Elgar and Fittleworth: the Chamber Music

The Sunday walk of a village weekend of Elgar’s Chamber Music (2-4 June 2017) was well supported and the weather perfect for the gentle marathon ahead in the company of The Edwardians, a collection of semi-professional singers based in Sussex and London.

Rex Vicat Cole and his family had taken a cottage on a long lease from Stopham Estate. Entering sylvan Bedham, some of the sculptural tree forms used by the artist in his book The Artistic Anatomy of Trees became obvious. Cole also ran painting courses from here, with students billeted locally and working along the Rother Valley around Fittleworth; see this post.
He sub-let the cottage to a composer. Thus, 60 people set out from Fittleworth in the direction of Edward Elgar’s retreat, Brinkwells, on routes once suggested by Elgar to a violinist friend in a hand-drawn map.
Passing Brinkwells, we headed first to the shell of Bedham Old School house where the company sang several part-songs, including Elgar’s ambiguous Owls, intended to convey an eerie impression of a nocturnal woodscape; a fantasy which had no meaning. They energised this sunlit gap in the trees.
We paused in Bedham at the re-sited Studio which Elgar had once used at Brinkwells for his chamber music compositions as well as the more famous concerto. The acoustics in the closed space lent different qualities, and we were privileged to be allowed the centre space of what is now a small private home full of gentle art, which perfectly complemented the outputs of the assembled choir.
Then onward through an enveloping mass of the rape field and back into woodland to Brinkwells, for more songs (After many a dusty mile, Wanderer, linger here awhile;) and discussion before heading into the depths of a woodland ravine en route for the parish room at Stopham. Arriving as the church bells rang, Evensong was nobly delayed to allow the quaffing of iced coffee and consideration of a fine selection of cake before many of the walkers joined the congregation.
A quite impressive co-ordination achievement – four sites over four hours – was appreciated by all. Surely the start of something as a regular event every few years.
The spike of weekend activity gave sustenance for gentle irony overheard in one corner of the village. “Elgar? – I love all his paintings…” 
The event website archived here: elgarinsussex.weebly.com
A longer report in the Fittleworth Parish Magazine July 2017


Heathlands Re-united?

The Heathlands Reunited project, led by the South Downs National Park Authority, aims to expand, create new and improve existing heathland to cover an area greater than 1,200 football pitches.

Heathland covers just one per cent of the South Downs National Park, mostly separated into ‘islands’ where isolated plants and animals are far more vulnerable to local extinction. The heath is home to all twelve of our native reptiles and amphibians.

The project aims to inspire communities to visit their heathlands, learn more about them and work together to look after them so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

The project will run across 5 years, working with 11 partners on 41 heathland sites.

Sadly, the isolated islands at Fittleworth (below) aren’t one of the partner sites. And yet Fittleworth in 1850 was a significant tract of open heathland as can be seen from the painting below.

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1850-ish annotated painting

Listen to Bruce Middleton, new Heathland Project Manager, on the project on this BBC radio show – scroll to about 36 mins into the programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p044vbn2



Hesworth Heather – an update

A trip to the far side of Hesworth Common reveals both good news and bad news.

The good? In pockets of ground which were scraped last winter, the heather cuttings which were strewn by volunteers have resulted in seed germinating and strong little heather seedlings being evident. Excellent news.2016-08-20 14.24.522016-08-20 14.25.00

And the bad news? Sadly, the scraping was neither deep enough or with appropriate tree and stump removal to allow efficient removal of the majority of the bracken root system. In 90 percent of the areas, the bracken is still rengerating thick and fast and, even if the heather takes, it will require regular and extensive bracken pulling to allow it enough light to survive in the longer term.

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Hesworth LIDAR and heathland restoration

The newly released Environment Agency LIDAR map for Hesworth Common is quite revealing. This amended image shows the high points most suitable for heathland restoration (no nutrients drain onto them from above, except from the sky) through the aerial scanning, which shows the ground layer with no obscuring vegetation.
Hesworth lidar Jon
Access routes present for a thousand years or more are visible – the proliferation of paths often occurs when climbing gradients – when they became impassable, a new route was often chosen to permit progress.
Some of the paths on Hesworth are very interesting, cutting down into the sandstone but no wider than a horse. Could they have been artificially cut, just to prevent an incline that only rose a metre or two? Probably not.

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As if by magic, several days ago a digger was spotted whilst walking the dog and the western high points of Hesworth ARE being scraped of their suffocating bracken layer to permit a nutrient poor, sandy seedbed for heather to re-establish from the areas just to the north and south. I presume some of the existing neighbouring heather will be cut at an appropriate time to allow it to be spread for seeding to take place, as has been seen in other areas before. An exciting event – heathland restoration in action!

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Stopham boating


This point is still well used today by canoes and fishermen. The White Hart pub sign can be seen hanging beyond Stopham bridge.

The topography however has somewhat changed with the enormous groundworks for the new road, taking a far higher, wider span to avoid flooding – and towering above this picturesque spot.

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Gerald Burn (1862-1945) Stopham Bridge

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 20.08.14Gerald Maurice Burn was born in London and is a well listed English artist, better known for his paintings which were mainly marine and architectural subjects. He exhibited at leading London galleries from 1891 including the RA and RBA. This etching of Stopham Bridge has fine detailing and tone.

Stopham Bridge has long been revered by artists and photographers, as we see here.

Gwenda Morgan – following Ravilious

2868253Gwenda Morgan (1908-1991) was a British wood engraver; she lived in Petworth, West Sussex. Her father moved there to work at the ironmongers Austens, of which he later became the owner. Morgan studied at Goldsmiths’ College of Art in London, from 1926 and then the Grosvenor School of Modern Art where she was influenced by the principal, Iain Macnab.

She illustrated four books for the Golden Cockerel Press, including Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1946) and Grimms’ Other Tales (1956).2008BT9265_jpg_l-2 Much of her work drew upon the landscape and buildings around Petworth and the neighbouring South Downs; this work in the V&A collection is of Fittleworth church. Her work was inspired by that of Macnab, Percy Douglas Bliss and the Sussex-bred Eric Ravilious.

Throughout the Second World War she worked as a Land Girl just outside Petworth. Her record of those years was published by the Whittington Press in 2002 as The Diary of a Land Girl 1939-1945.

Her prints are held in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, among others. Some of her prints are on permanent display in the Leconfield Hall, Petworth, to which Morgan gave a substantial bequest on her death. Original wood engravings by Morgan are being sold in aid of the Leconfield Hall by the Kevis House Gallery.

Where To Study Art: Summer Holiday Sketching Classes in Fittleworth (1910)

ArtClassTITLEThere are a number of holiday sketching classes which are held annually during the summer months by various artists of repute, among whom may be mentioned Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole and Mr. Frank Calderon.

These holiday classes are, as a rule, most enjoyable affairs, for although enthusiastic hard work is the order of the day, it is of a wholly congenial kind, and there is a cheerful holiday atmosphere about painting amidst picturesque surroundings out in the sunshine and in the open-air which is doubly delightful to those who have been working, perhaps, for five or six days a week in the heated atmosphere of a London studio.

Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole, the well-known painter of exquisite woodland scenes and of wide-spreading pastures and sky, holds a delightful sketching class at Fittleworth, one of the loveliest parts of Sussex, for a month or six weeks each summer, from mid-July to the end of August, usually, after which he goes with a party of students to some picturesque spot in the West Riding of Yorkshire for another month’s work.

The Fittleworth students’ headquarters are at a most attractive, old-fashioned farmhouse, with its two or three adjacent cottages, a couple of miles out of Fittleworth, overlooking a winding stream in the midst of harvest fields and wide-spreading meadows with grazing flocks, that provide endless subjects for the landscape painter’s brush to depict.

Genre pictures galore also present themselves to be painted, and most country folk will pose if you know how to ask them, and do not expect them to waste their time for nothing. The members of the class commence early, and ten o’clock finds them all hard at work making serious studies of the subject of the day, whatever that may chance to be, the work, in fact, being just that of an art school held out in the open.

artclasspic1 A personal lesson from Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole at Fittleworth, Sussex, a beautiful village set amid wide meadows and by a winding river, admirably adapted for those studying landscape painting

Mr. Vicat-Cole spends the morning hours from ten to one with his pupils, criticising and advising. His system of teaching is to keep students sketching at one subject until they have learnt all they can about it, the different ways of treating it, the composition, and so on; they are not taught or allowed to make “pretty pictures,” and sincerity in the work is above all, insisted on.

Often, however, the studies they make are pictures in themselves, many of which have subsequently found their way to the walls of the Royal Academy.

During the long summer afternoons and evenings students are free to do as they please, sketching anything that may chance to take their fancy, and thus avoiding all possibility of getting “stale”.

Often they scour the country for miles around on bicycles or afoot, to be rewarded after a long climb by some splendid sunset effect seen through pine woods as the result of a long climb, or discovering the delightful mills and old-world inns and cottages which await them in the lanes of the Fittleworth valley.

artclasspic2Posing an animal model for a sketching class. Work at Fittleworth begins early, and is supervised during the morning by Mr. Vicat-Cole himself

Mr. Vicat-Cole constantly sees and criticises the students’ afternoon and evening work, and Mr. David Murray, R.A., has for many years past been in the habit of passing in review the work of the summer sketching classes during the winter months.

The fees for a four weeks’ course with Mr. Vicat-Cole’s summer sketching class come to six guineas, while students joining for a shorter time pay £1 16s. a week. These fees, however, are reduced to a guinea a week for students engaged in teaching art or in earning their own living. Rooms can usually be had from about 5s. 6d. a week per room, with attendance, and food costs about the same everywhere. The girl students usually have separate bedrooms and share a sitting-room; some of them get their people to spend their holidays with them, and take a set of rooms in the neighbourhood of the sketching class, and sometimes a girl will take a house and lodge the others at cost price. There are, as a general rule, at least one or two married women in the class, and Mrs. Vicat-Cole is often to be found at her easel working with the rest, so that any young girls of the party are not without due chaperonage.

Mr. Frank Calderon invariably chooses a picturesquely situated English farm with good outhouses and barns where live-stock abound and the owner is a good-natured individual, ready to hire out horses and cattle to stand as models when required. Such a farm becomes the headquarters for his “Summer Sketching Class for Landscape and Animal Painting”, which, as a rule, lasts from the first week in August to the middle of September. Most of the students come with the object of putting in some good hard work at painting animals, posed out of doors under every imaginable circumstance and variety of lighting under the open sky.

artclasspic3A young student receiving help from Mr. Frank Calderon. The artist chooses for his sketching class students a farm where good models can be had for animal painting out of doors.

The class meets at the farm at ten o’clock each morning, to find the model of the day already posed according to the prevailing weather. On sunny mornings the model -probably a fine cart-horse or a sturdy mare and foal-will stand, with a specially trained custodian who has learnt from long experience the best way of persuading animal models to keep to a single pose, at the side of a wide-spreading green meadow, where the students can place their easels underneath the shade of the surrounding trees, though those who prefer to do so can sit out in the sunshine protected from the glare by big green-lined painting umbrellas. On dull days the farmyard itself often affords a pleasant setting for the model, while in really wet weather, nothing daunted, the students assemble as usual to take up their positions with their easels inside a barn with wide-open doors, while a hardy cow tethered up in the rain, if given a little provender, will stand contentedly chewing the cud for hours on end to have her portrait painted.

At one o’clock work ceases while the students enjoy a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit brought with them, with the welcome addition, perhaps, of glasses of warm milk supplied on the spot by the farmer’s wife.

At 2.30 work begins again, but, as a rule, from a different model. Sometimes an old white horse-posed in the shade, where patches of brilliant sunshine which have pierced through the trees and make a seemingly simple subject into a puzzling enough study of light and shade-sometimes a donkey will be chosen, while numbers of fine dog models are always kept at hand, with a boy to hold them, should students prefer to work from these.

Mr. Calderon, meanwhile, goes from easel to easel both morning and afternoon, advising and criticising, or explaining away some technical difficulty in the matter of animal anatomy. At 4.30 all systematic class-work stops for the day.

A farmhouse can seldom accommodate so large a party as Mr. Calderon’s sketching class-usually consists of, and many of the students are therefore perforce picketed out in rooms in the nearest village. These have been specially inspected beforehand by Mrs. Calderon, who is invariably of the party, and not only herself chaperones all the girls, but, as a rule, contrives to take a big enough house to have room for those girls whose mothers do not care for them to go into separate lodgings.

The cost of living varies from about a guinea to thirty shillings a week. Students can generally manage comfortably on twenty-five shillings a week, especially if two girl friends put up in the same cottage and share a sitting-room and meals. When circumstances admit of it, Mrs. Calderon and the students get up various small festivities in the evenings, and one year, when the members lodged within a stone’s throw of each other along a village street, they hired the village hall and gave an impromptu fancy-dress dance.

The fees for Mr. Calderon’s summer painting class are as follows:
Six weeks – 8 guineas
One month (four consecutive weeks) – 6 guineas
Two weeks – 4 guineas
Twelve lessons at student’s convenience – 5 guineas

The difficulty of getting enough accommodation for a large class of students (for at least thirty or forty pupils, the greater number of whom are girls, as a rule join the class during the summer) in a small village in August, when country lodgings are at a premium, is naturally very great, and intending students should, if possible, make their plans for joining the summer sketching class not later than early June, for all the best and cheapest rooms are invariably snapped up early, and late comers have to put up with more expensive or less comfortable quarters.

Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia Vol III; Various Authors. Publisher London S.N. 1910-1912

What inspired Thiman for Fittleworth Fair?

Eric Thiman - composer of Fittleworth Fair and variations on Elgar in his huge output

Eric Harding Thiman (1900-1975) was largely self-taught in music though he had some lessons at Trinity College, London. He became a Doctor of Music of London University in 1927 and was appointed Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music in 1921 and to London University’s Faculty of Music in 1952, being Dean of that Faculty 1956-62. He was Organist and Examiner to the Royal Schools of Music and Organist and Director of Music at the City Temple from 1958.

Fittleworth FairProlific in the fields of short choral pieces, organ solos and solo songs, he produced a number of orchestral, chamber and piano works. For orchestra there is the 1939 suite Fittleworth Fair on English traditional tunes and for strings, Variations on a Theme of Elgar that was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in December 1940.

What led to his connection to Fittleworth and to Elgar? Let us know if you have any information.

A collection of Thiman’s work in held the new choir library at Southwell Minster. Guy Turner has been appointed archivist for the collection, a Lay Clerk in the Minster Choir and, when he was a student in the early seventies, knew and sung for Dr Thiman in the Elysian Concert Society. 

Elgar Society review of Angela Brookfield’s book Fittleworth – A Time of Change

It was sad to learn of Angela Brookfield’s passing. I looked again through her excellent book on Fittleworth through the eyes and lens of her photographer ancestor, great-uncle John Smith.

I also came across this review from Martin Bird of the Elgar Society Journal, which seems fitting to post here:

Fittleworth Brookfield review

For further details on the Elgar Society, see here

The complete Journal containing this review is here