History at Holst

The only Regency House open to the public in Cheltenham...

You probably think of the Cheltenham born composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) as a Victorian, or perhaps as a man at the height of his career at the beginning of the 20th century. His most famous piece of music, The Planets, was composed during WW1. But that's not all...

At the Holst Birthplace Museum you can see what life was like for the Holst family when Gustav was a Victorian child, using Victorian interiors to tell the story. However, did you know that the house is actually Regency in period, built in 1832? And that it includes a Regency Sitting Room - the only authentic Regency interior you can visit in Cheltenham? 

Holst's story begins in Regency Cheltenham. His grandfather Gustavus von Holst was the first official ‘Cheltenham Holst’. He originally came from Riga, Latvia as a young boy, travelling with his composer father as well as his mother and siblings. The von Holst family settled in London, although by the 1830s, Gustavus, now a musician himself, began visiting Cheltenham for the ‘season’. Gustavus taught young ladies the trendy instruments of the day – the harp and the pianoforte.  A painting of the time reveals him to be the image of a fashionable Regency gentleman with his wide-collared white shirt and wavy Byronic locks. By the 1850s he was settled in Cheltenham with his own family and became the first Professor of Music at the newly opened Cheltenham Ladies College, where he was known as ‘Herr von Holst.’ 

Gustavus’ neighbourhood was Montpellier and The Promenade. He lived in two different properties in Montpellier, the first now occupied by Ladbrokes, the second now The Circus Bar. Inside both of these buildings Gustavus ran musical instrument shops, selling those fashionable golden harps and pianofortes to families eager to give their daughters elegant accomplishments. Gustavus von Holst never came to the house now known as the Holst Birthplace Museum. This house was in fact owned by Gustav Holst’s mother’s family and later passed to Gustav Holst in inheritance.

The Regency Sitting Room at the Holst Birthplace Museum has been created to suggest the type of room where Gustavus would have taught smart young ladies. In this room you can imagine ‘Herr von Holst’, arms full of music, arriving to instruct a young woman, her hair in ringlets, seated at a gleaming harp. The room is fashionably red, papered in hand printed wallpaper from the Cole & Son archive, using an actual 1830 block. We don’t know if Gustavus ever taught in Pittville, although with its grand houses and ‘up and coming’ atmosphere, music teachers would have been in demand. It is however undoubtedly the place where Gustav composed The Planets, albeit in a different era of history!

So it’s here in this crimson room with its pale pink sofa and walls of oil paintings by Theodor von Holst that you can get to the heart of Regency Cheltenham. Here where you can imagine Pittville of the past with the noise of builders outside erecting the Regency Estate. And perhaps outside the window, strolling down the street, the dashing Herr von Holst with his portfolio of harp music? 

Photography by Richard McCleery, courtesy of Cheltenham Camera Club




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