Thursday, August 21, 2008


My thanks to Newsquest Essex Limited and to the Vaughan Williams' Society
New residents to Warley’s Clements Park development are often intrigued with their road names linked to England’s greatest composer, Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams. The late Frank Dineen, a local writer, could have explained, for Frank championed the idea when the Council were seeking road names for the new estate. Frank was an expert on the life of his favourite composer who came to Brentwood in 1903 and inspired Frank’s book “The Ingrave Secret", linking Vaughan Williams to Brentwood.

Vaughan Williams, then aged 30, was guest speaker at the Montpelier House School for Girls (later Brentwood County High) then in Queens Road. This was a time of decision for the composer who had been trying to compose music that drew on a specifically English tradition. Along with Cecil Sharp, he was currently collecting folksongs, many of which he felt were in danger of being forgotten.

While a guest at the Ingrave home of the local Rector, Henry Heatley, he met Charles Potiphar, a 74-year-old illiterate farm labourer who sang the old songs of Essex. So entranced with words and melody, particularly the famous Bushes & Briars, he later commented that “he felt it was something he had known all his life”. Vaughan Williams spent ten days cycling around Little Burstead, Ingrave, East Horndon and Billericay collecting songs, some 120 of them which subsequently were published in the Folk Song Journal, and used many of the tunes, not only in choral and orchestral works but also in the 1906 English Hymnal. He visited several counties in Eastern and Southern England, returning to Essex in 1909 when he made some recordings on wax cylinder. He returned many times to Essex in the ensuing years.

In 2003, the Essex Record Office marked the centenary of Vaughan Williams’ Ingrave encounter with a superb exhibition celebrating folksong in Essex and the composer’s role in preserving and handing on “that precious legacy”. On 26th August, music lovers the world over will remember our great composer as this is the 50th anniversary of his death.

Brentwood-based Sue Cubbin – Essex Sound & Video Archive Assistant at the Essex Record Office – celebrated the publication of her superb book That Precious Legacy - Ralph Vaughan Williams and Essex folksong – in 2006. Within, she traces the composer’s early links with our county, also outlining biographical history with details of his time in the Brentwood area.
Sue’s research uncovers many fascinating stories of the great man. We are also treated to a selection of typical songs from the Essex area which were collected by Vaughan Williams during his time here. Her book can be obtained from the Essex Record Office ISBN 978-1-898529-05 price £5.99 Contact 01245 244644