|Cecil Sharp House||Camden|
Cecil Sharp was a key figure in reviving modern English folk music, joining the Committee of the Folk Song Society in 1904. In 1911 he founded the English Folk Dance Society; the two societies later amalgamated. Sharp died in 1924, bequeathing his library to the Society, which raised funds to buy a plot of land on which to build its national headquarters and memorial to him. Cecil Sharp House opened in June 1930 and according to original plans its triangular garden was intended as an open air theatre, although there is no evidence that it was used as such. Two curving flights of stairs lead from the building onto lawn, with a semi-circular seating area set into the wall at the apex of the triangle. The garden today contains shrubs, flowers and trees, some planted in memory of people connected to the Society.
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Cecil Sharp House Garden, August 2002. Photo: S Williams
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Cecil Sharp was a key figure in reviving modern English folk music, and was an important collector, editing, performing and writing about English folk songs and dances. In 1904 he joined the Committee of the Folk Song Society founded in 1898 and in 1911 he founded the English Folk Dance Society to preserve and promote English folk dances in their traditional forms; others collecting folk songs at the time included Ralph Vaughan Williams. When Cecil Sharp died in 1924, he bequeathed his library to the Society, which then raised funds to buy a plot of land in 1928 on which to build Cecil Sharp House in 1929-30 as a memorial to him and its national headquarters; the building was designed by H M Fletcher and the walls and gates to the garden which remain were part of the original design. When the Society purchased the site it was derelict; it had once been divided into two plots with a building known as Tower House spanning both, and it may have once been a more substantial property; the earliest documentation of the previous history of the site in the archives of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is a conveyance dating from 1799.
Cecil Sharp House opened in June 1930 at which time the garden had trees and grass. The Society's Golden Jubilee booklet published in 1980 refers to 'a number of plane trees on both sides of the building, some of which we kept until they grew too large and cracked our new brick walls'. One mature plane tree remains that predates the building of the House. According to original plans for the site the garden was intended as an open air theatre with entrances from the ground floor and the basement and there are two curving flights of stairs lead from the building onto the lawn, with a semi-circular seating area set into the wall at the apex of the triangle, but there is no evidence that it was used as a theatre and it appears that the reason this did not come to fruition was shortage of funds so that interior fittings took top priority.
Under the Society's next Director, Douglas Kennedy, it continued to flourish, and in 1932 the Folk Song Society and the English Folk Dance Society amalgamated to form the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Following damage during World War II Cecil Sharp House was partially rebuilt in 1949-51; a former musicians' gallery in the dance hall was replaced by a large specially commissioned mural painting by Ivon Hitchens of 1954. Sharp's Library later became the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and is the national archive and resource for folk music, dance and song.
The garden is a triangular site formed by the junction of Regent's Park Road and Gloucester Avenue and is entered either side of the building. The garden contains shrubs, flowers and trees some of which have been planted in memory of various people connected to the Society, including a yew tree planted in 1979 for Maude Karpeles. Many of the plants have come as gifts from members of the Society.
Camden Listed Buildings website; Derek Schofield 'History of the Society' on English Folk Dance and Song Society Website; Correspondence with the Librarian and Chief Officer of the Society, 2002.