The recent arrival of the “Elgar Sunbeam Bicycle” brought to mind the above project around “Wolves composers”, which is still dormant. It started in September 2010, when a special concert was held in St Peter’s Church. This featured the choir and soloists, including Miss Cullis, a descendant of legendary Wolves manager, Stan.
Elgar’s “Football Chant“
The idea behind the event was to mark the connection between Elgar’s visit to the town, and the connection between the composer, St Peters Church, the football club and Wolverhampton itself. As I glanced round the attendees, I noticed Renee Morris Young (widow of Dr Percy Young), Graham Hughes (Wolves historian), various Wolves FC directors, a certain Mr Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and the organiser Baroness Rachel Heyhoe-Flint.
The event was a one-off, to premiere Elgar’s scrap of music created for his ‘lady admirer’ Dora Penney. The scrap itself was inspired by an Express & Star report of a Wolves home game and has incorrectly been referred to as “the world’s first football chant.”
The Genesis of an Idea
Following the event, I suggested the idea of having another concert, featuring works by “Wolves composers”; i.e. four names associated with the Wanderers and the City of Wolverhampton.
In alphabetical order, the “Wolves Composers” are:
- Dorothea Barcroft
- Dr Ernest Darby
- Sir Edward Elgar
- Dr Percy Youngwere a
At the time of Wolves formation in 1877, the headmaster of St Lukes school was Harry Barcroft, who encouraged pupils to kick a ball around the playground at breaktimes. The rest, i.e. the formation of the football club, is well-documented history.
Harry’s daughter was Emma Dorothea Barcroft, who would more commonly be known as Dorothea or “Dora”. She was educated privately at Oxford Lodge School in Pennfields and showed a talent for music. She played piano, and ran a small music school, teaching private pupils to sing and play pianoforte. In addition to this, she was also a popular composer and broadcaster.
Dora worked extensively for the BBC, and in 1923 her composition, The Africa Suite was broadcast from Birmingham Town Hall. In 1924 she became organiser of women’s and children’s programmes for BBC Midlands and directed women’s programmes for the corporation until 1927. She also worked extensively in children’s radio, becoming known as “Aunty Dorothy”.
Dr Ernest Darby
George Ernest Darby, like Miss Barcroft, was a pianist who ran a music school and was an accomplished composer. He earned a doctorate in music and began conducting the Wolverhampton Choral Society. He was appointed organist and choirmaster at St Marks Church in Chapel Ash at the same time Reverend John Hunt was the appointed Vicar. Hunt’s son, Kenneth, went on to play for Wolves and England, earning a blue plaque in the process.
It was also at St Mark’s that Dr Darby would meet his wife, Florence Parkes, and they married at the church in 1904. Florence was a pianist and singer, who was advised by Sir Henry Wood (creator of the Proms) to base her career in London, but she rejected this to stay in Wolverhampton.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the couple founded the Wolverhampton School of Music, originally in Darlington Street and later at 27, Chapel Ash. They also set up the town’s first opera company, which held an annual performance at the Grand Theatre. Dr Darby regularly attended Wolves games, something attested to by his daughter Vaudrey, who would go on to continue the music school. The couple also had two sons, Ludwig and John Kineton, and later they would receive their own blue plaque, which can be found on Summerfield Road.
Sir Edward Elgar
The connections between Sir Edward and the city are well documented. He would come to Sunbeam to purchase a bicycle, meet the Penney family, and visit the Wolves on match-day Saturdays. Elgar dedicated one of the ‘Enigma Variations’ to his ‘lady admirer’ Miss Dora Penney.
Dr Percy Young
Seven years after the death of Ernest Darby, Dr Percy Young came to Wolverhampton (1944) as head of Music at the College. He was already a big Wolves fan, and wrote an early history of the Club. On discovering Elgar had been at Molineux, he wrote extensively about Elgar, and other English Composers. Being another accomplished composer, Dr Young plucked up courage to complete Elgar’s last ever & unfinished work, a final attempt at an Opera. With the title The Spanish Lady, it is still relatively unknown, and received a mixed reception on its premiere.
Wolverhampton’s Lost Musical Legacy
Both Dr Darby and Dr Young have blue plaques from this organisation, and the full story of the Darby musical family is told in the entry ‘Three Serbian Songs’, which can be found in another article I wrote for Bev Parker:
The monochrome monitor film of Elgar, directed by Ken Russell, is still the best tribute to the composer. Although no mention of Wolverhampton is made, it was shown at the Grammar School (AGS) to mark his 150th birthday.
Also worth a mention is the novel ’Elgar on the Journey to Hanley’. This was written in 1977 by Keith Alldritt (ex Wolverhampton Grammar School) and imagines a break of journey here, so Elgar can meet the Penney family. Reverend Penney was Vicar of Wolverhampton, and on the Committee of the Wolverhampton Literary & Scientific Society. The statue of Sir Edward at Hereford shows him resting on ‘Mr Phoebus’, the name he gave his Sunbeam bikes.
Compositions by Dr Young are detailed in the definitive work on English Composers by the British Music Society (obtainable from writer Gerald Leach at his Mogul Diamonds bookshop in Albrighton). It is not known where the original compositions reside.
A Reprisal, Perhaps?
So what of another “Wolves Composers” concert? I have spoken to choirmasters, music teachers and directors, and so far, virtually no interest. I left some copies of Darby music with Mr Andy Proverbs at Wolverhampton Grammar School, but sadly he died a few years ago.
There is so much surviving of interest, which has gone unnoticed in the 21st Century. Molineux Hotel holds large amounts of work by Dr Darby. There are also surviving works by Miss Barcroft, including an original recording of one of her compositions.
For anyone out there doing a music degree at Wolverhampton University, there could be no better idea for a project than the above. It would also seem to form the basis of a project for any number of local music groups or choirs.
One day, I hope we will all be able to hear the works of the “Wolves Composers” and preserve their legacy for the next generation. Following the funerals of both Sir Jack Hayward, and Baroness Flint, it would truly be tragic to see these stories fade away. If this project is of interest to anyone out there, please get in touch via the form below, or ask for Phil Jones at any of our events.
If you’re interested in Wolverhampton’s connection to the arts, you can read about the Manders and Hollywood here: