Edward Elgar's father, William Elgar lodged at a café in Mealecheapen Street, Worcester,
kept by a man whose wife was formerly a Miss Greening. He was taken into their family
home in Claines where he met Ann Greening, a Herefordshire farm labourer’s daughter.
William and Ann were married in 1848.
Three children were soon born at 2 College Precincts, opposite the east end of the
cathedral. Ann Elgar longed for a country life and in 1856 they rented The Firs,
the tiny cottage of Newbury House in the village of Broadheath, three miles north-west
of Worcester. There, on 2 June 1857, Edward William Elgar was born.
There is a mystery surrounding his inspiration for the main theme for his famous
composition “Enigma Variations”. This work recalls key moments and people from his
life, many of them remembered by initials or nicknames or relevant musical themes.
He carried the secret of the haunting melody (the Enigma) with him to his grave.
However, one of the theories is that the written melody follows the contours of the
Malvern Hills, as seen from Claines Churchyard. The Malvern Hills were a source of
inspiration for much of his work.
Main theme from Enigma Variations (Opus 36), Edward Elgar 1899
Edward Elgar is celebrated as the most English of Composers and has deep Worcestershire
connections. Within Claines Churchyard we have the grave of Edward Elgar's maternal
Grandparents, the Greening's.
Anne Elgar (nee Greening) born in Claines
There are numerous historical references in Elgar’s history to when, as a boy, he
would fill his pockets with bread and cheese and go out into the countryside to study
musical scores of the great composers such as Beethoven. It has been believed that
one of Elgar’s favourite haunts for his score reading was in Claines Churchyard,
sitting on a tomb by his grandparents grave. This link has now been firmly established.
Tom Kelly, of the Elgar Society helped 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.
Elgar dedicated his famous “Serenade for Strings” to one of the Whinfield family.
Whilst staying with the Whinfields, Elgar’s wife, Alice records in her diary for
12 August 1910 a visit to Claines churchyard where she “Saw his relatives’ tomb and
where he used to sit reading scores, years ago”.
The clue as to which tomb Elgar sat on came from a letter Alice Elgar wrote about
that visit, 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. - & sit on the stone and read it -”
Geoff Sansome has been puzzled for years at to the whereabouts of Helen Leslie’s
tomb and whether it was at Claines. Despite trawling the graveyard and burial records
it has proved impossible to find. But 140 years on from Elgar’s visits he has cracked
“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 1970’s 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 1950’s.”
Fortuitously a gentlemen named Vincent also took some records of Claines churchyard
in 1874, and buried away in the Worcestershire Records office are his notebooks.
He made reference to a grave with the name of Leslie on it. On researching this Geoff
found that Helen was buried in the family vault of one Reverend Gregory Boraston,
her father, a former Vicar of Broughton Hackett who was buried in Claines in 1851,
with his first wife and four of his six children, who died before him. Helen, his
youngest daughter, died at the age of 16. Originally this was an altar tomb with
a large top slab and sides.
“Only the top slab exists now and this has been laid flat with the ground” says
Geoff, “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”.
Geoff hopes that one day it would be possible to elevate the top of the tomb so that
visitors can again sit where Elgar sat and admire the view of Elgar’s beloved Malvern
Hills from Claines churchyard. “There is another theory that the mystery theme for
Elgar’s Enigma Variations was inspired by the rising and falling silhouette of the
Malvern Hills. It would be wonderful to think that the view from Claines provided
“Interestingly it turns out that Gregory Boraston, whose tomb Elgar used to sit
on, has a connection to Jane Austen. His daughter in law was second cousin to Jane
Austen!” says Geoff.