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Artists in the family

Since I have an interest in literary matters myself, I suppose that it was inevitable that I should have sought out those with artistic connections on my own family tree. Unfortunately, I have only found two of them. These are Percy Coke. He was a less-than-wonderful poet. Nevertheless, he had a collection ex libris WILLIAM ARCHER and was published in anthologies with leading poets of his day like WALTER de la MARE. There is also Robert Thomas, a fine tenor. There should have been a third, David Stephens. He wrote a book (my sister recalled seeing it as a child) in the twenties or thirties, but I haven't been able to track this down.


Robert Thomas

Robert Thomas was a first cousin, twice removed, of mine and was a tenor who studied at the Royal Academy of Music. He later became a principal in the Sadler's Wells Opera Company. The recording featured here is from 1957.

He was the great-grandson of Rees Thomas of Cwmwysg. Robert was himself born in Cardiff. World War II delayed his entry into the world of professional music.

This is the 1957 recording of HOLY CITY:

Percy Coke

One of these officers of the 2nd Dorset Regiment, pictured as they were about to embark to South Africa for the Boer War on the 'Simla' in 1899, is Percy Coke's father, Percival Knight Hale Coke. But I don't know which! Nevertheless, I am grateful to for permission to use this photograph.

This is the cover of son Percy Coke's book, WHAT YOU WILL.

I am indebted to KATHRYN BARNARD for this photograph.

These are two of the poems from the book:


Death touched me with his fleshless claw,
I was calm and unrebuffed,
And when the blue bird flew my way,
I tried to have it stuffed.


Bid me be gay,
I will be whimsical, foolish, fantastical,
All the long day.
Let the mood pass,
I'll be as still as my grandsire in Sussex,
'Neath the long grass.
Bid me caress you,
I'll call the Saints from the blue ways of Heaven
Downward to bless you.
Bid me to leave you,
I'll take myself and my songs to the silence,
Lest they should grieve you.


We shouldn't really condemn through twenty-first century eyes, but it's hard not to see these poems (especially the first) as anything but dire. Yet these two poems were taken from a collection ex libris William Archer. Archer was instrumental in introducing the work of Ibsen and Shaw to the British public. Percy Coke also had work in anthologies with leading poets of the day like Walter de la Mare.

The second poem does have some family history interest. Although Percy's 'grandsire' Henry Simmons Coke was buried in Sussex, where he had a short retirement, he was born and lived for most of his life in Neath, Glamorgan, where he practised as a solicitor and was Town Clerk for some years. Percy's reference to 'Neath is surely a jocular play on words. Percy Coke was my second cousin, three times removed, and the great-grandson of James Coke, senior, who was born in Edinburgh in 1759 but spent more half his life in Neath.

Holy City - Robert Thomas
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