Locating and dating a Three Choirs Festival photograph, by Simon Carpenter

Simon is the volunteer archivist for the Three Choirs Festival and has written this blog to coincide with the Hereford festival 2022.

Since retiring from my last job as NHS hero (well OK, administrator) in 2021 I have been focussing my professional love and affection on the Three Choirs Festival archives and history as a volunteer. With my choral singing background and librarianship and history research degrees it is my dream job.

Recently I have been sorting through and cataloguing the image and photo collection in the Festival office in College Green. Most we have inherited from the collection that Anthony Boden gathered when he was researching his book on the history of the Festival, now known to me as “The Bible”. Most are labelled. Most but not all, and there are some intriguing images of now forgotten rehearsal and concert scenes in various locations in Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford that I am determined to identify one day.

The first such photo was of a group outside a large house that obviously wasn’t Highnam Court, the home of the composer and big supporter of the Festival, Hubert Parry, where such events were held during his lifetime. The clothes suggested to me an Edwardian date, but there were no other clues. I decided to post a copy of the photo and send out an appeal on Twitter. This was taken up and retweeted by the Heritage Hub. Various suggestions were made but no one could identify the large house in the background of the photograph. 

A couple of days later though, when I was reading through about the 1922 Festival in the official “Annals” for another piece of research I am doing, I spotted that it mentioned that the death of Sir Hubert Parry in 1918 “was also felt in the lack of his usual Wednesday afternoon tea party at Highnam Court and the void was filled by the Mayor (Mr J G Roberts) who entertained the chorus singers and players at Rikenel, a rustic pastoral play being given”. I looked again at the photo and thought it could conceivably be Rikenel. I tweeted it again and then I searched Heritage Hub catalogue.

I then contacted Ally [McConnell] directly. She went for a run nearby, took photos of Rikenel as it now is and also looked and also searched books of old photos. We both checked the comparison maps on Know Your Place [www.kypwest.org.uk]. I also checked out and took photos of Rikenel during my volunteering day in the office. I was still not massively hopeful so I sent a copy to Tony Boden. He rang back and suggested the then garden of the King’s School headmaster or, less likely, Hartpury House. I tweeted the photo again and also contacted the King’s School. Their reply was that it definitely wasn’t there!

So it was down to Hartpury House, now Hartpury University. I checked the University website and the photo of the original building looked hopeful. In the meantime Hartpury House was indeed confirmed as the location by Nick Kingsley (formerly county archivist for Gloucestershire, and author of “Country Houses of Gloucestershire”). He also ran a search on the British Newspaper Archive which identified the occasion as being a garden party for the chorus and orchestra hosted by Mrs Gwynne Holford in 1925. I rang Tony Boden again and he remembered that he had found out that Mrs Holford thought a lot of herself and thought she knew a lot about music. This led to her having a slight contretemps with a famous singer of the day, Heddle Nash.

So the mystery was solved! Now for the next picture, and also researching whether anyone took up the challenge of hosting the chorus and orchestra during the 1928 Festival.

Thank you to John Chandler and Nick Kingsley for their help with this.

The photograph in question

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