Linden Lea is the most popular of Vaughan Williams' songs, and probably the one piece of music that made him the most money over the course of his life. He wrote it in 1901 while he was working on his Doctor of Music degree at Cambridge, to a text (in Dorsetshire dialect) by the cleric and poet William Barnes (1800-1886). Vaughan Williams had lately become involved with a new journal on songs and singing called The Vocalist; appropriately, its first edition, which appeared in April 1902, featured an article by Vaughan Williams called "A School of English Music" along with the sheet music for Linden Lea.
Among his friends at Cambridge were the brothers Nicholas and Ivor Gatty, both musicians, who came from the quiet Yorkshire village of Hooton Roberts. Vaughan Williams often visited the Gatty brothers there, and it was there that Linden Lea received its first performance on September 4, 1902. Within a few years the song had become enormously well known, so much so that Vaughan Williams could refer in a 1925 letter to "such sins of my youth as Linden Lea, which becomes every year more horribly popular." Over a dozen arrangements exist of the song, which begins with the poet reminiscing about the sights and sounds of Linden Lea, particularly the apple tree which "do lean down low." The mood becomes temporarily agitated as the poet reflects on the money making possibilities in "dark-room'd towns." But, in contemplation of the return trip home, the song ends softly and reflectively.