Discovering Selhurst’s history – musical notes

By - Thursday 20th August, 2015

Sean Creighton continues his exploration of a part of Croydon that’s been in the shadows

Duke of Cambridge pub, Selhurst.
Photo author’s own.

In a recent piece for the Citizen, I explained how leading heritage walks in the Selhurst area during the Croydon Heritage Festival opened my eyes to the history of this fascinating part of the world, too often regarded as a minor southern appendage to South Norwood. Whilst doing my research, I began to feel that this is unfair and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more.

St Jude’s Home For Girls, founded in 1862 for orphans or daughters of very poor parents, was at 49 Dagnall Park, which had a big garden. The site is now part of the Brit School. In 1904 the home and its thirty-five girls joined the Waifs and Strays Society (now the Children’s Society). The home was closed in 1945, and the girls and staff were dispersed to other society homes. One the girls living there was an unknown black girl, who might have been there when Croydon’s famous black composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, lived in the same road, at number thirty.

Coleridge-Taylor actually lived at several addresses in the area: 86 Holmesdale Road from around 1894-96, then Edith Road from 1896-98 (although the exact number he lived in has not been identified). His biographer Jeff Green says it is certain that Edith Road is where he composed ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast‘ in early 1898.’ He then moved to Saxon Road (1898-9); faced with her parents’ opposition to her marrying him, his girlfriend Jessie met him here to discuss their future. It was here that he probably wrote his ballade in A minor which was premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester in September 1898, having been commissioned on the advice of composer Edward Elgar, local to that area who was ten years his senior. Coleridge-Taylor then lived at 30 Dagnall Park from 1898 until October 1901.

The area has a strong musical tradition

It was also the period when his ‘Song of Hiawatha’ gained critical acclaim, and saw him attending the Pan African Conference in July 1900. His son Hiawatha was born in Dagnall Park in April 1901. The young family then moved to 11 Dagmar Rd where they remained from October 1901 until 1903. Here he composed ‘Meg Blane’ for the Sheffield Festival in October 1902. His last address in Selhurst was 10 Upper Grove, from late 1903 to late 1907.

Metal silhouette statues of notable Croydonians Romanies Corbett, Peggy Ashcroft and (centre) Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Photo by Bob Walker, used under Creative Commons licence.

Coleridge-Taylor was undoubtedly Selhurst’s most prominent musical resident, but the area has a strong tradition of music and several other houses in the area have been occupied by those who would go on to be celebrated in the field. 17 The Crescent (still surviving) was where Kenneth Alwyn, the composer and conductor, grew up. Number 27 in the same street, now part of the Brit School site, was the home of the secretary of the Selhurst Musical Society, W. Harris in 1909. Hurlstone Road is named after William Hurlstone, a musician friend of Coleridge-Taylor from the Royal College of Music. It appears this street was given the name after his early death in 1906, aged just thirty. His mother is recorded as living at 171 Selhurst Road in 1904 and 1912.

In 1909, Selhurst Musical Society’s conductor William Edward Partridge lived at 14 Dagmar Rd. He was also organist and choir master at Holy Trinity church, played piano and viola, and was engaged in private teaching. He became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians in September 1903 and conductor of Rochester Choral Society. 6 Dagmar Road was the home of Walter Lintott Freeman, a professor of the banjo, and a Miss Freeman, a professor of the guitar, in residence. Miss Freeman may be either of Walter’s sisters Constance (born 1865), or Eliza Margaret (born 1864, christened at St. John the Baptist). Along with Charles Alfred (born 1867) their parents were Charles and Amelie Marie.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    I used to live in Limes Road, in between Sydenham Road and Whitehorse Road.