Let us Now Praise Famous Men – a Blog about Three Famous Men
I have lived for almost fifty years in the town of Cheltenham and I now think of it fondly as my home town. We have three famous people whom I have learned to associate with Cheltenham and this will be about them. (I’m not saying we only have three.)
My original plan was to use these three as a base for something about blue plaques but between them they have almost totally failed in the blue plaque department. I will do a separate blog about plaques.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
When I was young I assumed that Gustav Holst was German or Austrian because of his name. (OK, the name is from Denmark but I didn’t know that. It sounded a bit foreign.) Since moving to Cheltenham I learned that he was one of our claims to fame. I passed the house where he was born several times. I have even been inside it.
He was born in 1874 in Cheltenham, Gustavus Theodore von Holst, and went to Cheltenham Grammar School. In pop music terms he was a ‘One Hit Wonder.’ Although he wrote a large number of pieces of music he is only remembered for The Planets, an orchestral suite of seven movements each named after one of the Planets. (He didn’t have to worry about whether Pluto was a planet or not. It hadn’t been discovered then.)
The work is not really about the planets in an astronomical sense. That’s why it does not include the Earth. It’s not even about the mythology of the Roman gods. It’s about astrology. The full titles of the seven movements, which convey the nature of the astrological gods, are:
- Mars, the Bringer of War
- Venus, the Bringer of Peace
- Mercury, the Winged Messenger
- Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
- Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
- Uranus, the Magician
- Neptune, the Mystic
As part of my research I looked him up on Wikipedia and they show a lovely English Heritage blue plaque, one of the typical dark blue circular plaques associated with where people lived. Unfortunately it is at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London where he taught as he was writing The Planets.
I went to his Birthplace Museum and found this on the wall.
It’s not quite what I thought of as a plaque. Below it is this.
I suppose this is a plaque but it’s more about the building than the person.
(There was another notice saying that the museum was closed until further notice. I can report that it reopened in January after a closure of six months.)
We now have a statue of Holst in Imperial Gardens at the centre of Cheltenham. I can remember it appearing as recently as April 2009.
He would often hold the baton as shown in his left hand because he had neuritis in his right arm. This prevented him from learning the piano so he took up the trombone – becoming a professional player and music teacher.
On the plinth of the statue we can find perhaps his best plaque.
Edward Adrian Wilson (1872-1912)
Not far from this statue is another statue modelled by Kathleen Scott, unveiled in 1914. This one is Edward Wilson of the Antarctic, my second famous Cheltonian.
This monument has an inscription.
If you can’t read this picture the important bits are, “Artist and Zoologist of the British Antarctic Expeditions 1910-1913. He reached the South Pole January 17 – 1912 and died with Capt. Scott on the Great Ice Barrier March 1912.”
I knew where he was born and I went there in search of a plaque and I founds this.
It’s big and very impressive but it’s not exactly a round blue plaque! You can get a better idea of the size of these letters when you notice the two large windows shown at the edges of the picture.
Wilson was born here in Montpellier Terrace, Cheltenham and went to school at a preparatory school in Clifton, Bristol, then at Cheltenham College. He lived on a farm in Leckhampton and developed a strong interest in nature and wildlife. He read Natural Science at Cambridge University and then studied Medicine in London.
While convalescing from tuberculosis in Norway and Switzerland he developed his skills as an artist. Then he qualified in medicine and became a Junior House Surgeon at Cheltenham General Hospital before turning to arctic exploration with Scott. Scott’s fate is well-known.
I am going to add one more picture about Edward Adrian Wilson. Cheltenham has an Art Gallery and Museum, which underwent a major redevelopment process a few years ago. Just before its relaunch in September 2013 they decided to rename it. I think they suggested two or three options and left it to public choice. It is now known, somewhat enigmatically, as ‘The Wilson’, proudly displaying this plaque outside.
Jenner was the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, proving that cowpox could be used to provide immunity from smallpox. He was born in Berkeley, a small town in Gloucestershire and from 1795 he lived in Cheltenham for the summer seasons.
There was a building called Alpha House, which until a few years ago stood on the site of our local engineering firm, Spirax-Sarco. It had a plaque saying that Jenner lived there. But the site was sold for development and Spirax moved a few miles away. Now there is a residential Home for the elderly and many flats and houses. The last houses to go up have just appeared where Alpha House used to be. There is no plaque!
I was a bit disappointed so I searched the Internet for information. I now know that he never lived there but it was one of the places he used to dispense vaccination, free of charge, to the poor. I found a lot more on the Internet.
Since 1795 Jenner lived nearer to the town centre in Jenner House, in St George’s Place. (At the time St George’s Place was simply a coach road across the fields known by its earlier name of Stills Lane.) His house was demolished in 1970 but a replica was constructed in 1994, similar in appearance from the outside. This house does have a plaque!
Jenner was a keen gardener but just had a small back garden here. In 1804 he bought a large portion of land opposite (then still a field) and made a kitchen garden and ornamental garden.
In 1809 he sold some of this land for Cheltenham Chapel, built to relieve the overcrowding at the Parish Church. (It is still there but no longer used as a chapel.)
Trustees of the chapel bought part of Jenner’s gardens for use as a cemetery and a lane was made to link this to Jenner House. Eventually the congregation of the Chapel declined and the graveyard filled. Its last burial was in 1889 and the graveyard closed in 1894. It became an overgrown and forgotten site until closed to the public in 2004.
With help from volunteers and local businesses the area of the cemetery was restored and planted with flowers. Since June 2009 it has re-opened as Jenner Gardens.
The lane linking these gardens to Jenner House is now known as Jenner Walk.
Apart from the Civic Award of 2009 shown above my three heroes had failed me for plaques but I decided to give them a blog to themselves. Plaques can come later. (They will. I have plenty of pictures from other places.)
After a bit of searching I found my title quotation in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 44.
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions…
As always, I use the Authorized Version of 1611 also known as the King James Version.
[I suppose I should have said that Ecclesiastes is a book in the Bible. Maybe not all of my readers won’t recognize it. The web-site where I found this quotation called it ’Ecclesiasticus.’]
As well as one on plaques, you can expect a blog on some of the other sights of Cheltenham.