London-born composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is subject to several untruths which are repeated and seem to have become ‘true’.
His upbringing, in a house downwind of a slaughterhouse and next to the railway, is not the romantic background one might wish for. His studies at the Royal College of Music started in 1890. They have been muddled: some commentators believe he won a scholarship which enabled him to study there, when the truth is that his scholarship was awarded in March 1893. This reflects well on his family for not only were they without any income the teenager might have earned, but had to pay out for his railway fares, his tuition fees, and purchase music, violin strings and so on.
His sudden death on 1 September 1912 left his widow Jessie, and their two children, apparently without an income and although the music of his 1899-1900 choral masterpiece The Song of Hiawatha was still selling well, its creator had sold the copyright to the publisher Novello. Such actions were not rare at that time. But was he destitute in 1912?
The on-line probate indexes for 1912 (See Samuel Taylor) show that his estate was worth £874 5s 7d and that in October 1912 this was inherited by his widow. The estate was re-sworn to £1,335 1s 5d. A suburban house could be purchased for under £400, £120 annual income was seen as excellent for a working man, and anyone earning over £500 a year was likely to employ a servant.
The tax files of Britain’s Inland Revenue has survived – at the National Archives, Kew, reference IR 59/371. Estate duty on the £1,335 1s 5d was charged at £15 3s 7d in mid-1913.
The house contents were valued at nearly £125 and included two pianos and four sets of china totally 94 pieces. The rent on the eight room house was £45 a year. There were debts totalling £84 which included the doctor’s bill for £31, £17 due to a music library, and nearly £5 for coal. Royalties from various publishers were listed with £50, £34, £40 and £49 in the years 1906 to 1909. In 1910 he had received £70, and £108 in 1911, and in eight months of 1912 £139 with £100 due.
The estate of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was the property of his widow and in 1951 she received £982 (in 1940 it had been £638, in 1941 it was £679, and in 1942 it was £489). In 1959, with her husband’s music falling from favour, she said she had received £700 to £800 over three years.
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