Ralph Vaughan Williams Society chairman Em Marshall reveals her home truths

PUBLISHED: 08:36 01 April 2011 | UPDATED: 05:39 20 May 2014

Ralph Vaughan Williams Society chairman Em Marshall reveals her home truths

Ralph Vaughan Williams Society chairman Em Marshall reveals her home truths

As chairman of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, which celebrates Dorking’s most famous composer, Em Marshall, who lives in Kew, near Richmond, is well-versed on the best things about Surrey. Also the founder-director of the English Music Festival, here we put her under the Surrey Life spotlight

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2010


What was it that brought you to Surrey? 
I’m fairly new to Surrey – I came here just three years ago. I lived in the heart of the city most of my life but was always drawn to the Richmond area.

What’s your favourite thing about living in the county? 
I came here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and particularly to be by the river. I love being beside the river, and enjoy long leafy walks with my dog. I like the fact that it’s easy to get into town for meetings, but the environment in Kew is more ‘villagey’. At the same time, there’s the convenience of Richmond’s shops and restaurants, and easy access to the countryside.

Is there anything you don’t like?
Aircraft noise. It’s a huge problem in Kew. It can really spoil the atmosphere, especially when walking in Kew Gardens, or just sitting in my own back garden reading. I once tried to hold a meeting in my garden for the board of trustees of one of my charities, but we had to give up after 20 minutes because of the constant noise.

How would you choose to spend a ‘lazy’ Sunday morning?
Walking in the Surrey Hills. Box Hill, in particular, makes me nostalgic for my childhood, as it was one of the places my parents used to take me when I was young. I also have one rather unusual memory of a school trip there – I’ll never forget meeting the actor Nigel Havers and being patted on the head by him and told that I was ‘a good boy’ – due to my tomboyish short hair!

If you were heading out for a pub lunch yourself, where would you choose?
I would choose somewhere like the Running Horses or the William IV in Mickleham, or the Onslow Arms in Clandon. What a good country pub needs – and these three have – is old-world character and charm.

It’s your partner’s birthday coming up… Where would you go for a meal?
It really depends on the time of day – if it’s for lunch, I’d ideally like to be sitting outside at La Buvette, a delightful French restaurant tucked down a lane in Richmond. Lunch there would be pork fillet with lentils, and a Kir Royale. An alternative would be Chez Lindsay, also in Richmond, for a crepe and a Normandy cider. For the ‘classy’ option, I’d go for an early dinner at The Glasshouse, which is next to Kew Gardens station, or a late meal at Wine & Mousaka, on Kew Green – with some giggle-inducing Retsina!

You decide to go for a country walk... Where would you choose?
I especially like the walk along the old Pilgrims Way from just above Denbies Vineyard, up on to Ranmore Common and then down to Polesden Lacey. An area like this, in the heart of the Surrey Hills, is glorious at any time of year.

What’s your favourite hidden treasure in the area?
Leith Hill Place, now owned by the National Trust, was the home of the great composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and was bought by his grandfather Josiah Wedgwood (of the Wedgwood pottery family) in the mid-19th century. Charles Darwin, the naturalist, was Vaughan Williams’ great-uncle and used to visit for holidays. A little known fact is that there were once kangaroos skipping around on Leith Hill, which the Evelyns, the Lords of the Manor, who were keen naturalists, had introduced! The church in nearby Coldharbour is the final resting place of a number of the Wedgwoods and Vaughan Williams.

What do you think is the biggest single issue facing the area today?
There is too much development, and I notice London sprawling out into Surrey a little bit more all the time. We need to protect the green belt, but it is being nibbled away at, bit by bit, due to the demand for new houses. Soon, if we are not careful, we will lose many of our most precious green spaces – and once lost they’ll be gone forever.

Finally, if Surrey had a symbol, what do you think it should be and why?
How about juniper berries? Until recently they used to grow in prolific numbers all over the Surrey Hills, and we still have some junipers around today, especially around Box Hill. Making the juniper Surrey’s emblem would symbolise the importance of protecting our precious heritage and natural environment. Surrey, like the juniper, is endangered, and we need to fight to protect it.

  • For more information on the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, visit their website at: www.rvwsociety.com

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