Stories from the past:
a request

We would love to include more reminiscences and stories about Cyril Bradley Rootham (CBR).

If you have any such tales (and better still can document them), we would be very glad to hear from you on our Feedback page.


75 Years
In 2013 we marked the 75th anniversary of CBR's death. So we felt it appropriate to gather some anecdotes on this page while there are still people around who can relate them first-hand.

This page aims to fill in some human detail in the life a man who at this distance in time might appear austere. In fact CBR was gregarious, amusing, loyal, incredibly productive and the centre of a loving family. He also played a hard game of tennis...


  1. Anyone for... football?
  2. The Beethoven connection
  3. Rule Britallion!
  4. Taxis and aural training
  5. Vladimir Peniakoff
  6. The story of the hat
  7. The Ascension Day tradition

Anyone for... football?

A rugby football team of 1888-89
(Christ College Brecon)

The rugby team of 1888-89 at Christ College Brecon

CBR enjoyed tennis and often played tennis with his students.

But here's the surprise: in 1896 CBR composed a [rugby] football song "Oh, sturdy and fleet be the British Athlete"! The words are by Harry Clifton, and this gem was missing from the family list of CBR's works. Although published by Curwen, this youthful work was probably later suppressed by CBR as embarrassing to a serious composer...
Our thanks to John France for listing the song in his CBR catalogue.

The Beethoven connection

Beethoven portrait: Wikipedia


This is probably the best-known story about CBR (Mus D) as a teacher of composition at Cambridge University, and has been reported elsewhere.

The Rootham clan has always been divided into two camps: those who pronounce the surname with a hard T (Root-ham, as in "root"), and those who prefer a soft TH (Rooth-am, as in "booth"). The Bristol and Cambridge branches of the family always favoured the hard T.

Now it happened that one of CBR's undergraduate students mispronounced the surname and called him "Dr Rooth-am". CBR (perhaps a bit tetchily) corrected him and explained "The TH is hard, as in Beethoven". For months afterwards, the wicked undergrads called him "Dr Root-hoven". And some might possibly feel... serve him right?

Rule Britallion!

As told to Dan Rootham by his father Jasper Rootham:
This was witnessed by Jasper around 1922, on a day when CBR was sitting at the Bechstein in the sitting room of their house on Huntingdon Road, Cambridge. CBR was trying to compose, but got distracted by a young lad singing on the pavement outside. Below you can see (and hear*) what the lad was singing. The boy enjoyed the tune and sang it again. And then again, and again, and again...

Rule Britallion music

If you notice in how many ways this patriotic song has been mangled and then play the repeated phrase ad nauseam, you will understand why CBR gave up work that afternoon and retreated to his back garden instead.

If you are still using Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) or earlier, please upgrade your browser in order to play the audio clips.

Vladimir Peniakoff ("Popski")

Vladimir Peniakoff

Gerard Phelan writes:
"...whilst nothing to do with music, I found an example of why Cyril was liked in Cambridge, as you can see in this page from a website entitled "" (reference to Cyril Rootham begins about line 22)."
[Note: alas, as at 1st January 2019 the website at is offline - but it's clear that CBR made Peniakoff welcome in Cambridge when help was needed.]

Dan Rootham adds:
Interestingly the article above also mentioned the Erichsen family connection. CBR's wife Rosamond Lucas was half-Danish through the Erichsens, and Nelly Erichsen was a frequent visitor in the Rootham household. Nelly was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and became a professional artist and illustrator whose career is described in Wikipedia. The Rootham house in Cambridge was full of Nelly's pen and ink landscapes and studies.

There's also a Wikipedia article about Vladimir Peniakoff (photo on right) titled Popski's Private Army.

The story of the hat

Left to right: Jasper, Rosamond and Cyril Rootham (with hat)
CBR with hatThis occurred in about 1925, when all men wore hats. As related to the family by Jasper Rootham:
You can imagine the scene: CBR, wife Roz and son Jasper off by train to holiday in France. First stop: Dover! Then the ferry for the channel crossing, no problems. And then they board the train at Calais, ready for the final leg of the journey to Paris.

They make themselves at home in the compartment and debate who is to sit where. The guard blows his whistle, the train moves off, and CBR (in exuberant holiday mood) flings his hat up onto the luggage rack. But the hat has a will of its own and flies straight out of the open window - never to be seen again. CBR arrives hatless in Paris, and his first port of call is of course - a hat shop.

The Ascension Day tradition

Ascension Day on the Tower We are indebted to the Cambridge Evening News for this article and the photograph of a recent Ascension Day.

As part of a century-old tradition, the choir of St John's College sing the Ascension Day Carol from the chapel roof. Every year on Ascension Day, which commemorates the Christian belief of the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven 40 days after his resurrection, the College choir heads up to the top of the Chapel tower to sing.

The Ascension Day Carol dates back to 1902 after the then director of music, Cyril Rootham, had a conversation with noted mathematician Sir Joseph Larmor. Sir Joseph was insistent that a choir on top of the tower could not be heard from the ground. Cyril Rootham was keen to prove him wrong and thought that Ascension Day was the obvious time to do it. Without telling anyone, members of the choir ascended the tower and as the clock finished striking noon, they sang an Ascension Day motet. To Rootham's delight, Sir Joseph opened his window in the courtyard below to see where the music was coming from.


As family members we have tried not to be too reverential about CBR, so this page introduces some intimate, light-hearted moments from family life in the Rootham household in Cambridge.

If you have any records about CBR's life, do please get in touch on the Feedback page.