Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

187 : The London homes of Coleridge-Taylor

The buildings which were once the homes of now famous people are often marked with plaques, with London’s circular blue plaques being well documented. There is one on 30 Dagnall Park, in Selhurst near Croydon, placed there in 1975, a century after the birth of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912). With a biography published in 1915 and republished in 1927, and biographic articles in reference books as well as notes on LPs and CDs, it would seem easy to visit houses linked to Coleridge-Taylor.

Born at 15 Theobalds Road near Red Lion Square, Holborn, he relocated to Croydon aged two due to road widening demolishing that row of houses. It is not right that the British Library’s website ‘Black Europeans’ states this was ‘a stone’s throw’ from the ‘worst slum in the city’. Not that it was splendid: nor was the home they settled in in Croydon some months later. The 1878 edition of Atwood’s Croydon street directory lists the future composer’s grandfather Benjamin Holman (sic) at 67 Waddon New Road, and an 1895 map shows that this was downwind of slaughter houses on the far side of the railway tracks which carried steam trains to West Croydon station. This was the middle of three houses, all demolished.

The 1894 and 1896 Ward’s directories and the 1898 electoral register name his step-father George Evans at 86 Holmesdale Road. In 1897 and 1898 the family are listed at 8 Fernham Road in Thornton Heath. Kelly’s in 1898 has S. Coleridge Taylor at 21 Saxon Road. The years 1895 to 1898 were crucial in Coleridge-Taylor’s life as his studies at the Royal College of Music ended and his life as a professional musician began. The registers and street directories, and the 1915 biography, make matters far from clear.

The biography (page 45) notes the family relocated from Holmesdale Road to 9 (sic) Fernham Road in Thornton Heath in late 1896. In mid-November 1896 Benjamin Holmans, who was Coleridge-Taylor’s grandfather, died at number 8, following an accident. The family remained there in the summer of 1897 (1915 biography p 51). The pilgrim seeking Coleridge-Taylor’s homes here needs to look across the street from the biography’s house, and see number eight. (The biography reprinted in 1927 omits all house numbers by the way.) The family moved to 21 Saxon Road which is noted in the 1915 biography with a letter dated 9 August 1897 (page 51). That Saxon Road address is also dated 14 January 1898.

Just round the corner is Dagnall Park, where the blue plaqued house stands. That address and the date 19 October 1898 are clearly stated on the contract Coleridge-Taylor signed with Novello and Co Ltd (witnessed by his mother Alice Evans) which sold four works to that publisher: Elegy and Arietta for organ, Ballade in A minor for piano and also arranged for solo piano; and a cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding-Feast. The latter was to be expanded and Hiawatha was and still is seen as Coleridge-Taylor’s greatest musical achievement, which provided music lovers with joy for decades.

Ward’s directory indicates Coleridge-Taylor relocated to 11 Dagmar Road in 1902, and lists him at 10 Upper Grove from 1903 to 1907. 1909 and 1910 finds him at Hill Crest in London Road, Norbury (no longer standing), and in 1911 and 1912 he is listed at Aldwick in St Leonard’s Road, still in Croydon. He died there in September 1912. It was marked with a round plaque in December 1912.

For those wishing to see some other London buildings connected to musical people, the house where Mozart composed his first symphony in 1764 was marked in 1939, the houses where Handel died in 1759 and where Chopin lived in 1848, and visitors Gounod, Greig, Delius and Sibelius stayed, are all marked as are the London homes of singers Paul Robeson and Jenny Lind. One of the plaques to Edward Elgar is thought to be on the site of a neighbouring house in Hampstead.

I am grateful to Charles Kay for his research in the street directories.

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