Monday, 21 February 2011

Joseph King & the Dolmetsches – some musical revelations

I have been perturbed by Trotter’s remark about Joseph King in his book The Hilltop Writers (Trotter, The Book Guild, 2003),  as reported in a previous post (Biographies - Joseph King), that King's "greatest contribution may well have been his influence in persuading Arnold Dolmetsch to settle in the Grayswood Road in 1917, and introduce the community to the delights of early music".  Perhaps the quotation is out of context, but this seems a damning verdict of King’s achievements as a MP and a founder of the Peasant Arts movement.   Looking further, it would appear that this opinion is a generalization, and is not wholly accurate.
Mabel Dolmetsch from Dolmetsch Online

Reading Dolmetsch’s wife’s Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch (Rowledge and Kogan Paul Limited, 1957) adds more substance to the relationship between Joseph King and Arnold Dolmetsch.  In 1917 Mabel Dolmetsch writes: “Feeling strongly drawn to the neighbouring town of Haslemere (from renting in nearby Thursley), we made this place the prime focus of our search (for a permanent house).  Not only has Arnold, some twelve years previously, visited George Bernard Shaw in Hindhead, and been struck by the beauty of its surroundings, but also, more recently, while still living at Tanza Road, Hampstead, we had given a concert in central London for the Peasant Arts Society whose headquarters were situated in Haslemere.  Our chairman on that occasion was Mr. Joseph King, M.P. who made an appreciative and amusing speech at the close of the performance.”  Therefore to understand why the Dolmetsches came to this part of the country, one would need to understand why they were living in Thursley, it was not Joseph King who drew them to Surrey initially.  This is not something I have looked into.

Downhill from Jesses: The Wheatsheaf, Grayswood, 1909 from The Francis Frith archive
The Dolmetsch’s found the house ‘Jesses’ which Mabel describes as “the perfect house…in this auspicious house, Arnold, prophetic as usual, announced that he would live out the remainder of his earthly life.”  She describes the origin of the unusual house name “it stood on the territory which had once formed part of a large farm where, in the Middle Ages, they reared hawks (the word ‘jess’ signifying a leather strap fastened to the legs of the hawk and affixed to its perch, or to the hand of its owner).”  This also explains the name of one of the last houses in Grayswood village, before Jesses, which has the evocative name ‘Hawks Stoop’.

Mabel goes on to explain that they planned to move into the house in the New Year of 1918, but due to the owners of the house they were renting in Thursley, wanting to return early due to the air raids in London, they were forced to move in around Christmas time 1917. 
The Mount, 1928 from The Francis Frith archive: The Grayswood  Road to Haslemere

Given the steep slope on the Grayswood Road, which became a car park during the last snowfall in 2010, it is no mean feat that in snow and ice, after the farmer who was supposed to move the Dolmetsch’s refused “as he dared not risk his horses in such a venture”, that the Dolmetsch’s friend Major Coulder and helpers from the French-Canadian troops “managed their floundering horses” to Jesses without mishap.
The Dolmetsch family in costume, from Dolmetsch Online

Dolmetsch goes on to relate that “We lost no time in establishing contact with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph King, the Godfrey Blounts and other members of their confraternity.  These artists, at the beginning of the New Year (1918), organized some strikingly beautiful Nativity tableaux.  A charming touch was added (at their request) when, at one point, Nathalie and Rudolph (Dolmetsch), robed in white and gold, seated themselves at the edge of the stage in the centre of the picture, like two little angels; and played in duo, on tenor viol and recorder, the music of the fourteenth-century carol ‘Qui creavit Coelum’.  There were, of course, no stands or music-books to mar the illusion.” 

Unfortunately we have no record of this picture.  It has been reported elsewhere that the nativity tableaux in the Country Church (run by Godfrey Blount) was considered impressive.

Margaret Campbell (Dolmetsch: the man and his work, Hamish Hamilton Limited, 1975) writes about the first Dolmetsch Early Music Festival in 1925: “Although Dolmetsch welcomed controversy, he was shrewd enough to know that a festival would attract more attention if he could persuade a celebrity to open the proceedings with a few friendly words.  It was to (George Bernard) Shaw, who had helped him so much in the past, that he wrote, but the request was rejected with characteristic wit and good advice.”  Shaw argued that a speech would distract from the music, and attract those who would not attend “for the love of music” but “’idiots’ who come to gape and never return.” 

Cover from Dolmetsch, Mabel, Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch, 1957
Nonetheless Dolmetsch insisted that a speaker was needed, Campbell reports that “at the first concert (25 August 1925) Joseph King, a business, and ex-MP with a love for music, made the introductory speech…The Daily Telegraph critic originally intended to cover the first two concerts but was so captivated that he persuaded his editor to allow him to stay for the entire two weeks, sending daily reports – something unheard of in 1925.”
All Saints Church, Grayswood, 1902 from The Francis Frith archive

Mabel Dolmetsch recounts that “another prominent member of the board of governors of the Dolmetsch Foundation was Mr. Joseph King who proved himself throughout a whole-hearted and generous supporter.  He was joined herein, in 1931, by his second wife Helena King.”  Whilst in my previous post, I had assumed that Helena was the music lover, it would appear that it was her husband who first had an interest in the Dolmetsch works.


  1. In September 1917, the Dolmetsch family moved to a cottage in Thursley at the invitation of Beatrice Horne, a family friend. Although Beatrice moved back to London, and let the cottage to the Dolmetsches, it was not long before she too wanted to leave London to avoid the bombing.

    Helena King became Secretary of the Dolmetsch Foundation and godmother to the twin daughters of Dr Carl Dolmetsch, Arnold's youngest son. In 1952, Helena gifted £50 to Denys Darlow to enabled him to launch the first Tilford Bach Festival.

  2. Dear Brian, thank you for adding this useful information. Much appreciated.


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