Elgar’s Illnesses

Forli, Elgar's home in Malvern

Elgar was often ill. Sometimes he was in bed for a day or two, at other times for much longer.  Sometimes he called the doctor; at other times he took the waters at Llandrindod Wells. He suffered from numerous illnesses – neuralgia, toothache, colds, his feet, and had problems with his eyes.

In July 1897, when he was living at Forli, in Malvern, he had problems with his eyelids and Dr Charles East was called. The previous month Dr East had called and discussed kites with Elgar – who was so enchanted that he started to make them – big ones that were difficult for one man to pull them out of the sky. He practised flying his kites on the Malvern Hills and invited his friends to have a go.


1892, 13th January  – Elgar went to see Dr. Archibald Weir. The next day he was in bed at Forli with flu’. It snowed. Elgar was still in bed 6 days later, when the snow began to thaw. Despite an Edward Lear Nonsense book being sent, he remained in bed and on 21st his flu symptoms were worse than ever though his throat felt better. He began to recover and went downstairs for the first time on 26th January. Dr Weir was called a couple of times after that and Elgar ventured outside for the first time on 7th March.

1901, 23rd February  – Elgar and Alice were staying at the Langham Hotel in London and he began coughing. They went home to Malvern by train. The next day Elgar was in bed with flu and Dr East was called. The doctor next visited on 1st and 2nd March, by which time Elgar was well enough to finish his May Song. He was ‘let out for a walk’ on 4th, went to Worcester on 5th, and spent the next two days in bed recovering. On 6th and 7th he had a relapse and didn’t go out again until 9th.

Tonsillitis (also known as quinsy)

1891, 26th August – ‘E’s throat worse’ and Dr. Weir came. Elgar was in bed, in extreme pain. Dr Weir and his son, also Dr Weir, visited almost daily; Elgar was in such pain that one night young Dr Weir called at 10pm.  On 2nd September, while Alice held Elgar’s head, Dr Weir lanced his throat, and he felt much better.

1895, 26 April – Elgar was on the golf course all day in the pouring rain. The following day was also very wet, and Elgar ‘began feeling his throat’. Next day Dr East called to see his patient in bed and the day after that he called again to cauterize Elgar’s throat, which was very painful. He forbade him to attend the concert where Spanish Serenade was being performed, which was equally painful.  Elgar had recovered by 2nd May.

Illnesses continued to trouble Elgar after he left Malvern

1917 – At the end of November Elgar was unwell. He was examined by an eminent London doctor, who prescribed admirable medicines, ordered his patient to stay in bed, and prescribed other remedies, but nothing worked. Stomach specialist Dr Hale White came, ‘a nice little kind looking man in khaki’; he recommended golf, smoking and a change of scenery. Elgar had his nose and mouth tested for problems, but nothing untoward was found.

In January 1918, and in great pain, Elgar went to Sir Stanley Melville in London to have his throat x-rayed. His tonsils were condemned. Surgeon Mr Tilley removed them in a nursing home in Dorset Square on 15th March. Alice wrote in her diary: ‘A long day of suspense as the opn was not till 3 P.M. E. was very calm, & bore the long suspense wonderfully. Then the nurse came & injected something in his arm to dry up saliva &c. Then Sir Maurice fetched him & he went downstairs so simply & cheerfully – A. went down to waiting room & as she entered just caught a glimpse of E. in his blue dressing gown, entering the Theatre – A. spent an anxious horrible 40 mins. then Sir M. & Tilley came & told her all was well. Sir M. showed her the worst tonsil all over abscess matter & a black stone, pea size, in it. A. not let to go up so went home, returned at 7. found E. in great pain not knowing how to bear it, agonising to A. They gave him an injection & in 10 mins he was sleeping peacefully.