Ralph Vaughan Williams produced some of his greatest work while living in the Dorking area, writes Phyllis Hughes
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was as prolific with his affairs of the heart as he was with his music, according to one expert. Robin Wells, former director of music at Charterhouse School, where Vaughan Williams had been a pupil, told members that the composer had many relationships with women, including a long-standing one with his assistant, Ursula Wood.
Vaughan Williams married Ursula in 1953 after the death of his first wife, Adeline.
The composer, known for the Englishness of his music, was born in October 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, where his father, Arthur, was the vicar.
‘His life was nearly a short one, as he was dropped at his christening and only saved when his mother Margaret caught his christening robes,’ said Mr Wells. ‘Arthur died in 1975, and his mother, who was the great-granddaughter of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, moved back to Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, which was owned by her family.
‘He was surrounded by women – a situation he said he later in life that he regretted.’
It was during this time that he became interested in music and started to learn the violin at the age of six.
In 1897 he married Adeline Fisher and they returned to Dorking in 1928. The following year they moved into White Gates, the house Vaughan Williams retained until 1953.
For many years he conducted and led the Leith Hill Musical Festival, conducting Bach’s St Matthew Passion on a regular basis. ‘It was while he was in Dorking that he produced some of his greatest pieces,’ said Mr Webb.
During his career he wrote nine symphonies, five operas, film music, ballet and stage music, several song cycles, church music and works for chorus and orchestra. One of his best known hymns is For All the Saints.
Vaughan Williams died on 26 August 1958 and he is buried in Westminster Abbey.