John Ireland’s letters are a particularly valuable source of information, especially given the gaps in our knowledge of his life. One such teenage offering was written on 30 August 1897 to a fellow student at the RCM, Mary Bentley. This letter has all sorts of little clues that contribute to the overall picture of the composer:
1. He was on holiday in the Lake District, staying in Glenridding. Given the other gradually emerging references to his visits to Cumbria, it is clear that his mother’s roots in this county were an ongoing draw. During this holiday his love of walking in the countryside is apparent. He writes of walking from Glenridding to Ambleside and back via Kirkstone Pass – a pretty hefty day’s tramping.
2. He was heading south to stay in Manchester for a few days, continuing his connections with the north of England. His address there was 9 Egerton Road, Fallowfield, very close to 31 Mauldeth Road (see earlier post on 23 September).
3. At his London address in Kensington, which he describes as a ‘tomb’, he is sharing his accommodation with his sister Ethel.
4. He is working on his String Quartet in C minor, of which he writes: ‘It will be a decent work when finished, but not very exciting’.
5. He is already a smoker!
6. He has been reading several recent or new books:
- Flora Annie Steel On the Face of the Waters (1896)
- Robert Louis Stevenson The Weir of Hermiston (1896)
- Richard Harding Davis Soldiers of Fortune (1897)