Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piano

Piano belonging to the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams at Leith Hill Place
Published : 03 Mar 2016 Last update : 24 May 2016

The piano that English composer Vaughan Williams used for most of his working life is on display for the first time at Leith Hill Place, his childhood home in Surrey.

He used the piano to write compositions including The Lark Ascending, which has been named the nation’s favourite piece of classical music.

This is the first time the public will see the piano which until now had only been glimpsed in family photographs.

The piano was donated by Frances Rhodes (niece of Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer’s widow) and will be on permanent display at Leith Hill Place, Vaughan Williams’ childhood home in Surrey, which he gave to us in 1945.

Kept close to hand

The piano, a Broadwood with a model name of ‘Honeysuckle’, dates from 1903 and was bought secondhand by Vaughan Williams in 1905. It was delivered to his Chelsea address, 13 Cheyne Walk, and went with him years later to his Dorking home.

The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in the study of his Dorking home with the piano
Black and white portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams in his study with the piano
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in the study of his Dorking home with the piano

He kept the instrument close to hand through his most productive and important years as a composing tool for The Lark Ascending in 1914 through to later works such as his Piano Concerto, Five Tudor Portraits, Symphonies 1 – 9, film music for ‘Scott of the Antarctic’, Folk Songs of the Four Seasons and An Oxford Elegy.

The piano remained in the family for many years until now. Upon receiving the piano we arranged for it to be restrung and fitted with a new tuning plank so that the piano can be played again.

" We are thrilled that an instrument so key to Vaughan Williams’ life and work now has its permanent home at Leith Hill Place. It is quite an unassuming instrument and it sat in the composer’s study where he used it daily to try out musical ideas."
- Gabrielle Gale, Manager for Leith Hill Place

A famous family

In addition to its famous association with Vaughan Williams, Leith Hill Place was also the home of his grandparents, Josiah Wedgwood III (of the ceramics company) and Caroline (née Darwin) from 1847. The naturalist Charles Darwin, his great-uncle, conducted experiments in the grounds.

Leith Hill Place was gifted to the National Trust in 1945 by Ralph Vaughan Williams
A view of Leith Hill Place
Leith Hill Place was gifted to the National Trust in 1945 by Ralph Vaughan Williams

An informal atmosphere

Gabrielle Gale, the manager for Leith Hill Place adds: ’Set up high on the hill with sweeping views of the Surrey countryside, you can imagine the outlook from Leith Hill Place inspiring the young composer. The house is largely unfurnished, but has an informal atmosphere where visitors can really feel at home, and it will be greatly enriched by having the composer’s piano here.'

‘We’d like to express heartfelt thanks to Frances Rhodes: the donor of this important gift and for the ongoing support of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust for use of images, Surrey Performing Arts Library, Leith Hill Musical Festival and the Wedgwood family.’

Opening times

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piano is on display at Leith Hill Place, Dorking, Surrey from 4 March to 31 October 2016, Friday to Monday 11am to 5pm.


Watch a video of the instrument being played by acclaimed pianist David Owen Norris.