Saturday, 21 July 2018


Famed English composer Sir Edward Elgar
The latest word out Worcestershire, the hometown of 19th century composer Edward Elgar, is that of a truce. According to the local press, a “harmonious agreement” over the hotly contested shifting of archival material from The Firs in lower Broadheath (the cottage where Elgar was born, and home of the former Elgar Birthplace Trust, established by the composer's only daughter Carice in 1935) to The British Library in London.

Word of the transfer sparked both fear and outrage among a sect of residents in the lush village – should the archive move to the bustling city, they pointed out, it would mark the first time in over half a century that the treasure trove of documents related to the English icon would fall out of Worcestershire hands.

The contents of the archive, which contain research material, scores, newspaper clippings, photographs and scrapbooks were deposited with the county record office in 1966 by Carice, and were later transferred to the Elgar Birthplace Museum in 2002.

Trustees of The Elgar Foundation, acting on stipulations left in Carice’s will, informed the press earlier this month that such a move was both necessary and beneficial for the promotion of Elgar’s music across a broader spectrum - something the Elgar family wanted – emphasizing the significance of the digitization process for online inquiry, a move which will greatly improve the accessibility of archival material for those unable to make the trek to Broadheath.

Some 3,000+ concerned citizens contested the transfer by means of a petition. Among the petitioners were several county chiefs, with Councilor Lucy Hogson leading the appeal. Hogson offered an alternative solution to the delicate issue: a consideration of a move to the nationally accredited Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS.)

In the end, it was the intervention of MP Harriett Baldwin of Malvern – the adjacent spa town that was known to have been the source of inspiration for many of Elgar’s works – who contacted both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and The Elgar Foundation for an amicable resolution.

As a result of those interactions, a large portion of the “Birthplace Collection” is slated to remain housed at Broadheath, whilst select documents – some letters and manuscripts – will reside at The British Library, where they are currently being prepped for digitization.

The Elgar "Birth Cottage" at The Firs recently underwent refurbishment after reports surfaced it was operating at a loss of £50,000 as a humble Museum, and garnering only 8,000 visits per year. 

Conservation efforts and a decision to shift the property from museum to a visitor attraction began in early 2017. Since then, attendance at the residence has skyrocketed – it is estimated that an excess of 20,000 people have visited the Firs since it was re-opened under National Trust management. 

Did you know?

The "Enigma Riddle" - an elaborate hoax or enigmatic mystery?
Many attempts at cracking the code have been made over the
years - in 2017, a Cleveland policeman called the theme of the
Variations a counterpoint on Liszt's symphonic poem, Les
His 'conclusion' gained considerable mention in the press.
Edward Elgar, former Master of the King's Music under England’s King George V, left behind not only a legacy of Pomp and Circumstance, but also a potential “riddle” – one which has become fodder for both quizzical musicians and conspiracy theorists alike. It was how the maestro described his “Enigma Variations" (Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36):
“...a dark saying [which] must be left unguessed... over the whole set another and larger theme 'goes,' but is not played...”
and the origins of the variations themselves (a product of the composers frequent parlor adaptations on a theme, in which a tune would be played, then later adapted to serve as musical caricatures of his friends, at which point Elgar would have his wife, Caroline Alice, wager guesses as to who was the object of the variation) that inspired musical sleuths across the globe to don the cap of detective in a valiant effort to solve what can only be described as an enigmatic mystery.

The quest to uncover the mystery of the Enigma Variations – and the efforts to debunk the theory of an ever present, unplayed theme hidden in the work – both continue to thrive well into the 21st century: see NPR: "Enigma still keeps music detectives busy."

Compounding the issue was the composer’s love of cryptography. Elgar famously penned an enciphered letter to one Dora Penny – a possible love interest 21 years his junior – in the summer of 1897. The letter, believed by many to have been a potential declaration of love from a married man to the stepdaughter of a family friend, became known as the “Dorabella Cipher.”

The infamous Dorabella Cipher of Edward Elgar.

In a rather interesting turn of events, the “uncrackable mystery” of the Enigma Variations would serve as the source of inspiration for the infamous Enigma coding machine used by the German forces in WWII.

The Dorabella Cipher has yet to be (officially) cracked.

Penny was included in the Enigma Variations – the 10th variation, “Dorabella” is a tribute the young girl – her stutter charmingly parodied by the woodwinds: (16:01-18:25)

Related (External Link):



  1. I am not positive where you're getting your info, however
    great topic. I must spend some time learning much more or
    understanding more. Thank you for wonderful info I was
    on the lookout for this information for my mission.

    1. Hello Anonymous,

      Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment, it is very much appreciated!

      The Elgar archive transfer was not widely reported - one of the most major outlets to cover the initial debate was BBC, but outside of that, it seems to have garnered the attention of the local press.

      Just a heads up - anywhere you see text in brown, it is a link to both internal and external content, including press releases and news articles. Usually I also include these in the footnotes - I was trying something new here (just leaving them in the main body of the article). I will make a note to replicate them in the future at the end of the post for easier access. :)

      You are very welcome - and thank you for your readership!

      Warm regards,


  2. Thanks for covering this. I have a cousin in Worcester who was waiting for an update. Will be sending her this post.