Walking with Edward Elgar

Walk Two - Warham and Breinton

The image at the top of the page shows the Wye at Breinton where Elgar cycled to from Plas Gwyn in Hereford.

Brian Hatton and Edward Elgar

In his bowler hat, high collar and gloves, Sir Edward Elgar set out for Breinton from Plas Gwyn in August 1909. Freewheeling on his deluxe Sunbeam bicycle rather than the fixed wheel "Mr. Phoebus" of his Malvern days, the regal composer cut quite a dash. In the "sweet borderland where he had made his home", composition and cycling were interwoven. He was now turning his thoughts to developing a theme conceived in Florence earlier in the summer.

Meanwhile, carrying his easel, canvas, stool and paints in lead containers, young Brian Hatton was a similarly unmistakable figure trudging the same route from his Mount Craig studio in Broomy Hill. Bound for Warham, the acclaimed landscape artist was honing his talent from the scenes of pastoral life he found close to home. Nurtured by his aesthetic parents - he'd lost his mother Amelia in July - he was a child winner of the Gold Star of the The Royal Drawing Society. Encouraged and developed by George Frederick Watts, whose work adorned the walls of late Victorian homes, Hatton had studied art in Scotland. He had also experienced the colours of St. Ives and Newlyn in Cornwall and the excitement of an expedition to Egypt.

A few years earlier Elgar had befriended Charles Gorton who commissioned him to adjudicate at the Morecambe Music Festival. Elgar consulted the canon on the text of his oratorio "The Apostles", brought him into his inner circle and went on holiday with him to Italy. Gorton had moved to a home in Hereford found for his retirement by Elgar in 1909 and saw it as one of his remaining missions in life to look after the welfare of the other adopted Herefordian's genius. Towards this end he would ward off autograph hunters and advised against accepting the post of Mayor of Hereford lest it interfered with Elgar's "gift for prophecy in music".

Among the scenes which Hatton recaptured with his brush were the trees planted about a century before to enhance the view looking from Warham House across the Wye to Belmont. On the left of his oil painting is a London plane and in the middle of the group a Turkey oak, which we reach first, at Point 2, above the riverside meadows. The third tree is no longer there, however.

It is not difficult to sense the rolling landscape of Herefordshire and the Welsh Border in the rich textures of the work which was preoccupying Elgar. This is the opinion of at least one commentator, Kevin Allen, in his "Elgar the Cyclist, a creative Odyssey". As you embark on the more openly expansive second part of the walk, perhaps you too will feel a Violin Concerto coming on?

In that same year, 1909, the reverend Philip Austen Lushington, a cricketing Master of Arts of Balliol College, Oxford, was also entering the picture at Breinton. The energetic new vicar was to feature among the portrait commissions which Hatton took on board, and in 1912 canon Gorton was buried in his churchyard. As noted in our Route for Walk One, the former rector of Morecambe drowned in the Wye below Quay House, near Hereford Cathedral.

Brian Hatton was still a young man with a boundless artistic future, but the promise was cut short at 28 when he was killed in action at Oghratina in Egypt on Easter Sunday, 1916.

Elgar moved from Hereford to London in 1912. Though the music would not fall silent until 1934, this would mean that the idyllic cycling days were now over for the composer.



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