IT has taken Hereford a long time to appreciate and acknowledge the part it played in arguably the most creative and productive period in the life of Sir Edward Elgar.

When the Elgar in Hereford Group's dream of seeing the great man's statue standing proudly in the city is at last fulfilled then a vast period of cultural neglect will in part have been corrected.

It is almost a quarter of a century since probably the blackest moment in several long, dark decades of a city ignoring the pride and potential that can come from the glory of being the birthplace of magnificent music.

Elgar's wife Alice, famously forecast soon after their move to Plas Gwyn in Hereford in 1904: 'I think great music can be written here, dear Dora, don't you?'

That prophecy to her friend Dora Penny 'Dorabella' of the Enigma Variations was spot on and yet the time was to come when the elegant period residence on the corner of Hampton Park Road and Vineyard Road was seemingly largely unloved and unwanted.

In January, 1978, the house that helped inspire some of the finest music ever written went to auction. No one was prepared to pay the asking price.

Bidding stopped at £19,000 and, with an asking price of over £20,000, poor Plas Gwyn was withdrawn.

There was even some doubt about whether Plas Gwyn, Welsh for 'place of the blessed', would survive in the form that once prompted Elgar to write: ''This house is very nice indeed and the country lovely.'

Writer Ian Grant Cumming visited Hereford at around this time and regarded Plas Gwyn's future as gloomy. He wrote: 'The irony of all this is that if this were Germany or Russia or the USA, Plas Gwyn's crumbling faade would be immaculate, the decaying plaster around the windows would be lovingly restored and the paintwork presently peeling and faded would gleam.

"The unkept lawns and unruly borders would be carefully tended, and the sprawling hedges contained. Instead of a wasting asset of dubious market value, Plas Gwyn would be treasured and cared for as a national monument, the home of one of the country's greatest ever composers."

Concern about Plas Gwyn's future was also voiced by director Ken Russell whose fine film about Elgar is now enjoying a renaissance.

But the house did survive and is happily in enlightened ownership.

And so it still stands proudly on its corner, the house where Elgar composed his two symphonies, the violin concerto, 'Introduction and Allegro', 'The Kingdom' and 'Pomp and Circumstance March No 4'.

It was in the drawing room that the family were introduced to the 'great beautiful tune' of the A flat symphony's awesome opening. And Elgar watched the antics of nearby swallows while writing the finale.

Plas Gwyn's roll of honour also includes works competed or projected during the Elgar family's years of residence - 'Falstaff' and 'The Music makers' for example.

It was soon after Elgar moved to Hereford that he was knighted and in his final year there, 1911, was awarded the Order of Merit.

There was an occasion when Elgar himself was almost responsible for Plas Gwyn being wiped off the face of Hereford!

In his book 'Elgar As I Knew Him', violinist Billy Reid relates the story of the composer's chemical laboratory which he dubbed 'The Ark'. It seems Sir Edward was no scientist and dumped a concoction in a water butt. "Just as he was getting on famously, writing in horn and trumpet parts, and mapping out woodwind, a sudden and unexpected crash, as if all the percussion in all the orchestras on earth, shook the room, followed by the rushing mighty sound he had already anticipated in 'The Kingdom'.

"Silence reigned for a few seconds. Then all the dogs in Herefordshire gave tongue, and all the doors and windows opened. After a moment's thought, Edward lit his pipe and strolled down to the gate andante tranquillo as if nothing had happened and the ruined water butt and the demolished flower beds were prehistoric features of the landscape.

"A neighbour, peeping out of his gate, said: 'Did you hear that noise, sir, it sounded like an explosion?' 'Yes' said Sir Edward, 'I heard it, what was it?' The neighbour shook his head and the incident was closed."

Elgar retained a deep fondness of his Hereford days and biographer Michael Kennedy referred to the composer's return to the city in 1912 for the Three Choirs Festival.

"He went back to Plas Gwyn, the house he had recently left, 'to see if the swallows are still catered for. Alas! The new tenants are 'tidy' people, the loft is repainted, and the windows closed tight, so my companions of eight years found no welcome this year and have had to seek new homes, we had seen and known them and I resented their disturbance very much."