Ralph Vaughan Williams at Leith Hill Place

A sepia montage of the composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, as a young man aged about 20 with his childhood home, Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey in the background

Ralph Vaughan Williams lived at Leith Hill Place in Surrey throughout his childhood, from the age of two until he was twenty, when he left to go to Cambridge University.

The Wedgwood family

A member of the Wedgwood family, his mother Margaret brought her young family back to live with her parents Josiah III and Caroline (nee Darwin) after the early death of her husband, Arthur Vaughan Williams.
 
Ralph was brought up surrounded by the beauty and tranquillity of the Surrey Hills and his affinity for the area was a recurring theme throughout his life.
 

The making of a musician

Ralph's aunt Sophy taught him to play the piano and he also learnt the violin, viola and organ. He went to school at nearby Charterhouse in Godalming before going to the Music and then on to University.  
 
He returned to the Royal College to study with Sir Hubert Parry and specialise in composition.  He studied for short periods with Bruch in Berlin and Ravel in Paris before developing his unique English style.
 

His musical legacy

Ralph Vaughan Williams became one of the most prolific English composers of the 20th-century. He composed nine symphonies and numerous choral and chamber works, as well as film scores, operas, music for ballet and the theatre, solo songs, song cycles and instrumental pieces.
 
He collected English folk songs and this strongly influenced his style. His romance for violin, The Lark Ascending, has twice been voted the nation's favourite classical piece. But just as importantly, he was a teacher, lecturer, conductor, writer and friend to other composers and musicians.
 

Music for all

Although born into a privileged intellectual family, Vaughan Williams was down to earth and not at all snobbish. He volunteered as a stretcher bearer in the First World War, even though he was too old for conscription.
 
He was passionate about bringing music into everybody's lives – editing the English Hymnal even although he was an atheist himself, and helping to start the Leith Hill Musical Festival – an annual competition for amateur choirs, which is still going strong. He urged people to make their own music, however simple.
 

A warm human being

He loved the companionship of women, who all adored him, and was married twice. His appearance was often rather dishevelled, but he had an irresistible charm to all who met him – male and female alike.
 
He had a life-long passion for Shakespeare and the music of J S Bach, and the composer, Gustav Holst, was one of his closest friends.
 

Feel close to his creative genius

 
Vaughan Williams was a modest man and wanted his legacy to be the music he left behind.  With this in mind we invite you to relax and enjoy visiting Leith Hill Place where he grew up and experience the joy of his music as you do so.