It was an email from Malvern, resting place of Sir Edward Elgar, that alerted the Dulwich Society to the presence of the illustrious composer and his short sojourn in Dulwich. In essence, it was the stuff of a Victorian novel – a gifted man from a modest background marrying above his station to someone nine years his senior. And not only that – he was Roman Catholic and his future wife, Caroline Alice Roberts came from a devout Anglican family and was the daughter of a general. It was not exactly a hasty marriage, she had been his music pupil for three years before Elgar proposed. And it was not her money that Elgar might have been accused of coveting. Caroline was disinherited and only a cousin from her side of the family turned up to the wedding at Brompton Oratory in May 1889.
The cousin was William Raikes whose wife was named Veronica. They lived at the time at Oaklands, Fountain Drive, Dulwich (although later, as Ian McInnes’s article in the Autumn Journal noted, they later moved to Northlands, College Road). Thus evolved the Dulwich connexion
After a honeymoon in Ventnor, the Elgars returned to London to be closer to the centre of British musical life, especially the concerts at the Crystal Palace conducted by Augustus Manns. At the end of July 1889 they went back to her spacious house 'Saetermo' in Malvern but the lease soon ran out and in October they moved to the Raikes cousins' home in Dulwich where they spent the winter. It may have been a long-arranged visit because Elgar’s Salut d’amour was performed at the Crystal Palace that November.
Salut d’amour was the piece which Elgar had dedicated to his future wife as an engagement present. He would also set some of her poems to music. Alice, as she was known, was a poet and published author. He also dedicated his newly completed and published opus 14 (Eleven Sonatas for keyboard) to his hostess Mrs W A Raikes for her hospitality. It must have been a fruitful winter, Augustus Manns lived just around the corner at 4 Dulwich Wood Park and many conversations with him must have taken place. They might have spent longer in Dulwich, but shortage of work drove Elgar back to Worcestershire where for some years he scratched a living through teaching and conducting local musical ensembles until fame finally found him.
It was perhaps the Crystal Palace which heralded this fame because the next performance of the composer’s work there was in April 1897 when Edward Elgar’s Imperial March, composed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was conductor by Augustus Manns.
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