There has been quite a debate about whether Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was, or was not, financially comfortable as a child and young man. Jeffrey Green‘s meticulous research, for instance, has established that Coleridge-Taylor’s grandfather / father-figure, Benjamin Holmans, was a man of significant wealth, having two electoral votes (as was then the rule) because he paid rent on two Croydon properties.
Nonetheless, there are still those who suppose that in his youth Samuel (‘Coleridge’, as he was then known) was by no means well off – albeit we see from his posthumous estate that later in his short life he acquired a more substantial financial status.
In such a context this entry [picture] in the 1955 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music is interesting.
Yes, we do have first to concede that there is in the non-PC text poetic licence in the account of how and why Samuel’s biological father was nowhere to be seen, but in 1955 such glossing over of illegitimacy and the like was not unusual.
What is more striking is the unsourced quote we see here about Coleridge-Taylor attending the Royal College of Music ‘with a large circular patch on his trousers’, this being cited as evidence of serious poverty. One gathers trouser patches were not the norm at the RCM even back in the early 1890s.
So when and from where, we are left to wonder, did this quote emanate? Does anyone know the source of the report? And why apparently was it felt at the time to be a significant observation?
How does this fit with the RCM sponsorship claimed in the OCM entry on behalf of Colonel Herbert Walters?
And how does it fit with Jeffrey Green’s report that the continued involvement of Alice’s mother Emily Ann Martin – according to Bill Greenwell probably the Holman’s housekeeper when the family had previously lived in Kent – was important? Emily continued to visit her daughter Alice (who later raised a family with George Evans) in Croydon into the 1900s, providing money whilst Benjamin Holmans (Snr), very likely Alice’s biological father, provided the home. This grandmaternal support was, Jeffrey Green tells us, crucial in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s childhood.
Does then the OCM reference to patched trousers tell us that Samuel was less favourably treated as a family member, at least in cash terms, than others in his relatively comfortable home? Or was there austerity in personal matters in that household as a general rule, perhaps to ensure the success of (the householder) Benjamin Holman’s business?
Or is there another explanation for the trouser patch report, even a romantic, possibly fictional, notion by someone of sacrifice for one’s art?
Maybe Samuel Coleridge-Taylor did for whatever reason experience poverty in his student days, but things improved quite shortly thereafter when paid work came his way as Hiawatha became popular.
But that’s only one suggestion. Others seeing this entry in the 1955 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music may have different views about how accurate the report of the patched trousers is, and what it tells us…