansome found his notebooks in the Worcestershire Records Office.
He made reference to a grave with the name of Leslie on it and, following more research, Mr Sansome found Helen was buried in the family vault of Reverend Gregory Boraston, her father, who was buried in Claines in 1851.
“Only the top slab exists now and this has been laid flat with the ground.
"It is now very difficult to read but we can now categorically put some substance behind the tale of young Elgar sitting on a tomb in Claines and point to the exact tomb and location.”
Tom Kelly, of the Elgar Society helped Mr Sansome with some extracts from the diaries of the Elgar family.
In 1904, Elgar himself said “In studying scores the first which came into my hands were the Beethoven symphonies.
"Anyone can have them now, but they were difficult for a boy to get in Worcester 30 years ago.
"I, however, managed to get two or three, and I remember distinctly the day I was able to buy the Pastoral Symphony. I stuffed my pockets with bread and cheese and went out into the fields to study it. That was what I always did."
Edward Elgar and his wife, Alice were frequent visitors to Severn Grange in Claines, home of the Whinfield family who were significant benefactors to Claines Church.
The composer dedicated his famous Serenade for Strings to one of the Whinfield family and, while staying with the family, Elgar’s wife Alice recorded in her diary for August 12, 1910 a visit to Claines churchyard where she “Saw his relatives’ tomb and where he used to sit reading scores, years ago”.
Mr Sansome now hopes to one day elevate the top of the tomb so visitors can sit where Elgar sat and admire the view of the Malvern Hills from Claines churchyard.
He said: "It took a bit of detective work and then having the breakthrough finding the information in the records office and then spending a lot of time looking around the churchyard.
"It's been absolutely fascinating looking into the history of the churchyard."
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