Dr Bill Mitchell investigates the links between British composer Roger Quilter and the town of Settle.

HEADS turned in disbelief as Roger Quilter sauntered through the market town of Settle. He visited Settle at a time of post-war austerity and petrol rationing. Quilter (1877-1953) was wearing a city-type suit with a fawn waistcoat. A small party, completed by Quilter’s dog and cat, had travelled to Settle by train.

Quilter sprang from a Suffolk family. His music evoked the spirit of Edwardian days and Settle, in Yorkshire, played a good part in his musical life. Non Nobis Domine, the finest of his choral words, was aired in Settle.

Quilter had been introduced to the town by Harry Heaton, his valet, a native of Giggleswick and the son of a platelayer on the Settle-Carlisle railway. Ada, the wife, was from the same town. The family lived at Rose Cottage, lodge for the Ashfield Hotel, which was to become a social club.

Copies of Quilter’s music, some in manuscript, bearing his signature, were in due course received by Jack Brassington and his family. Jack, whom I knew well, was a member of the Settle Amateur Operatic Society. He described Quilter as “tall and quite hefty but with a gentle voice...You might call him a Gentle Giant.”

Quilter, lamenting when there was no piano in the Pilkington household, where he stayed, was taken to the Brassington home on The Mains at Giggleswick where a good piano was available. Jack recalled that Quilter used their piano on many occasions during his first and second visits to Giggleswick. “He was never happy unless he was putting notes on paper.”

Mrs Brassington was fascinated at the way he made minor adjustments to a score. When she asked Quilter if he would like a cup of coffee he replied that he preferred a squashed banana and brown sugar. So that is what he had. Quilter accompanied Jack Brassington on a visit to the domed chapel of Giggleswick School which stood on its gritstone crag above the famous public school. Jack had been a former scholar.

Quilter, on his first visit to the chapel, had the company of Harry Heaton. They arrived as the day’s cleaning had just ended. The cleaner was Thomas Thistlethwaite, of Austwick. This bluff, ruddy-faced, cheerful man was known far and wide as Tommy Apple, a fact that would appeal to Quilter, who spent much time gossiping with him.

Writing to Jack from his London home Quilter referred to Tommy, noting “I wish you did not live so far away. I really must try to come North later on. Do tell me Tommy Apple’s real name and address, if you know it.”

Quilter was plainly much-moved by the people he had met at Settle and, especially, the kindness of the Brassington family who had given him friendship and the use of their piano. In the early 1950s, Quilter sent them copies of his songs, either in manuscript or in printed form. He forwarded printed music from Where the Rainbow Ends and autographed copies of Wild Cherry and Hark! Hark! The Lark.

A further local connection was Quilter’s friendship with Annice Haygarth (nee Sidwell) and her husband, who were musical. Annice had an outstanding voice that was heard in local operatic productions and which got the best out of new songs by Quilter. When he visited her home he provided piano accompaniment. He also kept Annice in touch about his current work.

Quilter - a shy, gangling, talented bachelor - did not care much for physical exercise. When he visited Settle he was not keen on the prospects of walking up hill and down dale. He was beset from childhood with stomach problems. He was finicky about food. He was prone to periods of anxiety about aspects of his personal life. He was occasionally wracked with worry.

During his 1951 visit, Quilter stayed at the Black Horse, Giggleswick. Writing to Jack Brassington from the Royal Ascot Hotel on September 20 of that year, he hoped that all was going well with Jack and his family and apologised because, though he had stayed quite near to Jack’s home, the chance of seeing him had not arisen. “It was delightful meeting you the time before, when I was staying at the Black Horse. Do you remember, you sang to me outside [the inn] one of my songs? I think it was To Daisies.”

I had already spent some years probing into Quilter’s connections with Settle when I heard of his intention to live in the town. Quilter died before a house was purchased. He had always been keen to keep his music accessible to as many people as possible. Music and Moonlight is an atmospheric, delicate song. The accompaniment, with its half-strummed chords, gives hints of a guitar. The melody floats on top. It is – unusually for Quilter – in a flowing 6/8 time. He set a poem written by Shelley. The keen stars were twinkling.

The final words are typical of the sentiment that was inspirational to Quilter – that ‘music and moonlight and feeling are one’.”