Clang, clang, clang …

In Massonica 1913 (the earlier editions of the magazine spelled the name with a 2nd s in it), in a section entitled ‘School notes’, there is an account of a visit of the Grand masters of the three Grand Lodges of Berlin, and “other distinguished German Brethren” to the School at Clapham. This may have been on Prize Day or the song may have been performed again on Prize Day. Either way, as part of a concert in the Alexandra Hall, The Viking Song was sung by the school for the visitors and the girls wore blue cornflowers “in honour of the visitors” – although the significance of this was not outlined in the article.  The song was composed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and had a chorus that began with “Clang, clang, clang on the anvil”. No doubt for this reason, the girls referred to it as ‘Clang’ and the comment was made that the workmen carrying out stone work on the Centenary hall that year seemed to be joining in the chorus with the noise of their hammering.

In researching this song, an interesting double connection with the School was discovered.

Clang, clang, clang on the anvil,

In the smithy by the dark North Sea;

Is it Thor that is smiting with the hammer,

Is it Odin with the leather on his knee?

Written in 1911, the composer was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, of Creole descent, who earned many plaudits for his work and  ‘was once called the “African Mahler”‘ (Wikipedia).

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor c 1905
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor c 1905

“Samuel Coleridge-Taylor” by Unknown – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor.jpg#/media/File:Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor.jpg

He was born in 1875 to Alice Hare Martin, an English woman, and Dr Daniel Hughes Taylor of Sierra Leone (who may possibly never have known of his son). The couple were not married but in that Alice appeared to be continuing a family tradition as she herself was also illegitimate. Alice called her son Samuel Coleridge Taylor, taking the inspiration from the name of Samuel Taylor Coleridge the poet. At some point later in his life, possibly as a result of a printer’s typographical error, the surname became hyphenated: Coleridge-Taylor.

Taylor studied violin at the Royal College of Music and later taught music at the Crystal Palace School of Music. [It is not unfeasible that he taught some of the girls from RMIG as there are records of those with musical talent attending the Crystal Palace for additional lessons beyond those given at the school.]

He married Jessie Sarah Fleetwood Walmisley in 1899, the marriage very much disapproved of by her parents, and they had two children: Hiawatha Bryan C-T and Gwendoline C-T, later using the name Avril and she became a conductor composer in her own right. Both children were musically talented but, as Samuel met his wife when they were both students at RCM, it hardly seems surprising. Their son’s name was from the Longfellow poem but probably more pertinently from the music composed by Samuel for which he was most noted.

The Coleridge-Taylor family
The Coleridge-Taylor family

“Coleridge-Taylor family card” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coleridge-Taylor_family_card.jpg#/media/File:Coleridge-Taylor_family_card.jpg

The income derived from being a musical composer was not excessive and Samuel was forced to work relentlessly to provide for his family. It seems likely that this was a significant factor in his early death at 37 years of age. He died from pneumonia at his home a few days after collapsing at a railway station. The circumstances of his death played a significant part in establishing a system of royalties for composers. His widow was granted a pension of £100 pa by George V which indicates how much his work was valued.

“Coleridge-Taylor left a large and varied body of music, both vocal and instrumental. His daughter Avril and son Hiawatha later earned degrees from the Guildhall School of Music. Both had careers in the U.K. as classical composers. Avril was also a conductor and pianist.” From http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/song.html#31

He is buried at Bandon Hill cemetery in Croydon and the words on his headstone were written by his good friend, the poet Alfred Noyes.

Too young to die

his great simplicity

his happy courage

in an alien world

his gentleness

made all that knew him

love him

The headstone also has four bars of music from Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the work most associated with him.

blue plaque

“Blue Plaque for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Dagnell Park, Selhurst – geograph.org.uk – 1466227” by Peter Trimming. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_Plaque_for_Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor,_Dagnell_Park,_Selhurst_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1466227.jpg#/media/

The Viking Song which began all this was the start of the connections of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor with RMIG. In 1927, the second connection was made. Asia Mary Bickerton had been a pupil at the school. She may even have been one of the pupils who sang the song in 1912 (as we know she was at the School then). She was due to leave in 1916, having been awarded the Silver medal in that year but she was retained as a pupil teacher. Subsequently, she transferred to the Matron’s department becoming 2nd Assistant on a salary of £35pa in 1918. She left in 1925 and in 1927 she married Guy Herbert Walmisley, a solicitor, who was the nephew of Jessie Coleridge-Taylor, nee Walmisley. Asia Walmisley (nee Bickerton) died on 11 February 1984, the notice of her death appearing in The Times of 15 Feb 1984.

So the simple enquiry ‘I wonder what the Viking Song was’ reveals an interesting story.

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The Old One Hundredth*

*A hymn often sung at school based on Psalm 100, hence its name.

This series of postings celebrates the long lives of eight of our former pupils who reached their 100th birthdays.

Centenary anniversaries for 1915 are, of course, dominated by WWI. However, something with which we are all familiar as road users are traffic lights and the first electronically-operated set was installed and began operating in August 1915. Although the idea of them pre-dates this, before this date they were based on railway line signals and were operated by hand. It’s contrived as a connection with our centenarians but …

https://centreoftheworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/traffic-light-tree/
https://centreoftheworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/traffic-light-tree/

This modern sculpture is by Pierre Vivant and was originally installed as Westferry roundabout, Canary Wharf. It has since been moved and is currently on the Trafalgar Way roundabout near Billingsgate Market (from 2014). The artist drew his inspiration for the design from London Plane trees whilst the constant changing of the lights reflects our modern life style.

London Plane trees were certainly a familiar sight to our pupils although they had not realised they were so covered by city pollution that their colour was dulled. Only when the School moved to its latest site, and the splendour of the trees there were revealed in their fine colours, did the pupils realise how sooty the atmosphere in London had been!

Our last two centenarians include our – to date – oldest Old Girl ever. Lizzie Simcock was 104 when she died.

Centenarians Phyllis Lizzie

[click to open]

Colourful trees at school
Colourful trees at school