This single small photograph of Ireland at St Luke’s has huge significance, given the close (and in some cases lifelong) associations of the composer with the people captured in it. This is the second in a series of short blogs uncovering the personalities behind the faces.
The solemn-looking boy standing directly above John Ireland is Robert (‘Bobby’) McLean Glassby (1900–33).
He is another fascinating character crossing the path of the composer, with details concerning his family history to be found here: http://glassby.com/Chapter1.htm. Bobby Glassby was born in Chelsea, son of a sculptor with the rather wonderful name, Robert Edward Cecil Fouracre Glassby (1872–1908). His grandfather was another Robert Glassby (1835–92), born in Yorkshire and also a sculptor, who trained first at Sheffield College of Art, then in Paris, before becoming sculptor to Queen Victoria. His painting of Mexborough church (seen at the bottom of this post) hangs in the Rotherham Art Gallery.
Glassby was a close friend of Charlie Markes and a favourite of Ireland. As is known, he is reputed to be the real boy behind ‘The holy boy’. Born in Chelsea, he grew up in 14 Gunter Grove – the house that was eventually to become Ireland’s home. His mother Agnes sold the studio to the composer in 1915, and the whole property in 1923. There were therefore many strong connections between Ireland and Glassby, both musical and personal. However, Glassby’s life ended in tragic circumstances at the age of just 33. He had joined the West Yorkshire Regiment in 1920, as this signed photograph sent to the composer that same year would corroborate.
For some time he was on foreign service, returning to England in March 1933. By the end of April he was attached to the Army Pay Corps, and at the beginning of July 1933, took his first examination with a view to transferring permanently. Between then and the end of July hard work for his second examination led to a nervous breakdown. He was admitted to the York Military Hospital and later sent to the Netley Military Hospital. On 18 August he appeared before a Medical Board and was found unfit for general duty on account of ill health. In September he entered Camberwell House as a voluntary patient, leaving in the middle of October to go and stay with his mother in Fulham.
At the time of his death then, he was an ex army officer, he was single, and occasionally living with his sister Una in Tankerton, Kent (near Canterbury), Last seen alive on 1 November 1933, his body was found in the River Ouse at Fulford outside York on 25 April 1934. The inquest recorded a verdict of suicide ‘while of unsound mind’. It is not known whether Ireland was aware of this unhappy end to one of his choristers.