When I was about nine (or possibly ten), my family and I went on holiday to Devon. We camped, hiked and played on the beach. At some point during the fortnight, my parents took us to a concert in the evening and I had my one and only experience of listening live to James Galway the flautist. Now, this was back sometime in the late 1970s and he was a young man, just really becoming famous – do you remember a single he did of Annie’s Song, it was around about then – so I was enthralled to see him play because I’d just started to play the flute.
We sat upstairs in a gallery (probably the old minstrel’s gallery), and gradually as the evening progressed, I snuck down the steps and peered through the railings to get a better view. The trouble with playing the flute is there is nowhere to look if you’re playing by heart. The instrument is to one side and out of sight, so quite often I play with my eyes shut. James Galway’s eyes flit around and dance, constantly restless and alive with the music. When a piece of music finished, he bowed, left the room through the door on the right, then returned for a second bow. There was no accompaniment other than a pianist. At the end of the concert we left and drove back to the campsite. Needless to say his performance was virtuoso and to this day I can distinquish his style from other flautists just by hearing him play. Later, I discovered my first flute teacher was a pupil of ‘Jimmy’ as she called him. So technically, does that make me a grand pupil?!
Where was this renown flautist playing? Some prestigious concert hall? No, it was in the great hall of Dartington Hall near Totnes.
The manor of Dartington is mentioned in the Royal Charter of 833AD, and the Medieval hall was built sometime between 1388 and 1400 for the earl of Huntingdon. When the estate reverted to the crown, it was acquired by the Champernowe family who lived there until 1925. By then the house was nearly derelict. Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought the estate and began to restore the house and great hall’s hammerbeam roof. The couple were inspired to be more than property owners, they decided to create a commune of schools, charities and commercial enterprises, many of which survive to this day. They blended the arts, social reform and horticulture (nice gardens too) and to this day Dartington continues to pioneer a range of projects in the region. The house is run by a trust and functions as a conference centre and wedding venue.
During its 20th Century history the school was the home of progressive educators who shunned formal education and the trappings of many private schools, which meant no Greek or Latin, no segregation of the sexes. However, eventually the school grew unpopular and closed in the 1980s. It was Dartington’s College of Arts that focused on the Performing Arts and was part of the estate from 1961 until 2008 when it moved to Falmouth in Cornwall. It was during this period that classical musical and performance were taught, and probably the reason why James Galway was visiting.
The reason I picked this house was partly because of my memories of it, but because a house likes to have a function and if it’s not a home, it should always be doing something and not left to rot.