Part 1. Early Autobiographical Ideas
BBC and Bodley Head
It was probably during the summer of 1972 that Elizabeth intimated her intention to write and publish her memoirs, prompted by an approach from the BBC to record something of her reminiscences for its Sound Archive. She explained and commented:
‘[…] Very flattering, though a trifle ghoulish as such things are trotted out on the air as soon as one dies, and 1’m not finished yet.
I replied politely to them that my odd and unique story was destined elsewhere, but not wishing to decline good friends, I said I would let them have a detachment from memoirs I proposed to write and to publish. And so the resultant script was recorded. I thought it might possibly please you as a sample. Please may I have it back?
In rather fear and trembling, I think it is about time I consulted you in the matter. My life has been so full of interesting adventures and people, that I go where my friends are – and so I should like to ask you if The Bodley Head would ever be interested in a scheme of autobiographia on the lines I have set out as enclosed which I call in my mind, A Continuity of England. For this is how it would work out. I envisage it as subdivided into slimmish [sic] volumes of accessible length, in a sequence that would allow the coverage of various of the many worlds of my time at many levels. In these are the threads of the unifying factors. The component parts would never add up to less than a whole, though each would be as I see it, complete in itself, in a sequence in which each should lead on to the next.
I suspect that this story is possibly what I was put into the world to tell; and if, with the assistance of THE BABY’S SONG BOOK and its predecessor, I can manage to detach a bit in the next few years or so, from the enviously wide field of work that comes my way, and give the time needed to the task, I might perhaps have something worth offering you. This is just to ask how you feel about it. Please keep it in close confidence (other publishers have made suggestions, but I would like this to be my choice!)
Your obedient and ever-appreciative servant,
The King of Spain’s Daughter
Elizabeth’ [drawn with an Elizabethan regal flourish].
Elizabeth’s A Continuity of England envisaged an initial chapter on Two Houses, being the only two she ever lived in, both in Stevenage – Mallows where she was born (subtitled The King of Spain’s Daughter), and what she called Howards End, referring to Rooks Nest House but ‘With a personal memoir of E. M. Forster’ though subject to the added rider that it,
‘will not be offered for publication until the official Biography of E. M. Forster, in preparation, is published. From Forster I have material for the exclusive use of which I hold the rights. By his wish, this remained in my confidence during his lifetime. Nothing has been communicated to P. N. Furbank, whom Forster agreed as the official biographer of Life and Works, and who has since applied to me, as I alone hold certain keys of this story. These it would be impossible to delegate. Besides, I do not want to. So may I ask you kindly: please no word on this subject.
The Keeper of Manuscripts, British Museum, has been in touch with me about the various collections of letters, photographs and portraits in my possession. I have told him that I hope to hold these until such time as I have used them for publication & that it is my intention that they be preserved for the nation, subject to the terms of my Will.’
The later chapters would cover: student years; travels; recollections of friends (Arnold Bax, John Ireland, E. J. Moeran and Peter Warlock alias Philip Heseltine); War Parenthesis: the BBC; Indian Summer (USA) and a possible Epilogue up to date. Under a new title Living Memory, Elizabeth subsequently made a start on these early chapters.
An Influential Friend
The stimulus to Living Memory seems to have come from one of her friends, George H. Thomson, who recognised her writing talent. He also recognised, incidentally, her financial difficulties in trying to keep up house repairs, writing to her in August 1977 from Ottawa:
We were pleased to receive your letter – but saddened to know of all you’ve been through. Still, you carry on with such splendid determination. It’s an honour to second such country heroism.
For the present I am enclosing a bank draft for £500. I do not know what that will do. But when you have the rewiring done, let me know what is left – supposing there is some – for tackling the ceilings.
I sent the pictures [of the house and environs] off the other day. […]
Oliver and I are writing back and forth at the moment about our joint article. […]
Which reminds me that last fall, after hearing some of your stories about your family, your long association with Rooks Nest, and your personal encounters with E.M.F. [E. M. Forster], I thought how marvellous it would be if they could be recorded – in some way preserved. This has been in the back of my mind ever since. Now I see from your letter that you write like an angel, with a vigorous, flexible, and individual style. (I’m not flattering you. It’s my profession to know about prose writing; not to do it, you understand, but to be able to judge what others have done.) It would be splendid if you could find time to set down some of the past. With your very busy schedule, I suspect the ideal form would be ‘stories’, units of limited length that could be approached one at a time. But I shouldn’t be making such judgements. I only wanted to say – write, write, write.
I must now get back to Almer and our article and write, write, write, myself.
Our very best wishes,
‘Your letter – and your cheque, I am. in Milton’s words, ‘awestrook’. It is truly generous of you. Not since Forster has there been help for the house. I can only assure you it will have good husbandry. I will report progress. Initial progress may be slow because of the amount of preliminary clearing that has to be done, that only I can do, and hindrances of the times… getting hold of the right person at the right time &c. I shall be delayed during these coming weeks by the culminating period, rehearsals and recording sessions of the Quattrocento Music that has been my particular task for the house for the past six months. To get to the studio by 8.30 a.m., I have to start here at 5.30, and returning after dark leaves me but a few hours before it is time to restart again. So I may write this in bits, knowing that you will understand. As soon as this job is over, I hope to make a start on the attics before the end of the month – and what a thrill that will be! My initial relief will be to work towards the hole where a workman outside put his leg through. I can’t think why it has never leaked. That it can now be caught before it does so is your glorious doing. Never will any Vatican ceiling be more enshrined. The sequel, I suspect, will be the disposal of some twenty pairs of pink corset with whalebone stays and long draw-strings guaranteed to keep the wearer upright. Whether Forster or Poston, I know not, possibly F/P. I hope they’ll do someone some good, if only the local museum. (Unlike the fur hat, they will not be co-opted by me!). My henchmen are an odd and miscellaneous lot: nice boys, mainly reading Eng lit[erature], who come and go on their way into degrees and the world, and at intervals ring and say, ‘Is there anything we can help with?’ and a Norfolk character, formerly head horseman to the Duke of Beaufort. He fell off a horse and landed himself in hospital and by the time he got out, the poor chap had run out of dukes, the government having seen to it that the aristocracy sold off their ermine and their studs and could afford no one racing retainers, and this one, in the intervals of what other work he can pick up, has come down to me. Monosyllabic and taciturn, he never knows what he is going to be asked to do next – and this may be as well, as he will doubtless find himself pressed into attic service before the year is out. He won’t laugh as the boys do, but mindful of St. Teresa who danced to her nuns, I find frivolity will break out.
Indicates passing of time
It was so good of you to send me the photographs – remembering that, as hopelessly blessed, I love them all for something or other, some detail or aspect caught, some especial characteristic or weather mood. I hope to see the slides some day; in the meanwhile, I am happy to have these prints as they are. For these old houses, while remaining constant, seem to have their own faculty for reacting to light and seasons. Thus, while I realise that prints made from slides do incline to be hybrids, I like these just because their muted colouring means to me the sort of day when all is softened into quiet tones and nothing is hard or defined. I do like your interior shots of beds, piano, hearths and really fascinating door and roof angles, and those strange tree-barked wall beams. Particularly appealing is Dorothy peeking forward through the old door, finding out, in the attitude of a curious child, an impression heightened by the pretty fall of her hair. And those white doves in the chair, characteristically a part of the Rooks Nest scene that I like to think has been immemorially home not only to people.
The outdoor pictures capture a lot. That very difficult-to-catch top dell is enchanting, and the house, particularly cornerwise front, and the long shot back. And I like the two Female Figures in a Landscape, heading for the lawn dell with a Schlegelish sort of purposefulness, deep in conversation. What could they be talking about? The old church [St. Nicholas] comes out well, no harm in it looking grey, as it always does. Quite a few of our bones lie around, and I was christened there. You made wonderful use of your time! Thank you so very much for letting me share and relive – I spread my picture gallery around me where I can interchange and always see some of it. How besotted and narcissistic can one become about a place one lives in and yet does not tire of! (But in this I am in good company).
Alas for the time and peace I cannot wrest from these weeks. A couple more have gone by. But through all, I rejoice and rejoice, the background top what I have in hand illuminating all the foreground.
As for writing: I would believe indeed what you say, if with a rather aghast feeling. (Forster had the same thought. Once stopping to talk about it as we were walking down Regent Street, he nearly got us run over). But oh! – and you will know it – it’s different writing letters about shared loves and daring cold print (frighteningly cold – I’d like the page warmed). But you are warming it. If only out of gratitude, I might try. It may not be until after I have dealt with the twenty pink corsets and the other oddments that go along with them. In fact, I shall probably not have properly read your book till the bonfires have been lit and I have pushed my way through the impenetrable jumble, though I continue to read it in bits, fascinated, often gripped. What an appropriate programme: The Fiction of E. M. Forster and The Truth about the Attics. I am sure you will approve and that he would – he would give that sudden explosive chuckle, an indescribable sound that would become silent laughter punctuated by gasps (kind ‘Oh’s’) that always unleashed laughter in those round. The new Life may have to wait even longer. The appearance of Volume I and its reviews has thus far washed over my head. I have a feeling that except for the marshalling of facts and dates etc., it has little to tell me. In any case, when the person concerned belongs to one’s own experience, writing from outside it can become somewhat remote, an effigy beside the real. I have yet to find out. I suspect life will resolve itself into the major periods of pre- and post-attics. How marvellous it would be to know that they are up there, safe at last, clean and beautiful as they used to be, their little window made secure and no more holes. Then I would read books and go up there and play, and happiness, I think, would be complete.
In the meantime, Oliver, taking his cue from George Emerson, declares that ‘liking one person is an additional reason for liking another person’ and avows he has merely changed from a bicycle to a tricycle. But what if Gunnvor [his wife] prefers to walk?
Much to you and to you both,
Fortunately, Elizabeth, as well leaving a huge volume of correspondence, did start drafting something on ‘The Spanish Princess’ and, probably with real feelings of gratitude, also expressed her feelings about Rooks Nest House and Forster Country.
Part 2. Autobiographical Sketches
The Postons, like the Bewleys [Elizabeth’s mother’s family], are of Conquest stock. This may perhaps help to account for their looks, their gaiety, their application and a strain of chivalry. In my own case, it could explain why I feel at ease in France & my love of Latin ways and wines.
From de la Posterne, Keepers of the Gate – East gate of the Town of London – the Postons in course of time diverged into various branches. Some went northwards to the Midlands; some made their way in the early settlement of New England; others migrated to the Low Countries under the Marian persecution, and intermarriage may account for an infusion of Spanish blood & for a ludicrously faithful likeness to me picnicking on the greensward that hangs in a tapestry in Madrid and Santa di Compostella. The core remained faithful to their early territory, remained in & around the City of London, gravitating back to it from the Essex countryside, a quietly prosperous breed of industry and solid good living. We find them as merchants & members of City Companies, favouring the districts of Clerkenwell & Chelsea, their marriages & deaths variously recorded in the parishes of: St. Katherine’s by the Town; St. James, Clerkenwell; St. Stephens, Walbrook; & St. Georges, Hanover Square. An Ann Poston (1727) lies in the South Cloister of Westminster Abbey, wife of William Poston, citizen & haberdasher of London; in their deaths divided he chose to revert with his mother, another Elizabeth, & his first wife, Mary, to the family grave in Edmonton.
The country Postons pushed outwards, eastward to the pasture lands of Essex where they became landowners and stock breeders, farming their acres & carrying on a flourishing meat trade, a settlement that persisted to the first half of the nineteenth century. It is from this branch that my father came.
Charles, the eldest son of William [John Posten] and his wife Mary [Ann, née Grove of Waltham Berkshire], was born in Romford in 1845. By the time he was in his teens, his mother, widowed, was carrying on the business. The children were early put on their mettle. There were six of them, and grandmother Poston, strong-faced and serene saw to it that they were given the essentials. The house, since pulled down was square and spacious. By what remains of its contents, it must have been a place of substance, its handed down objects, those of beauty and practicality. Aristocratic in tastes and bearing, with none but local schooling, Charles was in the best sense self-made. The handsome self he made was grounded in the faith from which he sprang. Fearless and adventurous from the outset, his steadfast self-reliance moulded his determination to make his own life for himself in his own way. Thus his Beacon. His motto was ‘Post On’. Generous and instinctual, with an impetuous nature he was to bring under an iron control, he was a complex creature of apparent contradictions, he lived to integrate into unity. Outrageously handsome, with a degree of personal charm and humour that masked an intense reserve, he combined outward trust and inward looking: in him were both Christian and not worldly wise. At the core of his being was a simplicity he never lost: it gave him directness and made of him an arch debunker. By his yardstick, he measured. It was one that did not betray him. The family was rooted in the bible. Charles believed implicitly that he must help the fatherless and widows, and did so; some years hence, he was to house and support three of his sisters for the rest of their lives. At the age of eighteen, he left home, with his most loved sister Lilah, his father’s gold watch and a few sovereigns in his pocket. He took lodgings in Clerkenwell, through family connections was articled to the city firm of [illegible] that was founded to become Ricalls Poston. For Lilah, he found a post as governess – as in the cases later of both Clementine Bewley and Lily Whichelo, the only female profession open to the genteel. The parting between brother and sister was poignantly recalled by him. Alone in lodgings, neither could bear the bleakness of strange separating walls. Lilah crept in for warmth beneath Charles’s coverlid, and with his arms around her, the two slept their first night away from home.
The next twenty years were of unremitting work. Charles hated working in London. He hated living in London. He set himself to make good and get out. This he did, with dedicated toil, studying at night, walking on Sundays and visiting the galleries, museums and churches. Other than some clerical [acquaintances?] and the business colleagues he must visit on a social footing, he made few friends. There was not time. His solitary concentration was absolute. By the age of twenty-five, he was made a partner in the firm and left it. His mother died, and he returned to Essex to settle up her affairs and look after the house and land. About the same time, he became interested in asphalt mines in the Val de Travers [Switzerland] and accepted an advisory position on their board, a course which brought him to Italy and was to change his life.
In 1871, he married Mary Knevett descendant of the Sir Thomas Knyvett who held the office of Armourer to Queen Elizabeth I. She was a legal wife to him never a partner. It was a union of dullness, of unrelieved boredom. Years later, Charles was to ascribe it to a Pooter-ish boating party on the Thames and a kiss by moonlight, by which Mary considered herself his. Charles, the soul of honour, felt bound to ratify the arrangement, and lived to stultify rather than regret. His was a slow denial, a retreat inwards. She bore him three children, a son who died in infancy, a daughter and another son. He found himself caught in an intractable net of domesticity. She was the only woman Clementine had heard of – as she was to remark in later years – who darned her dusters. What early physical attraction there had been, soon deteriorated. When at Rooks Nest I questioned Thomas [the servant] who remembered her, in an effort to find out more about her, all I elicited was, ‘Stout party, she was. Proper stout. But kind. Wouldn’t do no one no harm’, an epitaph perhaps as suitable as any and one borne out by the Forsters.
Meantime, Charles found his escape in Italy. He took directorships, in the course of which his voyages took him to Scotland, Paris, Berlin and from thence south to his beloved haunts in Tuscany and the Campagna. Stopping off on the way, the Louvre, the Opera and the Breta in Milan were the points of pilgrimage in his years of discovery, and of the immediate love, of places and art he had not hitherto experienced. The bookplates, the hotel labels on old leather suitcases… Hotels Memice, Adler (Venice) tell their own tale. He was expanding outwards in all directions, making many friends. An ancestral feeling for sport broadened the dimension. He took Carim in Scotland for the grouse shooting and Wherwell Priory [Hampshire] on the [River] Test for the fishing. Mary was placidly content with the management of large establishments and loved endlessly making her linen. The record is there still in her spidery hand and unfailing marking ink. She didn’t care for or take on travel though, on the rare occasions when she accompanied Charles, she took the opportunity to paint bright-coloured Byronesque water-carriers & craggy castelli with which in heavy gold frames, she decorated the works at home. A letter to Mrs. Forster describes an audience with the Pope: [a space seems to have been left for an insertion].
A period of ill health, perhaps a portent, made Charles restless. He thought he would like to live on a hill. At the instigation of friends in Hertfordshire, he bought Mallows, sometime previously re-created, by an architect owner, from the two ancient cottages that were its core. There he settled. He had finally come home and gave himself to making it still more beautiful, and its gardens and parkland the satisfying entity it became. They were his creation, character never one of grandeur, but of the perfect loveliness and grace legendary to this type of English country house. He built on the extension that comprised the billiard room and his library, with bedrooms and their own suite of apartments above. By the open hearth below, he planned the observatory, whose wide window, full length, brought into the room its year-round fragrance: in winter, mingling with the log-scent, the scent of arums, chrysanthemums, carnations and tuberoses and at Christmas always white Roman hyacinths and red tulips, Thomas’s domain where he expressed his being in flowers. Plants, he called them (to rhyme with pants); ‘Mind my plants, Missy’ was about the strongest rebuke my more headstrong excursions ever incurred.
Charles recovered and was well enough to join the local hunt. In 1900, Mary died, her personal record embodied in numerous cookery books. May, pretty gentle May, the daughter who was the person closest to Charles, married. His son married. He travelled less and kept open home for his friends. In a year or two, his craving for the south reasserted itself and he took his old route, resolving this time to explore Sicily. In April of the spring of 1902 he reserved a room in the S. Domenico Hotel, Taormina. As he arrived at the erstwhile monastery and was standing on the steps of the portico beneath its overhang with bougainvillea, a vettura duove came up, the horse panting from the [?] of [the] dusty hill-road. Its occupants were English; an elderly couple and a young woman. The old lady was lame; her brother got out first to help her. The young lady alighted last. Charles stepped forward and offered his hand. ‘As soon as I saw my lady, I gave her my hand’ he was to say. Till she died, the old faded photograph of the spot hung in Clementine’s bedroom.
Fig. 1. Stevenage area when Elizabeth was young
Based on Ordnance Survey Popular Edition, Sheet 95 (1919-1920)
It was midday, at the year’s magic moment of many greens, when Charles Poston brought home his bride. From their honeymoon in Paris and Italy, they travelled from Kings Cross to a Hertfordshire as yet unspoiled. Up the stairs they came, under the tin caterpillar roof of the little station with its twin toy signal boxes and art nouveau waiting room to emerge under the wooden portico inscribed in enamel letters, Stevenage.
There they were formally welcomed: the stationmaster stood on one side of the entrance, the village constable on the other. The constable was nervous; he lost his head. His prepared speech forsook him and he saluted Charles with ‘I’m sure I wish you many happy returns of the day, Sir’. Clementine said she hoped she hadn’t married a bluebeard.
She stood ready to step into the sunshine, flower-like in her travelling suit of the Edwardian dove grey that set off so well the exquisite bloom of her colouring, the soft plumage of her hat and the escaping curls of hair that were never quite controllable, framing the laughing face that was irrepressibly mischievous.
Charles towered above her, his height majestic, coupled, never incongruously, with a dancer’s grace. His movements had the unconscious completeness common to animals, rare in tall Englishmen. His quiet authority imparted a sense of calm and security.
John Slow the coachman was there to meet them with the carriage and pair, correct and rigid on the box in his dark green uniform a hand stiffly touching his cockaded hat. Behind were Frank [Franklin] and the luggage cart pulled by The Derby Winner, the lethargic bay kept for station work and for the use of those guests who fancied a day to hounds but were prone to fall off.
In the pale gold of the spring afternoon even the prim villas of Julian’s Road were beautified by the lilacs and pink mays of their front gardens. The small cortege skirted the bowling green and pulled into the Roman road, to turn further on into Rectory Lane – a true lane, its only dwellings the Admiral’s House and the long Georgian rectory at one end and the farm at the other, all of them dominated by the massive Norman tower of the church. The chestnut avenue leading up to it was pink and white with blossom.
As the carriage came round the church green, the bells pealed out in a clamour that momentarily startled its occupants. Rector Jowitt had given the word, though Charles thought he had kept their arrival a secret. For a moment Clementine held onto his arm. He laid his gloved hand on hers. ‘For us’, he said. And so they came to Mallows.
You will see it on the map [page 12] as Highfield House, from the old field name, and justly, for it stood high, a little under the crest of the hill above a gradual slope of parkland. But to me it was always Mallows, from the pink wildflowers that bloomed on the chalk bank at the foot of the hill at the point where the high black tarred fence with white scribbling, ‘Tom loves Lucy’, joined the wall that was the boundary of the outside world, the gateway of my kingdom.
More than a hundred years ago the site had been spotted by an architect. Onto two old cottages, he had built himself a house – the beginnings of the house that Charles was in the course of time to complete. The old dwellings were its core, Clementine’s morning room and above it my nursery, and these rooms had a sunniness, a cosiness matched nowhere else in the house.
It was long and low, its south front covered by a curtain of wisteria and Banksia roses, its windows built out into deep bays, sun traps and view traps. In a side semi-circle, peaceful growing countryside stretched into the distance south and west to the wooded hills standing sentinel to Chiltern outcrops beyond. In the valley the small town lay invisible. Great growing land, a place for a garden. And Charles had married, among other things, the best gardener he ever had.
Clementine’s coming causes a domestic crisis. To the staff, the advent of a mistress was felt to be a day of reckoning. Viewing her with reserve, some accepted the end of an era; others greeted the dawn of a new one. Among these was a lean young man who called himself Thomas (his name was Ernest). He had left school in a neighbouring village to come to my father at fifteen as garden boy, to work under the rather sheep-like head gardener, Willey. Watching him at work, the darting caring movements of his lithe brown hands, his industry, his inborn feeling for growing things, Clementine made her decision.
Indoors, the situation was less satisfactory. Clara, the elderly and rapacious cook with a tradition of the heaviest English food, had held sway in the kitchen for so long that it was an accepted convention that she should also feed and support an army of friends, relatives and scroungers. She bullied the maids and antagonized the men. My father disliked menservants in the house and would have none of butlers and gentlemen’s gentlemen. He preferred to have women about him. and good-looking ones at that. With superb wifely confidence, Clementine made a clean sweep and set about getting the prettiest she could.
Two charming Marshall sisters, Annie and May from a neighbouring estate, were taken on as cook and scullery maid. Annie, whose natural talent for cooking scarcely needed prompting, was sent for a course at a famous London cookery establishment and the menu became a gastronomical delight. Janey Adams, whose job it was to deliver late telegrams on her bicycle after school, reported that ‘oop Postons’ they ate ‘Peter Midgeon’ (ptarmigen).
Clara and Willey were pensioned off. Thomas was promoted head gardener, and a bevy of buxom young women was installed. With one exception: Mary. Dour and middle-aged, she combined the duties of head housemaid, valet and lady’s maid. Charles controlled her. She never accepted my mother, whom she served punctiliously with consuming jealousy. She was the only dispensable member of the old order that Clementine decided to retain. Reserved and taciturn, Thomas gave my mother the whole allegiance of his true heart. For the rest of his life he adored her.
About this time, my mother acquired Edith. She came as parlour maid and stayed as friend. Gentle Edith with the face and mien of a Raphael Madonna, loved us and was loved by us all, particularly by me. She was my own special.
The Party on the Lawn
Morgan [Forster], in a sense, was never not there – I inherited him with Mallows. My first introduction was his doll which, somehow, bore a marked resemblance to him: it was made (by the aunts) of rags, nondescript, dressed in nondescript clothes with a pale puffy face and loosely-hung pale hands, a creature, neither masculine nor feminine. Morgan had two dolls: Soldier Dollar in a tunic of red flannel, and Sailor Dollar, its blue counterpart. When the Forsters left Rooks Nest, Soldier Dollar was passed by Lily Forster, probably for jumble for ‘the poor’, to Mallows, where it was christened Morgan; and in the course of time, with a few older-generation toys lying forgotten in the nursery toy cupboard, stuffed Morgan passed to me. I didn’t like him – he was an unattractive object, scorned by boys because he was meant to be one, and wasn’t; scorned by me because he was.
My parents had strong views about an excess of toys. I was made to give away any I had no particular use for (‘think of all the poor little children, darling, who haven’t got any’). Accordingly, Morgan was given to Georgie Cope. There was some nursery fuss; a tantrum whose rights I do not remember, resulted instead of Morgan’s being taken round and delivered by hand, in his being thrown over the garden wall. Georgie didn’t like him either and threw him back – unloved, his ultimate destination after all, jumble.
In the summer of 1907, my parents newly returned from Charles’s convalescence abroad, were entertaining a small intimate party of friends gathered in love and thanksgiving to welcome him home – Daisy Fellowes and the Admiral, the rector and Mrs. Jowitt, Lord Robert Cecil, Lady Sutton and the two Steedmans. Clementine described the occasion as etched in her mind’s eye like a painting by Manet. And so it was, caught in a moment of time: the reality of the travesty it was to become.
Still walking with a stick, Charles moved among them glorying in his new-found voice, though able to speak little and then only in a near-whisper, but radiant in Clementine’s presence at his side. The happy group stood on the grass by the terrace, discussing Charles’ journey and the new treasures he had brought from Italy for my nursery. The conversation turned on well-heads: whether to bring originals or copies. My mother said well-heads were rather big for the nursery and not in place in our English garden. Charles said that perhaps small marbles [statues] were better and mentioned the lovely little St. Cecilia of … [Avila?] (I still have it) ‘but of course, it’s only a reproduction.’
A little before the guests’ arrival, Clementine had gone into the rose garden. She was wearing a sweeping blue gown. It was hay time on that dazzling day of scent and flowers; she paused to pick a handful of new mowing-grass for my rabbits. Looking over into the parkland she saw a tall gangling young man in ill-fitting tweeds lugging behind him the fallen branch of an oak tree. A bicycle was propped against the stile. The stranger approached. ‘I hope you don’t mind’ he said. ‘I should like to have this, I played under this tree as a child’, adding, ‘My name is Morgan Forster.’ My mother welcomed him with her ravishing smile. ‘Of course, you’re an old friend’ she said. ‘Come along in and have lunch.’ And so he joined the party on the lawn. Was it quite by chance that Mrs. Wilcox [in Forster’s Howards End] makes her first appearance in a long frock, carrying a wisp of hay?
But he could not enter in. He took no part in the easy affectionate chatter and sat ill at ease, awkward and silent, and eventually left, forgetting his oak bough. Charles twinkled at the possibility of sending it after him. ‘Poor young man,’ commented my mother. ‘He seems so sad’.
The homunculus had not changed. He had got it all wrong again. It was many years before he was to realise it.
The Forsters and the Postons of Howards End
‘Roof’s held together by the fuckin moss’. My mother agreed without understanding the adjective. Frank, as was his habit, spoke briefly and to the point. She, he and I were standing on the gravel looking up at the house. With its timeless beacon quality, it had sprung up, like gallows, in the position favoured by earlier settlers, under the south brow of a hill as if growing naturally out of the soil, garden, orchard and spinney rising behind it gently to the sheltering belt of woodland beyond, south and west its vide landscape commanding a view over three counties – the outlook of Mallows, but further completing the circle, bounded by the distant outrider slopes of the ridge of Chiltern chalk that runs across the north of Hertfordshire to its east anglian borders.
To the south our immediate boundary was the farm; between the two domains, giving onto the farm orchard, were the tall tangle of hawthorn and wild roses and the bank of magnificent elms that for centuries had sheltered the rooks. Farm and house traditionally marched together. There were no other dwellings (two farm cottages were added later). The Franklin family who had farmed Rooks Nest Farm since the Howards died out in the middle ’60s were the friendly independent neighbours of both Forsters and Postons. E. M. Forster prided himself on having known five generations of Franklins. I have known four.
In 1914, Frank had succeeded to the farm and was at the height of his years, physically strong and ruddy, a hearty drinker and distinguished in local boxing; thickset, shrewd, kindly, generous and respected. My mother soon discovered his subterranean and civilised sense of humour that was to seal their friendship. He would read Punch and [Thomas] Hardy, sitting in his shirtsleeves of a summer evening on the farmyard bench, watching his children tumbling about the midden among desultory hens and animals. A flock of guinea-fowl roosted in his walnut trees. These, too wild to catch, he would shoot from the back door for the pot. Their strident cry ‘Come back, Come back’ and the cawing of the rooks were the accompaniment of our days, passing into the sound pattern of birds and animals.
My brother [Ralph] and I consorted, as the child [Morgan] Forster never did, with the farm labourers, a splendid team led by strong gentle Carter, gaunt grey-haired, Wilderspin and rosy saxon Barwick. They were the guardians of the Franklin children with whom they co-opted us. In their accents we spoke and we used their words. While these had for us necessarily no literal significance, it was essential to us when we were in their company, to speak their language. Riding to and fro in the farm carts pulled by the huge peaceable Suffolks or on their backs, we used traditional shouts in their own rhythms, ‘Gee-aw buck, yer booggers …’
This talk, these expressions we were careful not to use in the house as we should simply have been told off and strictly quenched as ‘rude and rough’. Thomas, our tutelary spirit at home, also had strong ideas of propriety and would not have countenanced such speech. His authoritative and respectful ‘Git off them plants, middear’ (he pronounced plants to rhyme with pants) was sufficient to control us on our own ground. On the farm we did as the farm did.
I was, in fact, innocent of significances that remained sealed to me until I was grown up. In search of cowslips one warm day, as I was pushing my way through the undergrowth of a keeper’s path, I was the unwitting spectator of the act of buggery, a sight, for all that it remained vivid, which I accepted though I did not question. It would, indeed, have been of little use if I had. I remember asking the grown-ups who was Oscar Wilde and what he had done – echoes of their conversation had vaguely got through to me. My mother told me he was degenerate and had left his wife.
At the edge of the wood, I was not much more enlightened. The two youths in disarray were prancing around each other like a pair of ungainly unicorns. I retreated into the shelter of the bushes and witnessed the bizarre performance like an uncouth gymnastic exercise. They capered heavily, coming together in leering embraces and breaking away with gruff and falsetto cries, clawing and disengaging until they lined up for the final act. This struck me as curiously ridiculous. Ugly also, unrelated to the normal natural world I knew. By this time they had shed their trousers and all but the flapping tie of one of them as the two pallid pink bottoms billowed and pumped. Familiar with the coupling of animals, I didn’t pause to work it out. It simply seemed to me grotesque and unlovely. None of this could I have put into words, nor did I tell anyone – my instinct warned me it was something that grownups would not explain. Further than this, for many years to come, I neither knew nor cared. There were other things more interesting and the cowslips were what I had come for.
Frank had a wall-eye. This gave him a sardonic appearance which could be jovial or sinister according to the expression, twinkle or glare, of the good eye. The combined effect of’ both eyes if he was angry was rather terrifying. He wore the shiny spongeable celluloid shirt-top cover favoured by waiters of that period, known as a dickey. This had the attachment of a narrow black tie twisted into a bootlace and at moments of exertion the whole contraption would shift round and lodge sideways sticking out under one ear or back to front. He and the farm men wore caps and braces and the men tied a string round their trouser-legs below the knee. Leather boots heavily studded, oiled and bees-waxed, were as tough as the modern wellington. The men came to work carrying white or blue enamel cans of tea for their ‘beavers’, the local word, probably of Norman derivation, for their morning drink or elevenses. This they shared with us or with any children who happened to be with them. For their midday snack they brought hunks of bread, dripping and cheese done up in a white-spotted red cotton handkerchief or, in hot weather, in cabbage leaves bound round with bast, and they would sometimes put a cabbage leaf under their cap for coolness. Breathers were brief. They worked from six in the morning till their heavy tread set homeward down the lane at six for tea. Mrs. Franklin, a Roberts of Fairlands [see map on p. 12], quietly devoted herself to the domestic realm within the farmhouse that entirely absorbed her days, rarely emerging except to collect one or other of her offspring or the eggs from the hens that were her charge and that scattered freely about the land, white, brown and grey specks that could be seen a mile off.
Our hens nested in their orchard; their hens in ours. Like the early Christians, we had everything in common. Money rarely changed hands. We were invited to pick up Frank’s walnuts; my mother would make him free of our greengages. Thomas would borrow a ladder; Frank, a scythe. He made our hay and turned in his bullocks when he was short of grass. A breakthrough into the garden by any of his beasts would soon enough have its counterpart when one of ours broke through his fence, a pattern that continued throughout the Forster’s time and our own.
The Franklins were chapel folk – a Frank had been brought up as a Methodist. One of his favourite literary enthusiasms was for the Church of England burial service, from which he could quote sonorously and with relish. He attended burials whenever he could, whether he happened to be acquainted with the deceased or not, and if the corpse happens to be a relative, was known to address it from his place in the church. My mother drove him to the funeral of a Franklin of Chivels Manor, and as the congregation awaited the overdue hearse, Frank announced loudly, ‘Come on, Ben, you was always late’. She asked him one day what so appealed to him about The Order for the Burial of the Dead. ‘The language’, he replied. ‘Finest thing in the Book of Common Prayer’, and he began to quote, ‘Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live …’ adding, ‘Top-hole, I call it’, an epithet that struck Clementine as pertinent.
One early morning a terrier pup of ours ran through the hedge and made short work of some of Frank’s young birds. He appeared below my mother’s bedroom window. She leaned out to see him holding a mangled duckling in either hand. He stood without a word, lifting them up.
The episode distressed her. Knowing Frank’s partiality for certain dishes, she drove into Hitchin and bought a salmon. She sent it round with a note from the puppy to express his regret and explain that he had been carried away by the feeling that duck born of a duck had but a short time to live. Frank’s good eye twinkled; there was never a ruffle on the friendship.
Forster kept faithfully the long link since his childhood; he visited Frank up to the time of his death. I was away when Frank died. They told me that successive entrants to his bedroom had found it impossible to stand upright and had fallen flat on their faces. His bed, as the floor by it, was coated with tallow, where he had read, a candle on the pillow beside him His last years were spent increasingly in the White Lion and the Three Props; his sons carried on. With the tragic death of the last one to farm there, the farm passes out of the story in perfidy, a legend only to those who remember.
There is a break of some forty years in Elizabeth’s narrative which continues at 1959 with a short section relating to the house. This break covers the time in which she had lived with her mother at Rooks Nest House and had travelled abroad with her in the 1930s. Also she had worked for the BBC during the war and gone freelance at the end of it. She had then witnessed with increasing dismay the appointment in 1946 of a Stevenage Development Corporation followed by the inexorable building of a New Town alongside the old, threatening to destroy that part of rural Hertfordshire so beloved by Forster and by the Postons themselves. Added to that, was further uncertainty about the future when Mrs. Poyntz-Stewart, the owner of Rooks Nest died and The Court of Protection had to take control of the estate.
Much of this part of the story is covered in two of Margaret Ashby’s books: Forster Country, Flaunden Press 1991, 176 pp. and Stevenage, Alan Sutton 1994, 124 pp., but additional material for this crucial period has come to light, some of which is used in Parts 3 and 4 that follow.]
Early in 1959 news reached me that the Chivels estate was to be sold. The trustees had got rid of their interim tenants and the place was to be put on the Market.
What of the house? Question and suspense were agonising.
One day the following summer two legal emissaries came to the door. ‘Do you want to buy the house?’ As sitting tenants, we should be offered first refusal.
What of the others? – a world was falling to pieces before my eyes… What of the farm Chivels Manor, Ledgeside [see map on p. 12], Ten Acre, all of it, the beloved places? It was hard to realise. By nightfall I had realised it only too well. Towards midnight I took the dogs and went out and wandered about the park. The forsaken house, its grey facade white in the moonlight, its stone terraces and turreted stables shining brilliant against black-angled shadow, stood like a reproach. I hadn’t the heart to pass by Ledgeside.
The next day I consulted with Clementine. Wartime dilapidations had left much to be done, particularly to the structure, for which the Chivels estate was responsible but to which they had not done a thing for years. During my absence on war service, innumerable repairs had accumulated and awaited my attention. Once again Howards End [i.e. Rooks Nest House] had to be reclaimed. There was now no Thomas, no one to help in the house but an elderly pensioner housekeeper, and Clementine’s arthritis was getting worse. My resignation from the BBC with my unalterable intention to pursue, come what may, my own path – one in which Charles seemed to be standing beside me – had brought no certainty as to my future, and though more offers and commissions were coming in than I could well deal with, to build up again from scratch would, I knew, take time.
In the meantime, I had asked the representatives of the estate for their agreement to my taking out a short term mortgage on the property. This, I thought, though it offered no prospect of solving the long term problem would give me time and act as a holding operation.
They assented, but it was not for long. Little Poyntz died, as he had lived, oppressing and unloved. Neither of the two incumbents in whose parishes his land lay wished to have his grave. He had much ado to get buried. When he did, it was upside down. The strap broke as the coffin was being lowered and he fell in with a resounding crunch to the audible comment: ‘Yer wasn’t no durn good rightways oop’. At the Park, Lena’s death had finished matters. Neal had to be kept in care. The place must go and to a quick turnover. I sent Morgan the outline.
An unusually brisk and businesslike telephone call from him from King’s [College, Cambridge] followed on the morning my letter reached his. ‘My dear, this is serious. Can you meet me by the mid-day train?’
In July he gave me the house.
Part 3. Intervening Early Years
In 1972 Elizabeth provided further snippets of biographical information in answering a series of specific questions put by a Stevenage schoolgirl, Ann Moody, who had embarked on a school project:
‘I suppose that my school education was ordinary to girls of my type and circumstances, for whom there was not then any other apart from the village school or a charitable foundation..
I went first to a private school where the general education and the teaching was extremely good, so was the music, and included visiting lecturers on such subjects as Parliamentary History, World Events, Dalcroze Eurythmics, Movement & Speech &c. Secondly I went to one of the foremost of the girl’s public schools of the Woodard Trust (Lancing College, Queen Ethelburgha’s College [York]; Queen Margaret’s School &c,).
My first piano lessons were from Violet Edwards, a teacher long since dead; my violin and viola lessons from Phyllis Eyre and W. J. Read, both well known string players and teachers.
I travelled abroad a great deal. I must have misled you if I gave you the impression that I took jobs while I was abroad during my student years. During some of this time I was living in France and Italy and was studying far too hard to take jobs, which in any case I was not then fitted for. In later years I worked for the British Council in the Near East and in archaeological and other jobs, in amanuensis and scoring, and in work for the BBC.
I couldn’t possibly [illegible] to tell you all the places I went to or in which years or draw a map: this would take me from now till doomsday and will have to be saved for my autobiography. France was the first country I went to, followed by many others and including, extensively, the Near East, also the Far East and continent of North America.
I belonged to my school orchestra and choir, played the organ in chapel, and was a member of the choral/orchestral class at the RAM [Royal Academy of Music].
In my early years I went to no concerts (there were none for me to go to); to as many as I could during my school days; in my student years and thereafter, to concerts constantly and too innumerable to detail. Everywhere I was. Everything impressed me except such as I learned to reject. I was starting from scratch and it was like receiving the force of the whole ocean. As the music I heard ranged from the Vatican Choir and Opera in Paris, Bach in Germany, Mozart in Salzburg, Bedouin in the desert, to the folk music of Central Europe, it isn’t possible to specify. This cosmopolitan artistic life was the air I breathed, a natural element. The fact that I had these chances was in itself an education. Through it, I learned to discriminate.’
Letters of the Late 1920s and Early 1930s
There is relatively little information yet to hand about Elizabeth’s life in the late 1920s and early 1930s; there are no diaries available until 1936 and relatively few letters in this period. Those few letters relate to her health, life style, friendship with Peter Warlock and a visit to Malaya with her mother. They provide important pieces of the jigsaw of her life that have yet to be put together.
In one of Elizabeth’s letters to Jean Coulthard (19 February 1961) she wrote,
‘I paid for my rude health in childhood (never had a thing except whooping cough!) by a really nasty attack of measles when I was about 22 [about 1927], which left me temporarily almost blinded, & which I didn’t get over for 18 months.’
The aftermath of this illness suggests that one particular fragment of a letter written in Elizabeth’s hand, probably dates from about 1928:
‘So what happens in the future remains to be seen, & in the meanwhile I have to rest every afternoon.
The other day I attended (unwittingly, but not very able to extract myself) a very County tea-party. Is there anything quite so humorous – to those who find humour therein – as the correct English Gentry as they are at home? I don’t know why, but this particular occasion – only one of many similar ones – impressed itself upon my mind with the vividness of a caricature, by a certain twist of mood at the time – ancestors on the walls, descendants round the table. The former contemplating the latter with every degree of hauteur & indifference of those below. I thought: what a study in Bottoms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collection of plain posteriors – some architectural & vast, enveloped in Gothic patterns of striped marocain – others ill-shapen and lumpy with the strain of over-corseting! What a galaxy. Naval man on my right at tea, from whose conversation I learnt that there were only two posts where British admirals might take their wives on board. Mental note to remember this strange crumb of General Knowledge. But of course I clean forgot. Outside in the garden, after tea, among prize specimens of everything, the talk centred on gardening. I gravely listened while Sir Harry discussed the advisability of putting the Bishop of Llandaff & the Jersey Lily in one bed. (How disappointing that they were only dahlias, & that the standard of Episcopal scandal in Welsh Sees is not such as I should like to think it). This gave rise to an’
It is also clear (from the next letter) that after Elizabeth had been abroad for several months at the end of 1930 she had been ill again on her return.
Letters relating to Peter Warlock
On 17 December1930, her friend Peter Warlock died in a gas-filled room (an open verdict was found by the coroner). They had met in 1924 and become close friends and colleagues, having musical interests in common. Elizabeth rose from her sickbed to comfort Barbara Peache, a girlfriend of Peter’s and later, on the day of the memorial service on 13 February 1931, wrote to his mother, Edith Buckley-Jones as follows:
‘[…] I knew Philip very well though not for a great many years . . . I always thought that he had the greatest capacity in himself for Beauty which any man could possibly possess – Perhaps, it would seem almost too great & too intense a beauty…I cannot bear there to be any bitterness about him anywhere. He was so fine & generous & great-hearted, and all love & admiration for him only grow greater. Surely, surely there can be nothing for him but the ultimate Beauty & the serenity and happiness he seemed unable to find here.
His restlessness & the dissatisfaction of the artist in him seemed part of his life’s seeking & striving after loveliness. He was so touchingly humble and his music – and he did get dreadfully depressed about it, & it is so terrible to think of him having such suffering over it. . . .’
A couple of weeks later Elizabeth wrote at considerably greater length to Robert Nichols, one of Peter’s friends:
‘Dear Mr. Nichols,
It has been so much in my mind to write to you ever since Christmas, and I should most certainly have done so before if circumstances had not seemed to conspire against it.
I had been away from England for several months at the end of last year, & had come back a day or two before Phil’s death. As I was feeling rather ill, I had to retire to bed immediately upon my return. But directly the news came I got up & went straight up to town to Barbara.
During the time of fog & nightmare which followed, one became somehow super human, & managed to keep going. But unfortunately I only just held out until after the inquests & then became very ill. All correspondence was forbidden me for some weeks, and when I began to get about again not long ago, there was so much to see to before the concert that life became a rush which I could only cope rather less quickly than usual and an attempt to write to you from Cefn Bryntalch the other day had to be abandoned, as the days & more than half the nights were taken up with Mrs. Buckley-Jones. I had to give myself up to her & it left little or no time in which to write letters.
I knew Phil very well though not for many years. We met first over music & through musical association & mutual friends. He was kind and interested in the work I was doing when I was still studying some years ago, and in the first few things of mine to be published then, when I was yet on threshold of a musical career. (This was arrested very soon by an unfortunate illness – & I was obliged to give up working for long intervals, & could not be in London so much.)
Partly, I think, because I love the country and have happened never to be dependent upon having to work, or be in the midst of things in Town for longer at any time than my inclination bade, and perhaps because of a predisposition to be at times a recluse where a garden, my books & my piano are concerned, I knew Phil also rather more independently, in that there were many occasions when we met apart from the general crowd of everyone else one knew – and it is these times which stand out in my mind as the ones in which the knowledge & realisation of him grew, as he admitted me by degrees to his extraordinary mind & spirit. As I came to know him better, the association became as much a literary as a musical one. I saw & knew a good deal of his work & we discussed many projects together.
It happened that I was alone with him once before, at a time of horror which I shall never be able to forget, when he had been having DTs very badly & made one of his previous attempts to do the same sort of thing. I have never spoken of this to anyone who knew him well, so please keep it absolutely in confidence – There are still things which are best saved from people who belong to him.
I did all I could – it was very difficult alone – and looked after him till he was through it. But I am afraid that since then, more than ever, I could not doubt that the end which came would be the logical outcome to his life.
I had known about things – the difficulties & quarrels & complications of chaos which you also know, & of which his life was the centre – and when he died, I felt that I could help in some ways as perhaps no one else could in quite the same manner.
But the difficulty of approaching it all, and my natural feeling of diffidence was considerable, as you may imagine – & it struck me ironically at first, that the position might lead to hindrances and misapprehensions instead of help. At a time when I expected that anyone & anything might crop up, and in particular, no small number of females, each a claimant on the past & shrouded in her own possessive woe and mystery, it seemed to me that to appear at the head of such a band, whether they should happen to come forward or not, would be a very doubtful help – & a fantastic situation which Phil would have been the first to appreciate!
However, the eventuality most fortunately did not arise. There was only time to judge quickly, & I felt more than thankful to have been there.
At all events, I could not find it possible to treat what had to be dealt with of Phil’s life with anything but very particular reserve & respect after his death. It was entirely unnecessary in my opinion, to explain positions – whether they might concern myself or anyone else – but to deal with them as quietly & wisely as possible, – for when all the world was ready to become spectacular, & the press ravening for chance crumbs which might be dropped unwisely anywhere, anything of the spectacular was the first thing to be avoided.
I can imagine nothing more complicated than the whole state of affairs at that time. It was not only things – for so much of that sad ritual moved as a matter of course – but the infinitesimal shades of tact & delicacy which were so necessary through everything.
I knew very little of Barbara before, except through Philip himself & I had never seen much of her.
My first thought in coming to her side was that she would have no woman just then who would be any good to her. And I only saw how dreadfully true this was when l reached her.
The sudden appearance of her mother, though I fully realise that she may have meant well, added needless difficulties – A creature of unalloyed selfishness (I speak of course, entirely entre nous) whose presence on the scene at all did absolutely nothing to help matters, but had, in fact, the very opposite effect, & was almost the last straw to me.
For she relied implicitly upon me, & yet became entirely impossible, angrily resenting the fact that every detail of the past years was not ‘explained’ to her. There was, of course, no time in which to try & do so. Nor was it possible. Good God! Just imagine the proposition!
The best one could do was to ask her to believe and trust that things were being dealt with as wisely and well as possible. However, she seemed incapable of this, – & after she had produced a lover, a frigid personage of considerable intensity of mien who appeared unwillingly, & was obviously appalled & unable to do anything ( – this is also entre nous, so please don’t speak of it to anyone!) and after she had had shrill hysterics in bed in a ladies club, shrieking abuse upon the heads of everyone, with poor Barbara, who had fetched me in to try & deal with her, in a state of collapse upon a chair, I felt the good lady to be unworthy of further consideration, and I only tried to continue to cope with her until she chose to take her departure for Barbara’s sake – Otherwise I should have regarded her as beyond contempt.
I realised all through, the importance of trying to take everything possible off Barbara, to reserve her strength & keep her clear for the inquest.
She was splendid, & her reliable common-sense did not fail her then. But I felt terribly responsible and anxious, specially as the Sunday had been a difficult day anyhow. I had been trying to get hold of people here there everywhere, & there was a last-minute rush about counsel.
Just at this time, in the midst of it all, I shall never forget the relief & gladness I felt when you appeared. That dismal day, in the mournful respectability of Garland’s, I had no chance to speak to you – I should probably have been incapable of doing so, even if there had been a chance.
For willpower seemed to be the only thing left to pit against the consciousness of drawing nearer & nearer to the verge of a collapse, when there was still so much ahead.
Artistic people, as you must know, – in this case, specially musical ones, are not apt to be helpful in a crisis. For the first 24 hours, everyone was paralysed, & after that came waves of fuddled hysteria, when I began to despair of getting any sense out of anyone!
But I shall never be able to tell you what a firm assurance of support your presence was all the time – the one strong, sane tower of help & wise judgment in that waking nightmare of chaos – And I can only tell you now how much you will always be bound up thus in my mind with that dreadful time. The very thought that you were there helped to keep me going – And I realised also that you were really the only person who knew him in the same way, both sides of it all – ( – & you of course, had known Phil for far longer than I had) in fact, all sides of a thing far too many-sided & complicated to explain to anyone who did not know – And that in itself was a greater help than I know how to say.
I was so very sorry that you had to encounter the fog & misery of London’s most vile mood, when I knew by experience myself the undoing it brings. I felt most apprehensive of the evil consequences it might have upon you afterwards. It proved thoroughly damnable in my case.
I did not meet Mrs. Buckley-Jones until later, & was not able to see her again all until recently, when I got better. As soon as I could get away, I went down to her & we came up on Monday bringing Nigel from school.
It is terrible to watch such heartbreak as hers, – the more so when one realises implicitly how desolate her grief is because she is outside his life & friends, & has been for so long.
I couldn’t hope to comfort her. The only thing which seemed to help her was just to be with her & let her talk of him & do all one possibly could in that way. There was so much that she didn’t realise – about Barbara – which was left for me to enlighten her about, a task again needing the utmost delicacy & perception, in which all one could do was to rely solely upon instinct, & trust that it would not fail.
Barbara herself is the last person I would ever speak to of anything to do with this, out of respect for very right reserve & loyalty.
But I could only hope to do whatever good was possible for the sake of both those two poor women-folk, & for everything. At the end of it, the sequel which I find great comfort is that Mrs. Buckley-Jones asked Barbara to tea two days ago, & to go down & stay with her next week. I feel so very glad about that.
I had so much on my hands at the concert that there was hardly time to think – with Barbara to sit by & look after, & people crowding round in the interval, & Mrs. Buckley-Jones to take round behind afterwards, to introduce her to everyone.
I had Barbara under my wing that night in Town, as 1 took her back with me, & there was still much to see [to] before I could get away. Having been with her all through this, I hope she will always feel that I am there whenever she wants me.
I would like to have housed her all this time, but it was not possible. as I was ill and could see no one.
I can’t bear to think of her now. She has been valiant for so long, and her dignity when it came to this was very touching.
I felt inclined to suggest her coming abroad later on, as I shall be in the south. But as I shall have to concentrate on trying to get better, it would not be much fun for her – & I think that if she gets a job of some sort in town as she is hoping to, it would be the best thing for her & would help to keep her from moping.
Having recovered thus far, I have been ordered to go to warmer climates soon, though 1 am putting off doing so until the end of next month [March 1930].
If it were possible before then, it would be delightful to come & see you – and if you would let me bring Barbara, as you suggested, I should be specially glad for her sake. It was a very sweet thought on your part. Any time after next week would be all right, when she will have achieved her visit chez Mrs. Buckley-Jones & before she starts on a job. Mrs. Buckley-Jones, by the way, asked me to tell you that she hoped you would not mind if she kept the letters awhile before returning them – as she feels unable to go through them quickly.
However, since she told me in a note yesterday that she had just written to you, she has no doubt told you herself.
The Van Dierens are terribly pleased to have Phil’s Berlioz you sent them. Van D. was very bad & still in bed when I was round there the other night.
I send you several songs – in case you are at all interested. But I am always diffident. My connection with music is simply & solely because I love it, and I can never bring myself to feel a professional attitude towards art of any kind. So please feel that these songs are sent first & foremost as bearers of thanks which I could hardly express in any other way.
I would like to tell you how much I like all I know of your work – but I want to send you most of all now, my even greater appreciation of your help &, understanding.
Won’t you come & dine any evening in Town? I am there as often as it suits me, & shall be there a good deal before I go away.
I have felt terribly responsible & alone in dealing with all this – in spite of all the people one knew who have been so kind, but were not really able to help in some ways – and I should love to talk to you.
Your violets before the concert, when I felt very tied & almost overpowered by the inevitable sense of underlying sadness in the midst of the necessity to keep outwardly most steeled and normal in the face of all that had to be seen to very much in public, will remain in my memory as one of the sweetest thoughts I have ever known.
I shall always hold you in affectionate remembrance because of it, and in very special gratefulness for everything you did.
Elizabeth had occasion to write to Robert Nichols again much later (April 1943) as a result of remarks about Warlock broadcast by Stephen Williams to which Nichols had responded robustly
‘Dear Mr. Nichols,
One of the greatest ironies of Phil’s life is the legacy of cheap publicity to lesser men who could never, in thought or word, approach the fringe of his being. Your letter to the Radio Times was a challenge & a defense which must have gladdened all of the few left who knew him & those who believe in his work.
I, particularly, want to thank you, with thanks of long standing. It seemed part of his fate that he should have had about him people who were no good to him. In life as in death he was surrounded by the ‘jackal things’. Among his friends you stand alone & did not fail him. There is one other. I should like to talk to you of these things. It is many years since we met. After Philip’s death I left England & did not return except for brief, occasional visits, until I found myself in charge of a musical job on Arthur Bliss’s staff. From him & from other mutual acquaintances I have heard of you from time to time, read you, seen you, even, in the pre-war illustrated press!
Do you remember Don Juan (yet young) on the stairs in the small hours at Yew Tree House, when l had Barbara Peache under my wing, in those unforgettable, sorrowful days after Philip’s going? It is you who stand out to me as the bulwark of that terrible fantasy – the one presence of whole & comforting understanding.
I enclose from my advance press copy of the Radio Times of April 30th the revealingly inadequate reply, in case it has not yet reached you, of Stephen Williams.
Can’t you kill him?’
So the picture emerges of the 1930s when ill health (and perhaps grief too after Warlock’s death) have taken Elizabeth away intermittently from England and from musical composition. The few letters that have survived this period depict Elizabeth on holiday; two, including one written by her mother (No. 2, overleaf) are from abroad.
Letters in the 1930s (Simon Campion Archive, Box 83)
1. Letter 30 May 1933, Rook’s Nest, Stevenage [probably to ‘Geoffrey’ because he is evidently in South Africa, as in the letter (No. 2, overleaf, p. 37) to him from Elizabeth’s mother]
True to the prophecy in your first letter this week came a second letter the following day – the one inadvertently posted non bugpos! I always think that is rather a lovely word. It makes me think, in some odd and reason-less way, of the Ogpu: something grim & fearfully exciting. Or it would be a good name for a giant in a fairy tale! As it is, it is the kindest of giants & does its work with seven-leagued boots & unfailing good nature, & if I could only catch sight of the monster personally, I would give it a bun or some ginger-bread, & say thank you very nicely.
But it remains as elusive as Father Christmas, only dropping its gifts on my breakfast tray, with the utmost benignity, on Monday mornings, itself as invisible as the red-clad genies whose visits come only once in the year. So I can only breathe out my thanks to bugpos upon the wind, & trust that perchance he may receive them.
Your account of your visit to the unexpected & amusing house of Babb intrigued me very much – though my only regret is that, true to the ballads (though of course the family must have inter-married a bit & had some occasion or other to add by deed pole the second ‘B’) they had not, as their next door neighbours, Mr. Blennerhasset Portico and the Bishop of Rum-ti-foo.
Have you seen in the papers, recently, accounts of the lovely case that has been going on, in which a certain Mr. Blennerhasset (with a whole string of Christian names), well-known on the Stock Exchange & at Pim’s [sic, London Restaurant], sued for libel the party responsible for an advertisement for Yo-Yo – one of those absurd things ‘featuring’ a mythical Mr. Blennerhasset stated to be an eminent stock-broker & regular Luncher at Pim’s, who had gone the downward path owing to his obsession with this particular toy, & ended in a place of quiet retirement in the country for the mentally damaged. The real Mr. B., poor man, complained that since the advertisement appeared, all his friends did nothing but roar with laughter at him & that his business was seriously affected & he didn’t dare have lunch at Pim’s any more!! Too good.
I didn’t realise I had been so remiss as to have lapsed in correspondence for 3 weeks. I am so sorry. I wonder if a letter got lost? I seemed to be under the impression that it had not been more than a fortnight. But I may be wrong. The days are going most horribly quickly, for the weather is so lovely one is out in the garden all the time – & without doing anything in particular, it suddenly seems to be the evening, then next morning – then the evening again, und so weiter [and so on], until one gets into the disconcerting state, something like the sort of thing Alice [in Wonderland] complained of about the jam that – it is always next week.
Last week we were kept busy with several visitations of people by car for the day, & then Pea & I were motored up by friends to the first day of the [Royal Horticultural Society] Chelsea Show. It was really marvellous – such colourings & such beautiful arrangements & grouping of exhibits both in the tents & in the open. There must have been as many people as there were flowers – which is saying a good deal. But needless to say, in the matter of comparison, the flowers won every time!
I came to the conclusion that the Gardening Woman is about as bad as the Hunting Woman. Not just the nice gardeners – they are different, but the real grim Gardening Female. Of course, I suppose she & the Hunting one combine very frequently. When she is not hunting the fox, her blood-lust finds expression in a relentless pursuit of harmless bugs & greenfly. And it possibly helps to explain why she invariably looks so uncomfortable when dressed up in her ‘summer clothes’.
There were some lovely specimens, & I got a quiverful of quiet amusement out of the spectacle. Not the least was a touch of ‘Palladium’ [Music Hall] humour which always appeals to me so vastly: the sight of the figure of an immaculate 6 ft. Guardsman (obviously) too county, faultlessly tailored & moustached & silk-hatted & button-holed, who, in a moment of enthusiasm over some patent frames, lent against a nail & tore a nice large piece out of the middle of the seat of his trousers, out of which his shirt-tail protruded waggishly. He went on his way, frozenly superior & blissfully unconscious of the dérangement behind, yet obviously puzzled at the badly-smothered giggles of all in his vicinity. Poor man – what a revelation, when the moment came. I hope he was not cashiered from his regiment!
We were delighted to discover, in the principal row of stalls devoted to mowers and growers & all kinds of gadgets, a booth held by one ‘Peabody, Specialist in Bacterised Peat’. Bacterising peat sounds to me a thoroughly nice, peaceful occupation, & it was comforting to feel that there was a family business I might enter!
Mummy collected the usual piles of literature which, when their proportions got too out of bounds, she went round dropping, & which I, in the intervals of picking them up, annotated in a most professional manner, marking ‘King George: climbing, double, highly ornamental’ with an X, & ‘Lord Lonsdale: yellow, free-flowering, early’; & making any suitable & intelligent & well-sounding remarks to the young men on the stalls, about top-dressings & lime & wood-pruning. A very nice day – but, even done de Luxe, in a huge automobile & with an excellent lunch, very tiring, & I had to spend the following day & a half in bed getting over it. Then it was almost a week, & today & yesterday Pea & I have been sorting garments preparatory to going together down to Sussex tomorrow, where we shall spend the beginning of June. I have one or two more visits in the offing, but haven’t definitely fitted them in. It is rather difficult to make plans, as hardly a post comes without bringing a letter from someone or other – more often than not, one doesn’t in the least want to see, or haven’t seen for a long time – saying ‘June is so lovely in the country’ (implying, of course, strawberries & asparagus & roses) & may they come down & bring their maid or their little Bonzo, or some equally objectionable child, or all these together – & poor Pea & I heave awful sighs & try & sort out those who have got to come from those who really needn’t, & grudge from the bottom of our hearts, our June days having to be lavished on the unwelcome!
The buttercups in the fields make stretches of sunlight all of their own, & the hay is growing high – I even saw some cut the other day – & the roses, both in garden and hedge are in bud. Such a lovely time. Too lovely, one feels, for it to go by,
I can imagine so well all S. Africa makes you feel – how deadening & despondent, & how it gets on top of you. I suppose that is inevitable, & a grisly fact one realises more & more as time goes by.
I am so glad that George Moore has been such a solace to you. In time to come, when works can be measured side by side, each in better perspective, surely he must stand with the greatest.
Please don’t complain that your letters are ever dull. They may seem so to you. But I can assure you that it is never so the other end! I am afraid I have come back to life at the other end of this illness woefully unemotional. I feel utterly incapable of either being so or writing so ever again. But one can’t help it – only ask indulgence of those dear to one, for whom the same affection is never less, though it may be undemonstrative.
My love as ever,
2. Letter, ‘March 5, 1934 Mandalay-Maywyo[?] Road’ (written in Elizabeth’s hand), page 3 only, presumably because she had discarded the rest of the letter, retaining only purely descriptive writing.
‘[…] to be shunted backwards & forwards alternately, an engine at either end!
Bamboos, countless varieties of nameless trees & palms, & curtaining shrubs & flowering creepers laced themselves in a heavy-scented exotic tangle all around. Now & then one had the bewildering flash of a parrot or some other bird of brilliant plumage. Monkeys on this occasion, we didn’t see, nor did we hear them. And I have not yet heard tiger, but those sounds will be added unto us, no doubt. The thicket near the ground was full of a symphony of small, tropical noises – lizards, cicadas, crickets, flies & mosquitoes, with the myriad mysterious glidings & rustlings & cracklings which made one feel more than ever how terribly, how strangely Alive it all was. Sometimes one saw a flower, brilliant, with an almost jewel-like lustre. Then it twitched or suddenly flew away, a butterfly. It got cooler & cooler as we neared the top. Below, now & then, at some view-point or high craggy turn of the road where the immediately-surrounding jungle was cleared, lay the plains stretching south from Mandalay, all in a still faint-blue haze of dust & sun, the Irrawaddy a dim quietly-silver ribbon, coiling away into the distance along its upper reaches. Coming down again, the pressure of altitude became powerful & I felt giddy & slightly light-headed.
In a few days’ time, the Buddhist calendar ordains a Festival, for some reason or other, when there are various celebrations of the occasion & rites connected therewith by the native. So I hope there will be some amusing things for me to tell you about it. The Sacred Fish, I believe, come up out of the river – & this sounds as if it might be fun!
3. Letter, 19 March 1934. C/o Imperial Bank of India, Mandalay, Burma, written by Elizabeth’s mother, Clementine:
‘My dear Geoffrey,
Your most welcome letter of which has just come, I was delighted because it was quite Telepathy, as the Princess [Elizabeth Poston!], having given you very full rations in a long letter [only crumbs left of Letter No. 2] last mail, has firmly decreed she is going to rest on her oars this week, & has graciously allowed me to be her very inadequate deputy & write in her place.
I was meaning to anyhow: as I had a lot of chatter brewing, I wanted to get off to you. I’m sure E[lizabeth] has exploited all the avenues of our ‘Impressions’. Therefore I won’t try & do what her most graphic pen has already done so well – & attempt to describe places & people. Judging from a few word paintings of the latter, she has treated me to (in extract) as she wrote you – with many chuckles, showed as I pointed out, that she was dipping her malicious little pen into vitriol! However – she always likes, or doesn’t like! as you know! & the descriptions of all the unlucky people in the last category are sure to be somewhat lurid! & she’s such a psychic little pet. ‘I always know’. & I believe she does invariably what the real person is like under its disguise.
All this is really blowing off steam! & not what I meant to say at all but writing to you is always such a very happy thing & directly I begin to write I can hardly hear myself think for my Purrs. For the refrain accompanying my pen is, there’s that Dear Geoffrey! Just the same always & just a dear, with the receiver up, ready to understand everything & so it’s difficult to go on, for that really sums up the whole matter. Nothing makes any difference does it? Time or distances – now you are in Africa & we in Asia! N’importe! [No matter!].
I do feel tho’, I can perhaps give you a few impressions of the darling which perhaps no one else can. You know my real feeling about the need for this voyage & absolute change & travel for her was. I felt so desperately keen for her to forget that illness & feel well & full of interest again. I know you understand this so completely & don’t need to comment on it (please). I just dreaded her just settling down to a sort of delicate feeling & lack of interest from shock to her supersensitive nerves, of that illness. It really was unthinkable, at her age, & with all her gifts & loveliness, & this a confidence – & I know how you’ll rejoice – It’s all worked like magic & I thank God, & go on my way rejoicing. & full of Hope.
She looks better (unberufen [und unbeschrien = touch wood]) than I’ve seen her for years & so receptive & full of interest in everything & so gay & cheerful. I love to hear her old laughter ring out! You’ll see what I mean. When I noticed when we began our voyage, she expressed herself entirely in complete beautiful black, day & evening! She looked extraordinarily striking of course, but very aloof, & as the voyage went on, the black gave way to the lovely colours that express her, I think best of all.
The new niece who came on board to meet us as we got in to Rangoon told me she should never forget her, & couldn’t take her eyes off her. She was such a fresh, dainty vision of loveliness!
She had on the softest pink frock, & minute coat, I think the best inspiration or new ‘little woman’ had for her, & then a soft chic little white hat, tilted a little to show the pretty dark hair, with some pretty white flowers resting on it. Oh! Dear, poor Geffy, am I unkind? & tantalising? But I believe you like me to, even if it does hurt a little, I fear?
Of course, she’s always admired & people burn incense. But she is so fastidious, & no one has held her fancy in the least! I thought several old men on the ship were utterly fatuous, & a great bore, as she did! as they would be so incessantly attentive to her. Pea had her uses there, at times, as a body guard.
I’m sure E[lizabeth] has told you her impressions of Rangoon, & described the Arabian Nights’ Dinner Party. She says she didn’t feel able to cope with describing the Hostess! (I knew E’s feelings without being told them!). The said young woman has lately married a very nice, well to do Barrister there – why he did it no one can guess! She really is annoying – very pale & extraordinary lips, looking quite deformed, as they are very large and turned over outwards, & when bright red have to be seen to be believed. Hair dyed bright chestnut, missing fire at the roots, which remain black. Her frock looked to me like a gigantic black silk bustle tied on with shoulder straps! There was also a heavy lisp. The eyes of the Princess fell on her – & quite put her off going near Rangoon again, as being rich, she is all pervading & you can’t escape her main entertainments – bathing parties, etc., etc.
Now to take the taste out of all that I’ll try & tell you (after a short interval for an iced milk soda) of a contrast & what the darling looked like that night. Having dinner by candle light by a Lake, I couldn’t see her of course. But later, when we all drove on to the vast Club for dancing, she simply seemed to be the whole picture & so utterly different & apart from all her surroundings. She simply seemed to swim in with such lovely grace in a very long clinging soft green & gold brocade dress, very simple but with such lovely lines. With it, a glorious little orange velvet cape (discarded later), little orange slippers & a vast orange ostrich fan. So you can imagine the effect. I don’t think I’ve seen her look so well, and with of course the lovely bright colour fresh from the voyage.
Here on Mandalay we are very quiet, but it suits E. & the airy house & excellent servants are very restful. I expect you’ve heard of our host who is a judge (I.C.S) [International Civil Servant] here. We’ve known him very well for past 10 years since he first left school & went to King’s Coll[ege]. He is most placid & dependable & very easy to stay with, as he’s in court till 4 p.m. every day! Then comes tea & tennis at the Tennis Club. E. with our host reminds me of light & airy spray dashing against a Rock! But I’ve really been very thankful for him & his steady thoughtfulness as so much better for E. to be in an airy house & not a Hotel.
We are due to go up to the hills before Easter, then have passages in Bibly Yorkshire; Rangoon April 26; London due May 25.’
4. Letter, probably 1937 from Elizabeth at Woodlands, Adisham Canterbury, 2 August,
From Devonshire I came on here. Aunt Dodo & Uncle Pen have this year taken a large old mansion – of the comfortable ‘stately home’ ‘county seat’ solid, portico-ed variety – in Lord Someone-or-other’s family, some 5 or 6 miles out of Canterbury. It is as kindly & gracious a place in this most kindly country as you can find – 500 acres of shooting, over rolling uplands & deep woods; and old walled & thick-yewed gardens (that smell all of rosemary & lavender, plums, sweet peas & pears – you know!) & the sea practically on 3 sides, for besides the curves of coastline east & south, one can see northward, from the highest point of the estate, the silver widening of the Thames mouth.
Kent is at the busy height if its richness. The gold of the cornfields is being fast gathered in; the rows of hops grow tall & dark, nearly ready for picking; & the orchards are red & russet with apples.
The days pass in a quiet contentment of mellow August. Her Ladyship having some weeks ago acquired a fractured ankle, her activities are somewhat curtailed – a fact which Uncle Pen does not at all times take as amiss as he might! For she does not appear till mid-day, & then sits, till lunch in the garden, he & I have our mornings together. We spend them delightfully, ordering the chauffeur in the large limousine to drive us about the country, exploring as the fancy takes, by downs & coast, marsh & river-valley & combe, stopping to delve into little old Saxon churches & peer at old brasses & ancient epitaphs, where, among their quaint yews & headstones the small graveyards sleep, & time seems verily to have stopped still. Uncle Pen’s scholarly mind & quick interest in all good things, & his gentle kindly humour make him the most charming of companions – And so we roam round together – he tall & a little bent, grey & eminently distingué, I tall & as yet unbent, & burnt dark with the sun; – & subscribe ourselves in all the Visitors’ Books,
‘Sir Alfred Dennis, ) Woodlands.
Miss Elizabeth Poston, ) Adisham’
& press shillings into caretakers’ hands & put out coins in boxes ‘for the upkeep of this venerable building’, & enjoy ourselves greatly!
Aunt Dodo takes her drive in the afternoons, on which I merely accompany her, her beautiful ‘petite marquise’ clothes, her jewels & her pretty worldly chatter, not belying a keen intelligence behind it, conspiring to please & amuse me as they always do!
Isn’t one’s many-sidedness, as regards friends, a curious thing! Many friends supply, as it were, many widely differing facets. In some, a greater number of those combine, & the jewel is rarer & more perfect. In others, one is content with what one finds, & the sides of oneself in response are revealed accordingly. (But oh! as to those sides which are rigorously suppressed! The thought often steps in incongruously to give me a tremor of secret joy! – Now what would Aunt Dos say if she knew about Dora & the ‘White Horse’?!!).
You & I have known so much joy, sweetheart. I never forget that. My thoughts & love fly to you, as always.
E x x
Womanswold, Harbledown, Old Wives Lees – aren’t those lovely names?’
5. Letter, probably the summer of 1937, with ‘Old Mr Williams (Publishers [?] father)’, written in pencil in Elizabeth’s hand, p. 3 only, indicating some more of her self-censorship.
‘With a handsome, venerable appearance and [?] [?] comparable with the personality of Talley-rand & the most polished of the grands esprits of the 18th century, he combines a fine wit & delicious whimsicality of humour that make of him a conversationalist & a raconteur such as is rarely found in the world now. I wish you could have been at dinner last night & heard his reminiscences of the Shaw family (i.e. that of G. B. [George Bernard]). A grandfather, he told us, delighted in the particular fancy that he was the Third Person of the Paraclite [The Holy Spirit or ‘Comforter’], & did all his entertaining in a long room hung with sheets, seated upon a white throne with a dove, and eventually attempted to commit suicide by shutting his head in a Gladstone bag.
During a literary discussion at breakfast this morning, he described the poetry of ‘ultra-moderns’ as the result of the author having sneezed the words onto the page! – Meals are never dull, & often surprisingly diverting!
I lie most of the morning in clear green sea-water, & come out to bask and eat wild strawberries; there are these enchanting cocker spaniels & two puppies – and a most affectionate cat who insists on sleeping on my bed!; in the evenings after tea we usually meander by car about the beauty of the Devon & Dorset countryside; and in the evening after dinner (at which, besides the more usual potations, there are the most intriguing – & often surprisingly potent! – dandelion, sloe and cowslip wines), we play rummy – so it is an idyllically peaceful, pleasant existence, which I expect, will continue into the end of this month or so. The most amusing photographs came from Ralph this morning, of the G.H [Government House] & state festivities of the Jubilee etc. with R[alph] himself, top-hatted & tailed, very much in evidence everywhere!
He has a full and interesting life, meeting everybody conceivable, with golden opportunities of visiting by air, remote fastnesses of ancient and very static civilisations. I shall be thrilled if I have the chance of seeing some of it next year.
Pea sends much love & was so pleased with your note to her enclosed in mine. All the Fatted Calves will be fairly running amok by the fin de Septembre!
The Times informs me that they have sent off your book, so you should have it before long – My love as always, my dearest one.
Apologies for the untidiness!’
From 1937 to 1948 there is relatively little contemporary correspondence that has come to light to further illuminate Elizabeth’s life during that period; there are 56 letters written to the composer, William Busch and his wife between November 1942 and July 1945, but only a few have been quoted to date. There are, however, entries in her diaries that are extant from 1936 which itemise many of the events in her busy life including: her travels to see her brother, Ralph in the Middle East in 1936, 1938 & 1939; her visit to Europe in 1937; and, particularly, the prodigious amount of work she was doing for the BBC from 1940 at Bristol, Bedford and London during the war. A few more quotation from the Busch correspondence serve to highlight her fatigue during the war period and the increasing importance she placed on her home at Stevenage, as an anchor point and a refuge.
Quotations from letters to William Busch, 1942-1945
Elizabeth, very quickly developed a deep friendship with William Busch, with whom she could be frank on the subject of music, music-making (including her own efforts at composition) and musicians, and could also confide her feelings about her life at work and at home. At the BBC she was under considerable strain, not just in arranging rehearsals, recordings and transmission of music under war conditions of austerity and danger, but in broadcasting for British Intelligence (which, of course, she would not discuss, least of all in correspondence). Her home, where she could relax, therefore became an important focal point in her life, being increasingly mentioned explicitly as such to her close friends.
Her correspondence with William opened in November 1942, but already in the following January, her work having moved to London, she confided:
‘I am now up here and make it my HQ except at week-ends, when I always make a dash for the country where I gather strength to meet the onrush of the next week.’
‘(I live at Howards End, of E. M. Forster’s book – I’ll tell you about it.).’
This is probably the first indication we have that she identified Rooks Nest with Howards End, an idea that eventually became an all-consuming passion.
As autumn approached, ever a time for Elizabeth to reflect on Nature and the changing seasons, she wrote:
‘Summer is gone that was so short, lingering here only in the roses, and autumn is suddenly here. I look out on far hills with a little mist creeping over them and the thought of a wood fire is good’.
It was this western panorama that had also so captured the imagination of Forster and his family. Forster regarded the district as ‘the loveliest in England’ and in the first few pages of his novel, Howards End he created the atmosphere of the house and its rural setting, referring to ‘the views [being] marvellous – views westwards to the high ground’. This is a reiteration of what he had expressed as a 15-year-old in his earliest known writings, ‘[…] we have a very fine view to the west and north-west over Hertfordshire […] People who were accustomed to call Herts an ugly county were astonished at this view, and the surroundings of the house were altogether very pretty, first and foremost the fine view’. His grandmother too, wrote to her daughter, ‘Never shall we see such a sweet place […] the expanse of air and fields’. More explicitly, Forster reflected on Hertfordshire in Howards End: ‘Though its contours were slight, there was a touch of freedom in their sweep to which Surrey will never attain, and the distant brow of the Chilterns towered like a mountain’.
This was the perception that Elizabeth shared and after William had visited Rooks Nest and experienced its atmosphere she wrote:
‘It is just this power of understanding which makes everything well and your own perception of the place (and its inhabitants) couldn’t but make you ‘fit’. We all (and the place, too, has to be re-considered as an entity) loved having you and feel so delighted to know that you did leave feeling a bit rested and better for even a brief change.’
However, the following year, even Rooks Nest did not appear to be safe from the disturbances of war:
‘The papers may tell you flying bombs are over, but they’re not and any treachery, I have no doubt, and in many variable forms, will go on till nearer the End than now. E.g. After some 72 hours full of false security there was a bad outbreak in the small hours of the morning today. Howard’s End and its sleeping inhabitants were nearly removed!!’
‘Life goes on its whirling way and the gales bring down the last clinging gold leaves at Howard’s End, never disturbing its inmost peace.
And then during the depth of a cold winter:
‘[…] circumstances have been rather agin’ me – Not more than winter and war and work, tho’ I put winter first, as it has somehow been impeding everything else! With an admixture of rocket bombs, it is nastier than it might be, but on its own it has been constituting a major difficulty with Howard’s End practically snowed up, car frozen, ‘phone frozen (cables down) and road all but impassable, and Mummy in bed with gastric flu.’
Part 4. Elizabeth and Rooks Nest, confided mainly to
Jean Coulthard 1948-1978
Some of the most important aspects of the friendship between Elizabeth Poston and Jean Coulthard – including music and travel – have already been highlighted by Professor William Bruneau who set the scene for the first meeting between the two in Canada and their subsequent special friendship and correspondence. The letters to Jean shed light on the importance to Elizabeth of her home environment – family, friends and even the fabric of her home – and augment what has already been learned recently of her life at Rooks Nest and what has been brought to light in other articles and letters to her other friends.
Of all the letters Elizabeth wrote to her friends, those to Jean are exceptional in both quantity and quality. The total correspondence (some 570 items) more than equals what has come to light to date from all other known recipients, whilst the content is much more informative about her than any other known available sources. It has been deposited in the Archives of the University of British Columbia and copies have been kindly made available by Bill Bruneau. Unless otherwise stated, this is the source of information and quotations here from the letters.
It must be mentioned that at one time (1 December 1959) Elizabeth asked Jean:
‘Please leave in your will that any letters from me be destroyed un-perused (the only time!). I think I asked you this before!’
I do not know whether Jean did leave any such instruction, but packages containing some of the letters are inscribed in her hand, ‘destroy at my death’ or ‘send to Elizabeth Poston’, and in one case had the instruction to send to Elizabeth crossed out. In any event, they are now in the public domain with the approval of Jean’s daughter, Jane, and are proving an invaluable biographic source.
Elizabeth herself left instructions to her nephew, Jim Poston to destroy certain documents after her death, which he did. But whether these included letters from Jean or whether Elizabeth destroyed them herself earlier, or whether more than just a few are extant in the Simon Campion Archive, is not yet known. A single letter from Jean, probably the last one written to Elizabeth, is also available as a draft manuscript in the University of British Columbia Archive.
The correspondence spans the period from 1948 (after they first met in Canada) to 1979, when it came to an untimely end with what seems to have been misunderstandings on both sides which had developed following Elizabeth’s sudden hospitalisation in Stevenage which coincided, unfortunately, with a visit to Rooks Nest by Jean and her husband, Don.
Over those thirty-one years the frequency of writing averaged one letter every fortnight for the first decade, falling off to one per three or four weeks for the last.
A Crucial Friendship
Clearly Elizabeth and Jean were very much on the same wave-length, having a considerable amount in common, including their love of music and literature, and of France and the French. They shared a concern for the unenviable position of women composers in a man’s world and an appreciation of the bizarre. The friendship, intense and intimate, provided mutual support and also, for Elizabeth, living as she was in an England impoverished by the Second World War, considerable consolation and material benefit from Jean’s Canadian generosity.
The two seem to have been like exceedingly close sisters (and had once been taken as such), a relationship that was especially valuable to Elizabeth, a lone daughter, having just one brother, Ralph. Elizabeth’s mother was equally taken by Jean, regarding her as one of the family, and writing her a score of letters always in the most affectionate terms, addressing her as ‘Darlingest F.D.’ (namely, Foster Daughter) and being referred to in turn as ‘F.M.’ (Foster Mother). When they all spent Christmas together at Rooks Nest House (in 1955), it was very much a joyful, intimate, family occasion, much savoured and pleasurably recalled by all.
Later, in a letter of 24 March 1959, Elizabeth wrote to Jean on the particular matter of their friendship:
‘F.M. & I were speaking of how wonderful & blessed the sister-relationship is when ideal: unique & supportive through husbands, life, circumstances, all one’s days, & she had it (the wonderful one who brought her up, but who died a fortnight before Mum married) & you have it – & I, who have always regretted it, have had it created for me, & this, I think, is one of the greatest miracles ever, particularly as what we have is even better…?? Yes! … just because we don’t happen to be biologically of [the] same bloodstream.’
And on 7 May that year she confided:
‘Not one soul on the world understands as you do, & what I’d do without being able to boil over my beans with you, I cannot imagine.’
Although she had the companionship of her brother, Ralph, contact with him, in service in the Foreign Office, was limited to periods of home leave, and while he made more frequent visits to Rooks Nest in the 1960s, he could not empathise with Elizabeth as a sister might, and, moreover, when he became ordained later in life, he expressed views that were very much out of sympathy with hers – as she confided frankly to Jean on 11 January 1957:
Well, well – the blow has finally fallen & the Religious Raven has sat in, though I am feeling anything but revived! After departing into the strict enclosure of a monastery of most un-cosy monks, who confess their sins to each other weekly and spend the night reciting Latin, Ralph has renounced the world, the flesh & the devil, moved himself out of Mary’s [his wife’s] bed, broken up his home, & gone off to a Seminary for ordinands. He has sold the home in Cyprus, ensured the children’s education (so they’ll be all right, thank goodness), & the unfortunate Mary is getting herself a job, and will try & look after the children in the holidays.
Such things as Drink & Good Food – being, I suppose, all part of the Flesh – have become mortal sin, & I am particularly sinful, having always loved my friends & the arts as well as things that taste nice & smell good (the Pink Bag must be very mortal!!) so now he can give up far more time to praying for my soul – though it only asks to be left to go its own way in peace & doesn’t particularly want to be prayed for that way!
The whole thing would be too utterly fantastic if it weren’t real, & in some active, sinister way, pronouncedly Freudian. I can understand anyone, in certain frames of mind, turning against sex – & for an odd fish of his nature, it doesn’t surprise me. What revolts one & I feel, justifiably, is the fanaticism & the negation of all that is best & most precious in life: eternal values – & all in the name of Eternity. Well, none of us knows what that means, but I can only suppose that his guess or his conviction about it is very different from mine. He has been here to say Goodbye before going into the awful place (whence he will graduate in a year from now with shaven head & a dog collar) & it seemed an eternity. The poor house would have rocked on its hinges if it had any hinges, & I’m about the least hysterical person, but I thought I should scream & suddenly had the wildest desire to take all the Canadian fir-cones from the Grandfather clock, & throw them at something!
F.M., with her serenity of wisdom, remains unmoved, & takes the line that as he wants to, he’d better do it. Also, I think, her natural piety, & the very simple & unquestioning faith of her generation swallows this sort of thing much more easily than our generation. So I don’t discuss my reactions with her, as what’s the good? – it’s not worth disturbing her precious days with!
Real piety, real mysticism & the sensitivity of true humility, I bow to – it is, in any case, near to the artist’s mentality. But this cocksureness & damming, the Paterfamilias Victorianism that declaims, ‘Do it my way’, trampling as it goes, on ones loves, is hard to bear. Darling, do be damned with me, will you? (in the little Cinzano Nest?!) Oh I simply don’t know what I’d do without you when these extraordinary things happen… & one’s only brother, it really is a bit much!
We do take the world’s record, between us, for the most curious men folk! Shall we swop? Or lock D[onald, Jean’s husband] & R[alph] up together, & see which caves in first? OR start a Nunnery in self-defence, & absolutely furnish it with mortal sins – you’d be obliged to drink a bottle before crossing the threshold (but on 2nd thoughts we might get too many offers that way? So keep it just you & Me). Don’t ever desert me, for heaven’s sake – & I mean, OUR heaven. I am obviously distraught. Please wire calming pill. No need. I shall simply go & get a Mackintoshes’ this minute.
All my love, E’
Elizabeth confided such feelings and other matters to Jean much more freely and fully than she did to other correspondents. On a lighter level she was, of course, interested in everyday matters. Early in the friendship she wrote:
‘What a wonderful & rare thing it is to have the friend to whom one can in one breath describe a score [of music] & entrance over a lipstick’
But there is much else in the correspondence on other subjects, such as: a deep appreciation of the friendship itself; her frank views on certain personalities, the state of health of her aging mother and servants (and her own to a degree); and the burden of being the breadwinner and having to look after the home property with all its travails – government policy, taxation, inflation, power cuts, strikes and material shortages. In these circumstances, Jean’s natural concern for Elizabeth’s welfare sometimes made her overanxious to receive prompt news updates, and did, paradoxically, occasionally add even more strain to an already strained home situation; at such times Elizabeth resented feeling obliged to reply by return, since such letters, being forced rather than spontaneous, would fall short of her ideal. This happened momentarily on two occasions – for a couple of months in 1966, when rising costs, trees blown down, servants away, sick visitors and her mother needing attention, all combined to increase Elizabeth’s discomfort and Jean’s sympathetic concern, and then again later, for about six months from May 1973, when, without realising it, Elizabeth was seriously ill and her correspondence was particularly heavy, averaging 25-30 letters per day. On 25 May that year she typed a long letter, clearly reacting against Jean’s use of the phrase, ‘nervous and overwrought’:
‘[…] It is difficult to explain what total lack of security means … no pension, no comfortable Don behind one, nothing at all ever but one’s own efforts between oneself and the next meal, the shelter of home. Don’t mistake me; no grouch! I have no envies in the world and wouldn’t change with anyone under the sun – the recompenses are beyond money. The difficulties I simply cannot help, though I wish them not to obtrude. I have to face those realistically and with commonsense, grateful always for understanding.
Because of these difficulties, I wrote and warned you last summer that when you planned to come, I should not be free. While you were holidaying in London hotels and touring the country, I was engaged in the work on which most of my income for the year depended, and which I could not possibly drop. When you say, ‘nervous and overwrought’, I just wonder if you are really getting the point, in view of the fact that any visitor either coming down on me then or wanting to get me out, was more than I could possibly manage, though they might be my best beloved in the world. If anyone does come at such a time, it means cooking and washing for them. Added to which, in this case I was so broke that I had to borrow the housekeeping money from Auntie Ethel. Until August, I had to stick it. After that I was able to slack off, and it was the happiest summer I have ever had. It was only one year since F.M. [had died], and after the continual drain and drain of expense, the legal fees and all I had to meet with the few savings I had left, Ralph’s stroke, and the disgusting repulsive clearance in the house, all the exhausting sorting and burning and disposal, I had for the first time, peace to myself, and it was a kind of heaven. Far from nerves, it was rapture.
I wasn’t very well, and by Christmas and the New Year I was less so. Prolonged bronchitis, awake all night coughing, battling with the train strikes (really battling – you had to fight your way on, and with waits sometimes of several hours in the bitter cold, very hungry) and some vicious bug probably put the lid on. I was prepared for something like this to happen, though I hoped it wouldn’t. But it did, and no one was very surprised. When I see what happened to Ralph and to many of my generation who went through the war together, I can only marvel at my escape thus far. We paid out during those years more than we can expect to catch up with when we get older – it is simply one of the facts of life. Yet who would gainsay such an adventure? Not me.
[…] I hope you will begin to experience the enjoyment of retirement […]
As there will never be, can never be, any retirement for such as me till one drops down dead, it is merely a question of degree, of the quality one tries to drop rather than the quantity. I often wonder how long one can possibly go on. But this is philosophical speculation, not worry; certainly not ‘overwrought’. I am so happy, so content that what happens to me ceases to matter much. All I have had and known matters very much; and in that way, my darling Rope, So please be tolerant and have patience with your old English eccentric, still unknotted and in going order x x x
All love, E X’
In her next letter (in her more usual MS) on 15 June 1973 she strove again to reply by return of post, despite temperatures in the 80s and a headache:
‘It is no good trying to explain oneself in letters. Of course I didn’t mean your sweet concern about me or any letter from you was a burden or an exaction. All I was trying to get through to you was that the principle of somebody at the other end expecting what the poor old donkey can’t do, is a worry and does become a burden. I have too much writing to do, too many letters. I beg for mercy. That’s all,
I miss F.M. so much in her complete understanding and her wonderful capacity of standing between me and the over-exactions she knew I could not meet. Left alone to fend for myself at such times, the more people ask of me, the more I try & respond. When you were here last year, it was only by an effort of will power that I could get up & downstairs. It was so sweet of you to think of Ely, etc, but I really wasn’t fit to go, and I was doing my best. To be accused of ‘nerves’ & ‘overwrought’ at moments when one is quietly battling for existence, is a long way from the truth. And I fear age, over 60 etc, has not much to do with it. I have been warned before that my heart may not stand up to things – the long lean Poston type, my father before me, & my brother, bear this out. Why should I worry? But I just don’t want to worry anybody else, you, least of all.
So don’t put my feelings down to nerves, darling: but accept, if you can, that when bereft of my dear’s protection, I do but redouble my efforts, & it doesn’t always work. I do so love peace & long for peace. This I have if people will allow it… I feel it has been earned, though I know it doesn’t belong to the New World & the moneyed world & its luxuries & cares. So let me be just your old Rope Drop-out. You have been so sweet & generous to me, we have loved all we have shared. For the rest, I can but crave your indulgence. It is no good, no earthly good, trying to explain oneself. […]
All my love, E’
These rare periods of tension are not surprising in view of the strains of Elizabeth’s free-lance life-style, exacerbated by chronic ill health that became really apparent only in 1974 when, on 18 May she underwent an emergency operation, the after effects of which were severe and seemed to persist for several years. Convalescing at Clacton in July, her beautiful handwriting reduced to a painful scribble, she dwelt on her thankfulness all round, apologising for her
‘[…] right hand temporarily seized up after being stuck like a porcupine full of needles & drips etc & bandaged to a board – musical hands very sensitive (why can’t they do it to one’s left?). I long for your dear letters & love them. Please go on writing news. Everything takes me ages! I’ll do better soon. All my love, thanks, Rope thoughts, Your E x x x x’
Later, on 30 August she was more forthcoming about her experience, her hand still somewhat shaky:
– this just to tide you along with an endless supply of Rope x x x
Am still away, tho’ in Herts [Hertfordshire]. People are being endlessly kind & next week am being moved on a further county to Hunts (Huntingdonshire) not far from Cambridge, where the Cam flows & the gardens grow & all is peace, & there is still enough ‘help’ for me not to be too great a nuisance. I am still so wretchedly weak, no energy for anything & weird sense of being somehow truncated. Prolonged post-operational shock, they say, & this is perhaps scarcely surprising, as what I have come through is something scarcely anyone ever does. I had a very small chance, almost none, so I’m the doctors’ Wonderchild!
It seems all the more miraculous considering that they found that slow gradual internal haemorrhage had been happening over a long period, untraceable, undiscoverable, unrevealable to X-rays & all the many tests I went through last year after my illness last spring (which I didn’t tell you about as I c[oul]d see no possible point! x x). This does explain why I felt so ill all last year, apparently without reason, & my awful colour (I went green)! Everything they pumped into me did no good & I must have died in the end if the whole gut hadn’t blown up & struck me down on that quiet day in May. Practically no one ever survived a main artery aneurism – for one thing, there isn’t time! And only the fact that I was within reach of the telephone & dialled the Crisis number saved me initially, & the 3 surgeons working under the very great one who only got there just in time, saved me then & there with about 7 mins. to spare. They were beyond praise & the whole thing is pretty marvellous. I’m still a bit of a Lazarus & terribly slow & dull. But have patience & I’ll be your outrageous Rope again.’
The following 3 February, trying to reassure Jean about a diagnosis of hiatus hernia for Don, she wrote, light-heartedly, but still in a very shaky hand:
‘One of my priceless doctors was giving me a colourful picture of my operation: “A had your liver in his hand, B had your kidneys, C your heart… it was quite a party”. I asked him “Why didn’t you seize the opportunity to do something about my stomach hiatus?” And his reply was, “Simply not worth it my dear.” Apparently, unless in extremely rare cases it gets out of hand, it does one little harm & no danger to life. So that, at least, is cheering. Beyond occasional indigestion (which one might get in any case), I forget about mine & have long ago ceased to worry. In any case (and God forbid you should want them except for dinner!!) you can be assured you have the finest doctors in the world here on your doorstep.’
Elizabeth’s Enduring Attachment to Rooks Nest
Elizabeth’s very strong attachment to Rooks Nest comes through in her letters to Jean, early on in her friendship as she tried to convey something of its atmosphere:
‘The house glows in winter, & seems to retire into itself, generating its own life. The Jacobean curtains go, downstairs, & are replaced by gold brocade, ancient & heavy, that almost stands by itself, & when the logs flame & the light shines on bronze chrysanthemums, seem to give off light as well as reflect it.’
But there was much more than winter warmth that bound her to the house: her childhood; neighbours of long standing; the rural setting; and above all, perhaps, the link with E. M. Forster.
Identification with Howards End and Forster
It is noticeable that as soon as Elizabeth returned from Canada in 1948 she gave as her address, in her first letter to Jean, not ‘Rooks Nest House’, but ‘Howards End’, a usage that persisted for the next dozen years or so, sometimes even combined with ‘Rooks Nest’. She once suggested that it was done to avoid mail deliveries being misdirected to the neighbouring Rooks Nest Farm but it seems more likely that the underlying reason was her deep-rooted identification of the house with E. M. Forster and his novel Howards End. Elizabeth had met Forster during the war and thereafter remained in close contact with him he receiving hospitality at Rooks Nest (and occasionally falling asleep in the cowslips) and Elizabeth seeing him in Cambridge right up to the time he died in June 1970. One of Elizabeth’s letters to Jean, in setting the Howards End/Rooks Nest scene for her, refers to his visit early in 1949:
‘He was here two Sundays ago, & went, as usual, up to the attics, where he played as a child. He loves this old house as if it were a living thing. Indeed, I often think it is. Perhaps it has absorbed & garnered some essence of its loving & peculiar inhabitants – but more than that, I believe it has something of its own. Nobody knows how old it is – its foundations may quite well go back to Queen Elizabeth – & generations have added their own strata, covering and uncovering beams & chimney-recesses, adding on bits, letting others decay. In this it is a fairly typical English specimen of its kind, & its originality lies rather in spirit than in actual bricks & mortar. Its special beauty is its position – the hilltop (which is Rook’s Nest) – with a rolling view over three counties, of ever-shifting light & colour – fields & woods & copses around & an open sweep for all the winds that blow. The herbaceous part of the garden is sheltered by a massive beech hedge as thick as church walls, that keep their gold brown leaves all the winter, & in the meadow beyond, by the wood pile & under the oak tree, daffodils grow that have become wild. All the improvements and the real making of the garden have been done by us since the Forsters’ time – then it had no electricity & no bathroom!
But the description in Howards End gives a very faithful basic picture. You still come into the hall that used, I think, to be the farmhouse kitchen, out of which a door leads straight on to the stairs – ‘like a tunnel’ – with my music room on one side & the room we use as a drawing room on the other, which has some lovely oak panelling. The small bedroom I occupy was in the Forsters’ day a ‘closet’, without window, used as a storeroom for jams & apples! Now as its white window looks fully on to that lovely view, I have never wanted to exchange it for any other – I can look out on to the hills from my bed. The historic wych-elm was alas, a casualty as it split in half in one bad winter’s gales, & as the other half threatened to come down on my roof, it had to be taken down.
The other rooms are all low-ceilinged & beamed – not built for you or me! And it is an ideal place for creators of any kind.’
A couple of years later, Elizabeth herself, was responsible for disturbing some of the strata of the house and mentioned that:
‘the men came to ‘do’ walls & ceilings, & the chaos is marvellous. No carpets & a chronic vaulted echo! We think we have found EMF’s [E. M. Forster’s] nursery wallpaper – a perfect Victorian specimen that came to light under successive layers: I’ve sent it to him to see if he can identify.’
And the wych-elm was not the only tree to suffer storm damage. The gales around the coast of Britain in 1954 were disastrous and had their impact on Rooks Nest too:
‘It has really seemed, in the violence of the past two nights, as if the house might be carried away. Alas, there was a sad toll of garden wreckage: saddest of all, the darling old greengage tree on the lawn by the drawing-room window – part of EMF’s childhood as well as mine, & probably three centuries before that; exquisite foamy mass of white blossoms in spring, & a mass of greengages later, to plop down sweetly & be eaten, or bottled greener, & a delicious all-the-year platform for birds, hopping & singing & making love a few yards from F.M.’s bird’s eye view. A familiar landmark gone. This place is fundamentally so unchangeable that it takes changes of the kind very hard, & the lawn looks very unaccustomed. I had a horrid feeling of guilt, & felt I ought to have stayed out all night & held the poor tree up.’
After 1959 the habit of including ‘Howards End’ in the address disappeared almost entirely; there is a lone example of ‘Rooks Nest House Howards End’ in 1971, which might have been triggered by Elizabeth’s heavy involvement at that time in the BBC production of Forster’s novel. And the name ‘Howards End’ reappears, as we have already seen in Part 2 in her autobiographical, Living Memory probably written after 1977, as well as in the poem she wrote in 1984 about her death.
Maintaining the house and garden for posterity was uppermost in Elizabeth’s mind. As early as 1949 she wrote:
‘The house & land, I think, mainly for its association with Forster’s book, will eventually be preserved for the nation. But eventually, also the changing face of England may engulf it, & the country around of rolling hills, primrose woods & wild cherry will be country no more, but a black land of factories. You will [when you come here in July] see it now in its direct succession from Doomsday & there is no lovelier sight – simple & basic & no pretentions like the best of England.’
The ‘changing face of England’ feared by Elizabeth would indeed come about with the building of a ring of ‘new towns’ around London, proposed in 1944 and implemented for Stevenage in 1947, despite considerable opposition from locals and others, including Forster. Fortunately, the ‘black land of factories’ was confined to an industrial area to the west of the railway, well away from Rooks Nest. But urban development in the east would destroy more ancient farmland and old buildings, and threaten Rooks Nest and the surrounding countryside – a threat that remains even today.
Elizabeth as a Country-lover
Referring to the BBC production of Forster’s Howards End, Elizabeth wrote at the time:
‘Love of place to the countryman, is curiously strong, and this old house has been much loved ’,
for Elizabeth’s concern for her home and its rural environment, though focussed on Forster, was also inherent in her nature. Having been brought up in the countryside, she relished country people, their sayings and their ways, and shared their feelings. In praising, at length, a broadcast in 1967 she wrote:
‘There was no sense of hurry or ‘broadcast production’. It partook of the unassailable rhythms of the country itself. I have always remarked how the countryman, in his own steady tempo, gets there, in contrast to the more hectic methods of the townsman and his febrile, varying scurry.’
She noticed and valued not only the rhythm of the seasons but micro-rhythms of daily rural life, as she pinpointed in another letter.
‘I feel vitally concerned to help keep things of value (as well as add new ones). No natural rhythm that I know is like the sound of steel running through grass which is scythe, nor the wonderful rhythmic variations and ‘pail pitch’ of hand milking. These have been almost miraculously caught before it is too late, by the modern techniques [of recording] in which nothing, not wax nor needle, comes between the sound and the ear. Future generations will know the sounds of our world, so beautiful, so strange and so varied, that we ourselves are losing or have lost or may never have apprehended while we still had them – and that seems to me a creative act of stature, one perhaps likely to outlast a good many others.’
She had an acute ear and transcribed, for example, birdsong in musical notation in her pocket diary (1969), though not as an aid to composition, as she explained to Jean:
‘I am too much of a countryman not to feel [that] any musical birdsong, trying to be like real birds, is sacrilege & futile! Although some of it was clever, I didn’t find any cause to revise my opinion listening to Messaien’s Chronochronic last night – intellectualised birds get me down in the end. I let the dogs out & listened to the owl.’
As a young woman, Elizabeth participated in country activities – walking, riding, horse trials, shooting parties, hunt balls, and local meets – and throughout her life was a keen observer of nature (flowers especially) and of the farming year. Her pocket diary entries include observations on: the seasons; weather; wildlife (butterflies, birds, ‘the great red fox’, ‘chuffy’ the pheasant in her garden, the wonderful cawing of the rooks); harvesting; the organisation of her livestock (donkeys, dogs and poultry) and her garden. Flowers in April to June and in October and November consistently caught her attention.
The garden and paddocks of Rooks Nest and the views they afforded towards the Chilterns to the west, over the Hertfordshire countryside were, of course, for Elizabeth, an integral link with Forster, and so, naturally, the maintenance and improvement of the grounds (as well as of the house itself) were ever in her mind and actively pursued, often in person, and found rewarding in spite of the difficulties. As she explained early on to Jean:
‘[…] tho’ the demands of a garden are always a good safeguard, as if pulling weeds breaks the back, it saves & refreshes one in other ways! & I find it wonderful how even a half hour’s wrestle with Howards End weeds shakes off the dust & cobwebs of London cares!
Quite a major improvement to the property was made in 1954, partly as a result of the building of a couple of farm cottages in the field opposite, across the Weston Road,
‘Quite inoffensive ones, really, & one can’t see them from any of the windows & we’ve got quite used to them now. But we didn’t want our front gate and comings & goings opening on them – particularly as I often, in summer (when there is any summer) like to sun myself in the porch! I never liked that gate where it was, & always meant to get it moved. We had to have the wall looked at, so got it done in one, by a local man, quite cheaply; & now, the Georgian low wall is uncovered, & it has a top layer of very nice plaited wattle fencing (made of Norfolk osier) that Don [Jean’s husband] took a fancy to, & the gate has gone down to the hedge, all private & park-like, giving us a very dignified & pleasant approach – particularly nice, as you come front-ways on to the house, seeing its lovely proportions across the lawn, as it should be seen, with a very nice perspective, the only blow being the extension of the gravel drive, which, in a wet year, means that much more weeding (I found out this year, all right!). So don’t squeeze in by the fence any more, but come in like a lady, (I’ll try & get a lodge erected by the time you come). […] Everybody was planting memorial trees etc in Coronation year, & EMF gave me a row of delicious Howards End Coronation Cupressus to run the length, as he felt that was just what was needed, the idea being that in future generations, they would plant out the cottages or anything else anyone erected […]
There were times, of course, when the general organisation of work, the house and garden, F.M., unexpected visitors and the unscheduled absence of servants created a chaotic situation. But Elizabeth would see the funny side, revealing what might be hidden behind imagined posed images of herself in her music room as for Vogue magazine:
‘If they only knew us behind the scenes – & there’s Miss E.P. with a swarm of bees outside & comic individuals in nets & funny hats clattering up & down ladders & Pinkie [the dog] trying to look innocent & pretend she hasn’t made a pool on the carpet, & a darned great paper-clip gone down inside the piano, turning several notes into swing. Good, got it out with the help of a pickle fork, prodded by Eiffel Tower opener. Now lost place in score and written on it upside down… but would it sound any different to the atonal boys?’
Problems of Maintenance
Old properties have their charm, but also have their problems which, for Rooks Nest included not only the wiring and plumbing, but worst of all, the actual structure, as described to Jean in 1956:
‘Do you remember the old house, Chesfield Park & one funny, fantastic evening with the Sergeants there on almost the eve of its disintegration? And do you recollect my writing to you soon after, that bits of it had caved into the ground overnight, & it was pulled down? The same thing has happened here. There was a subsidence – no one knows its exact moment – & across roughly half of the house, the outer wall left the floor, to between 3-4 ins. [8-10 cm]. Going into your room one morning, I looked down through the floor-boards into the garden. I did the only thing I could, & sent for expert advice. It seems undoubtedly that it is a delayed action collapse caused by the terrific stick of bombs that fell so close, when F.M. was here alone. What happens apparently, is that when high explosives of that nature falls, anything on the line of vibration along the earth takes the brunt:
[sketch inserted of half loops, with an ‘X’ on one of them]
& that whatever is situated at X gets it. Chesfield & ourselves were the only buildings, each in a straight line, & each affected on exactly the point of direct impact; & there seems little doubt that this is the cause.
I got two opinions, which agreed. It affected the roof. Then part of the cellar fell in, & I had to act overnight to save the structure. The builders came in. So, at that precious moment did the great freeze. 7-9 men moved in & took charge. One room after the other became uninhabitable, & we shifted round to what corner offered shelter in the most desperate cold I can remember. The estimate was $24,000. I did the only thing I could: chucked in everything, & borrowed, so as to try & meet about half over the present 2 years, & the rest of the debt somehow to make. It has been such a colossal nightmare that I don’t know how to describe it. The few clothes, bits of silver & books I could get any money for were like a cork to stem Niagara!
I don’t know if you followed the papers? but simultaneously came the Musicians’ Strike. The Union called out all orchestral players, & for the first time in history the BBC Symphony Orchestra & many others were disbanded: & all my contracts were cancelled out of hand and my main source of income collapsed overnight. Within a few days, F.M. became very ill with flu. By this time, we had no water mains & no electricity, as it was unsafe to have cables on the house, & they had to be unhitched. The Dr. Came every day, & how we kept her alive I don’t know. She is only just beginning to pick up a little, & is terribly weak, poor lamb. The main thing was, of course, not to let her know how bad things were with the house, or what I had to do about it. She knew things had gone wrong, of course, but had no idea to what extent. I told her the freeze had upset the plumbing etc, & the cistern explained the noises on the roof, but she was too ill to find out – so please don’t tell her! Someday, somehow or other, I shall get through it – tho’ at the moment, I quite fail to see how. We have to pay till our lives end for this cruel war, which takes our homes, and makes our loved ones slowly die – I feel rather like Atlas pushing up the world – this little beloved world of home. But I shall save it if I can.’
Concomitant, difficulties with Insurance, confounded the difficulties, with:
‘little bureaucratic men in black clothes, calling at the front door, on the phone, & almost down the chimney. More workmen & their mess, coming back to peck at unfinished jobs. Meals to get, housekeeping to do, trains to catch, & F.M. with one of those bad turns, so I’ve been up a good deal at nights. […]
As to the practicalities of the financial situation about the house, E.M.F. has gone to Greece – No use telling him. & I wouldn’t, anyhow, as it would only create a difficult situation & not ease it. As to forming a Trust: that would work (& I hope will) at my death, but not in my lifetime, as Trusts cannot be formed without legal obligations, & people won’t put their money into one without requiring a say in the matter. As soon as that happened I should lose control over my own home & have no more freedom about it; one would simply be subsidised at the will of the ‘shareholders’. It is quite clear that I must shoulder the burden myself, & have a bid for winning through it – or sink: & I shouldn’t sink without having a jolly good try.’
Disruptive repairs continued in 1958, inside and out, and although Elizabeth reckoned they would take all she could earn that year, she wrote to Jean:
‘I feel that every gap I can stop, any brick put back, is a slow process in building in that love that I hope will always be your English home & shelter… only a sort of trust for me. It’s odd… I do feel that – something much more than just an ordinary house or dwelling, & that helps me put the spirit in with material deficiencies.’
As the work continued, seemingly endlessly, with walls plastered but paper and paint yet to be applied, Elizabeth gleaned some consolation from the fact that the two young workmen involved had fallen in love with the house. And, happily, it would be quite a long time before any further structural repairs to the house would be considered necessary.
There were problems too with the grounds, in particular with her neighbour’s elms – part of one crashing to earth and damaging Elizabeth’s boundary fence and then a few years later, in 1973, another, destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease doing the same thing, despite timely warnings and a score of letters to her neighbour. An ash fell in September 1975 and more elms were taken down in a storm the following January. Such events were part of Nature and were not dwelt on in her letters to Jean; what had been harder to bear, and would be shared with her, were problems caused more directly by man – encroaching urbanisation.
Crisis in 1960
With the establishment of the New Town of Stevenage, decided on appeal early in 1947, Elizabeth’s concern would be, not simply for the maintenance and improvement of Rooks Nest, but also for its protection from future destructive urban development. This would involve debilitating tussles with the planning authorities, at a time when she was struggling to live as a free lance musician and cope with the running of the property and the care of her aging mother.
The building of new road networks and infrastructure crept steadily northwards. Highfield, Elizabeth’s birthplace was sold to the New Town in 1956, though she managed to salvage some of the bulbs and plants of her youth, as well as ‘John Shaw’s old gig lamp in the stables’, before the house was destroyed in June the following year. In 1959 there came a proposal for compulsory purchase of 160 acres of land near Rooks Nest, and although Rooks Nest House was excluded, it was another worrying development for Elizabeth. Her diary entries for 1960 included,
‘This year tradition died. Mon 27 June Rooks Nest was threatened by SDC [Stevenage Development Corporation]’.
Yet she was still able to use humour to express some of her chagrin and frustration to the local press:
I am a tramp and I know the roads around Stevenage pretty well. I often do the Stevenage to Baldock stretch up the country lanes your Mr. Neville Wood tells us about, and I notice quite a lot of things.
I live on bits and bobs, a bit of pigswill I can pinch, sometimes a pig, a few apples, a swede or two. But the people up the Weston road are working people and they get up at five o’clock in the morning, so you can’t get away with much.
Of course when it comes to those millionaires down Rectory Lane, I can understand they make Mr. Wood feel a bit red, specially with the Devil’s Elopement Corporation having planned such a nice bit of land for their top-boy outfit where no one else can build. But soon they’ll be taking a lot more of other people’s land and filling up the open spaces so there aren’t any of them old earthy fields left. What’s the sense in em? There’s no room for farmers now we got everything in tins. They don’t make enough row, anyhow, and row is what we wants, not that silly old peace like Mr. Wood says folk go to look for in Weston.
We know it’s only the new things are any good. What we’ve got to do is get rid of all the old ones, old churches, old farms, old houses, and the suckers who think they’re any good. What’s the sense of all these unplanned trees and birds and flowers? Those planner chaps will soon see to that, and good luck to em. No more country lanes, I say. Motorways will soon put a stop to that peace gimmick. Why, it’s all that lovely traffic on A one that keeps us ticking! The only thing that gets me a bit puzzled is, why Mr. Wood wants to try another way to Baldook?
Yours faithfully, dear Sir,
Ron Bugworthy his mark.’
Later, to Jean, she was more serious, writing a series of four long letters in quick succession before the end of the month, first on 3 October 1960:
‘[…] this will give you rather a shock.
Rooks Nest-Howards End is in trouble. Orders for Compulsory Purchase have been served on the farm to affect the whole of this hill-top of Rook’s Nest, & all the land from the Church, right up the road to Weston […]. If it happened, the bulldozers would come in, the house would be demolished & the whole of this countryside would disappear almost overnight.
There is only one chance: an appeal. We have called for a Public Inquiry, which has been granted, to happen here in the Town Hall on the morning of October 19 […]. I shall be called upon to give evidence, & I shall find it difficult […] to put into words. In truth, these ghastly juggernauts know not what they do – or if they know, they don’t care & do it deliberately, because many of them are red, & this is Sovietisation arrived on one’s doorstep.
We have just enough democracy left […]
Will you write […] to the Minister […] as a representative of the humanities & the arts, one of the many British overseas who fought the war for Howards End values, to whom Rook’s Nest & its associations, with its peace & the beauty of its countryside, is a place of pilgrimage, of worth beyond money? Because they love E.M.F. & Howards End & the enduring values he has proclaimed in it to the world, which are what we, its trustees, are fighting now to save, the things of the spirit, of the mind, in the midst of materialism & vandalism shrines, with the Hardy forms and Elgar’s birthplace & Dove Cottage […] of England’s greatest treasures – & ask him not to allow this land to be taken that we seek to preserve as part of our national heritage.
E.M., we all, are doing all we can, Time is short, & I am working day & night with lawyers, surveyors & committees, with appeals – lists for signatures in every shop & pub. F.M. is wonderful, but absolutely stricken. I fear I shan’t be very good as Joan of Arc but I shall try & go through with it.’
Next, on 9 October:
‘I’ve been out down the High St. & around the houses, collecting hundreds of signatures – I’m sure half the people have no idea what they’re signing for, but we want them all the same.
A very eminent barrister, G. D. Sqibb, Q.C., has been briefed by the church farmer on behalf of that land, & we, i.e. Stevenage Residents, are backing up with a lawyer called Horwill, reputed to be good in court, & an eminent expert, Dr. Sharp, ex-President of the Town Planning Institute. With a very quick & sure professional grasp of the case, he has pronounced the Development Corporation’s plans to be not only wicked, but insane. Well, we just hope & pray they’ll win the argument. We have to pay this one 100 gns. [100 guineas = £105] & have to subscribe to meet the costs of the case which will be heavy. It is the strangest sort of nightmare one could possibly imagine, to have to pay out to try and save one’s right to live in one’s home in peace.’
Then, again on 12 October
‘We are doing everything that man can devise, trying to leave no stone unturned, to fight this issue in court… but man’s spirit will not be confined to courtrooms or government inquiries, & I have a shrewd suspicion that Howards End’s fate will be settled out of court. For that, only the love & loyalty & reverence of those all over the world who realise what it stands for, now, like a beacon in our own generation, & for all the future, will work miracles. Here, at the heart of it, I have simply got to keep faith that they can & will. To know that they’re at work means more than any consolation could, for hope & cheer. Every name, every letter, now, counts vitally. […]
There is no doubt of its being an international issue. E.M.F. is magnificent, & has had the appeal, now turned into a worldwide appeal, personal to the Minister. Australia has come in (Sydney University) & U.S. with Aldous Huxley, Auden, Isherwood, Gerald Head, N.Y. Times & God knows who. Letters to Times, Guardian, Telegraph & any other suitable press, The Telegraph is the musician’s paper here. […]
What is so terribly important is, that even if he [the Minister] said hands off Howards End, he should be firm in preserving its countryside – for what is the good of the best place on earth, if it’s surrounded by shops, flats, skyscrapers & the whole modern din? England’s countryside, when as unspoiled & beautiful as this, must be preserved while there are any alternatives for building – & there are plenty still.’
Jean was updated on 26 October soon after the Inquiry:
‘It was so sweet of you & Don to write [to the Minister opposing destruction of Rooks Nest] […] The Inquiry dragged on throughout Wed. & Thurs, & concluded on Friday with technicalities – inexpressibly painful, with long dull stretches & vital agonising moments. It was so incredible, just sitting there, & hearing it all dissected & pulled down over one’s head. I kept F.M. out of it, she couldn’t have stood it. Now, heaven knows what will happen. It feels like the days before the execution, & we just have to await the verdict. I think I could have borne almost anything in life but this. One is up against the most ruthless, impeccable faces in the world, & like the bomb, they suddenly cut off the life of all one loved…
The press were here all Mon & Tues (& had to be fed!) in the most ghastly weather. It took the best part of 2 days sloshing round with The Times photographer, to get the published picture, tho’ he took a lot, the light was so dreadful, half pitch-dark (almost symbolical) & a continuous cloudburst – & we got it within minutes of going to press. It appeared on the morning of the case, & became a key point, as reference to it opened the evidence on Thursday, & it was referred to more than once. Far from being able to charm anyone in court, I was confronted with a row of backs, half the hall full of learned counsel, with their legal advisers, rows of stenographers & all the deadly paraphernalia, & the govt. stooge up on the platform above, both walls lined with maps, & a beastly Development Corporation man following them with a pointer. I collapsed & had a black-out where I was sitting, timely saved by the Dr. next door to me, who seized hold of me and gave me some emergency dope & pulled me round. […]
Quite all right now, only v[ery] tired. I tramped round on foot in the rush & got over 1000 signatures.’
The proceedings proved expensive for Elizabeth – she said she was ‘financially cleaned out’ – and they were also emotionally draining; by February, after all the effort and tension surrounding the inquiry, she found:
‘the dragging on of suspense [of the inevitable delay in production of the Inspector’s report and recommendation and the Minister’s decision] is wearing and horrible, however much one tries not to let it be. We feel a statement will be made any time now. EMF has been splendid, pounding away at the Ministry […]’
That suspense was not relieved until 8 September 1961 when her lawyer, Horwill called with news that was, no doubt, celebrated with her friends Jane and George Seebolm of Chesfield when they socialised over the next few weeks. There was further reason to celebrate that year when Forster actually paid off Elizabeth’s mortgage on Rooks Nest. The immediate crisis was over, but the twin problems of finance and the threat to Rooks Nest had not gone away.
Over the next few years, the idea of escape must have occurred to Elizabeth but it would not be realistic, as she explained to Jean:
‘I can’t sell Rooks Nest (in itself an extremely valuable property [)] as, under the new red legislation, they have the right to take it at a price that wouldn’t pay the cost of moving out. All I can do is hold on, not worry F.M. about all those things (which she fortunately doesn’t realise) and keep at it non-stop by night & day, so that I may at least keep us off the streets in her lifetime, no matter what happens to me afterwards’
Over the next 10 years or so, the pressure of expansion continued: a road to be driven through Fairlands Valley (opposed and dropped); familiar landmarks – ponds & fields beloved by Elizabeth – destroyed; old Stevenage station closed and demolished; and, as Elizabeth put it, ‘desecration of the High St. & final uglification of the Old Town’. But worse was to come.
Expansion of the Population to 80,000
A proposal to expand the town to 80,000 and develop land mainly to the west of the A1(M) motorway, but also threatening Forster Country, brought forth strong opposition. This included a letter to The Times on 29 April 1976, organised by Elizabeth’s friend, Oliver Stallybrass and signed by scholars from all over the world. She was duly grateful to him:
‘The Times couldn’t have done better than publish the letter when they did, as it was the very day the whole lot trooped up here – i.e. Inspector plus a busload of planners. It was with the very greatest difficulty that I forbore to meet them at the gate with a pitchfork. One of’ my farming neighbours, one of the redoubtable Warner-Smith family, a younger one, stayed by me as a superb henchman and walked them off in another direction, leaving the Inspector to me and I took him for quite a long walk and made sure he saw everything I wanted him to see. He came into the house and said he was ‘so interested’, and spent quite a time over the Abinger Edition [of Howards End]. He is an absolute charmer, speaking the same language. Odd experience to have a jolly party with the judge before sentence is pronounced. The others were so dim they retreated to the bus in the lane. It was a superb day, every thing, every leaf standing out with unusual charmness.
Three cheers for that magnificent woman Dr. Alice Colman. She must have jumped off the plane from Ottawa and got herself onto the BBC, as she gave a splendid and most hard-hitting interview. She has now sent me a copy of her recent lecture to the Royal Geographical Society, and this I must show you sometime. It is excellent stuff and horrifying. She is coming down here as soon as she gets a chance. Everybody is exhausted, including me, and I shall be away for a week or two and hope by the time I return to have gathered some 2nd wind. […] Soon as I can get things sorted out, I shall head for you and a reviving cud-chewing.’
But the problem was not resolved quickly and took its toll on Elizabeth, as she explained to Jean in the autumn:
‘[…] the old fuss started up again & worse than ever: a gov[ernmen]t land grab which, if it goes through, would take the whole of this countryside & engulf Rooks Nest & join Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock & all the beautiful villages into a New Chicago almost unimaginable. We were given almost no notice to prepare our case & the pressure and complications of the resistance were such that the court hearings scheduled for 3 days lasted just on 3 months. It meant that our lot had to brief a Q.C. – he was brilliant, but even with each giving what they could, very expensive. And it meant attending day after day from 9 to 5 in a ghastly hall where the air conditioning kept on going wrong (& so did the amplifier!). In between, I had to rush home, dripping, in 90°-100° [F.] to feed Comfort [the dog] & the wilting animals & type out documents of thousands of words & then dash off & get them photocopied. By the end of it I felt utterly exhausted & it may have been partly why the flu germs got hold of me.’
Elizabeth did not recover her energy, and was not able to deal at all well with the Christmas rush that year, including a backlog of correspondence, explaining to Jean:
‘I simply couldn’t cope with everything & so a lot got left… & hardly dare speculate on what matters will still be revealed in that pile [of unattended letters]. The net result was I got awfully tired. When seized by complete fatigue, I go down like a ninepin these days & become incapable. The surgeon warned me about this & I do so wish it would stop, but it doesn’t, & so I’ve had to keep quiet for a bit. Better now, but I have to go to the hospital & see him & one of the top consultants comes up to see me. They’re absolute angels’
Furthermore, she continued to worry over money,
‘With the possibility of the house, at all costs to try & hold on to & pass over, it leaves me virtually nothing, & no margin for mishaps (several weeks ago the AGA Boiler burst… 40-50 gallons pouring through the house – new boiler £200, labour £100, & I’ve got to go ‘on’ the bank, which I dread having to do, as repayment at heavy interest clings round one’s neck).’
As for the Forster Country, there was at last a reprieve in 1978 when it was agreed that part of it at least, would be included in the Green Belt where it was felt to be under some protection from further urban encroachment.
However, that particular year proved one of serious illness, for Elizabeth, with various hospital visits for tests right through to July, culminating in an attack of meningitis which kept her in hospital during September, and later suffering from a duodenal ulcer, all of which helped to frustrate her plans to refurbish the attic flat of Rooks Nest. And it would be a few years before anything more was done on the house.
Part 5. Elizabeth and Rooks Nest 1979-1987
The story of Elizabeth and Rooks Nest can be continued by reference to further correspondence with her friends,
A Record of Forster Country
The longer Elizabeth lived at Rooks Nest, the more she cared for it in every sense, especially its associations with Forster. For the Forster centenary in 1979 she had recorded the commentary of a tape-slide presentation at the Stevenage Museum produced by Margaret Ashby, who was thereafter encouraged to continue her research into Forster’s childhood at Rooks Nest. The result was an account that included his later visits. Surprisingly, Elizabeth insisted on not being included in the book, but, as Margaret has pointed out, her attitude
‘[…] was consistent with previous behavior on her part. For example, she would not allow her name to appear on the tape-slide programme, so the caption read, ‘Commentary by a Friend of E. M. Forster’. She also kept her name out of the famous 1976 letter to The Times which urged the protection of Forster Country.’
So, reluctantly Margaret rewrote what was titled Forster Country (as coined by The Guardian in 1960 describing the land west of Rooks Nest), omitting Elizabeth’s part in the story but, at least, dedicating the book to her. Elizabeth clearly took a close interest in the project and was keen to find a private publisher, no doubt because she had had tussles in the past in negotiating fair contracts for some of her music (e.g. with the BBC and OUP). She also favoured having illustrations with wood-cuts and engravings and enlisted the help of her friend, BBC producer, Douglas Cleverdon:
‘My dear Doug, No – I mean My dear Doug,
The typescript of Forster Country with your letter and the Whittington Press prospectus arrived to my considerable joy and interest, your letter and conclusions especially welcome. I do thank you most warmly for so kindly sparing time for them and particularly when you are so extra busy.
I agree with you absolutely that the book is essentially one for a small, discriminating press of the calibre of Whittington, which does seem to fulfill one’s feelings about the atmosphere and quality of this piece [of writing], and so far I hadn’t arrived at any satisfactory choice. It needs Englishness, I think, and if with engravings, someone with a feel for the countryside – and the Randles’ young engravers seem to have been doing admirably up to date. I will get in touch with Mr. and Mrs. R[andle] and hope very much your inspired advice may bring forth the right solution. I’m so grateful.
Did I tell you that after some 50 years of ‘going on’ about it and alternately attacking and cajoling philistine local Councils &c, the announcement appeared recently in the press that what The Times called ‘Forster Country’ with Rooks Nest at its core, is being conserved in perpetuity. I fancy that this welcome news is also owing to the support of the Royal Commission on special houses and of bits of countryside, who have been down here examining and photographing, charming and erudite people, who have classified the house A1 in their national classification for the encyclopedic survey they are preparing. This has been cheering news for me in the struggle to do my own contribution to conservation, as I do want to get it satisfactorily handed over before I have to leave the scene.
Fortunately, the New Town has done little to affect the issue. Though it is not far off, what one doesn’t see nor hear doesn’t worry one, and now they can’t come any closer. The old town remains much as before. The new one is hopeless – there isn’t even a bookshop! The nearest culture is Cambridge. Here, all that has been established, apart from waning industry is a centre of mugging, drugging, Bingo, King-Pin and disco’s. Too awful. But still usefully adjacent to London and Cambridge, with electrification of the line of great help.
Lots and lots of love
She explained her concern for the book in another letter:
‘What seems to me of vital importance about FC [Forster Country], as the one behind the scene who has aided and abetted all I could is that 1 am the last and only person alive who knows the intimate story from the inside of these hidden lives, their place and people. Without this direct link, later research will never be able to uncover these as they were. It is not part of my intention to write it up myself – I am too busy with other aspects. But FC will be an essential to future generations, a vignette of a Victorian England forever gone. 1 am grateful to Margaret Ashby; I feel she has done an admirable job and. supplied, under my eye, an essential that ought to be on record.’
As it happened Elizabeth’s optimism about the book was misplaced, for the publishers decided in April 1983 not to go ahead after all, and although she was most keen to see it landed before she died, despite several abortive attempts, it was not actually published until 1992. The delay was fortuitous in that Margaret was able to reinstate Elizabeth in her account and, with friends, have it published herself.
In 1980, Elizabeth had been optimistic about the future, not only of Margaret’s Forster Country, but of the Forster Country and Rooks Nest itself and, in response to a plethora of poems penned by Joan Littlejohn about her impressions of a recent weekend visit, Elizabeth replied:
– how lovely! A weekend so beautifully recorded in kitchen, in arbour, with its full savour of feel and talk … the voles and the cow parsley and Pollawolla [Elizabeth’s dog Polly] and the anonymous slipper. I think my favourite is Incantatory Study and its happy last quatrain, [Rooks Nest | always | shall be | merry], so near to the heart of the house and to mine.’
The rooks: yes, – sad – nary a one. That is, not in constant habitation, though as Shakespeare describes; in ‘another part of the wood’. There were always rooks here, see the ancient field names &c., Rooks Nest, Rook Wood, Rook Hill. It was a shattering blow when they lost their housing a year or two ago when the elms went. They moved only a few yards up the lane, then lost that when the felling and replanting happened last winter and they had to move to the next wood. But they come constantly homing back, holding their parliaments on the ground in the meadow, as if prospecting under a strong instinct to get back. Perhaps they will some day. They were here in force yesterday, the place resounding all day with their cawing, as it always was.’
1981 – ‘A weird Year’ (and missing a diary, too!)
The years 1980 and 1981 had been relatively quiet for Elizabeth regarding Rooks Nest, but reflecting on 1981 to her friend, Madeau Stewart, she said:
‘I have had a weird year, life taking new and unexpected directions that are baffling as to whether to whiz backwards and retrace or press ahead in frequent chaos – possibly a mixture of both. This may be largely because of having to pick up old work so disastrously interrupted by long illness, and I’m rushing ahead like mad because I want to haul over the house and get it at least accomplished before I continue to live in it. The affair is attended by a deal of tiresome legal processes. By the time I think I am at last within sight of the requisite figure [to endow the house], another chimney falls off or a giant tree requires to be taken down, so I travel in hope but not much certainty.’
She also reported:
‘Earlier in the year I went to Court (by intent) in the cause of mains drainage, getting my pals of the Hospital to declare the issue a health hazard and refusing to pay the Rates (with the cheque in my pocket in case I was led away to the Condemned Cell), unless Something was Done, putting it on record that it was no part of my intention to endow the nation with an awful pong. Imagine to yourself my consternation when, nerving myself for confrontation with those frightful retired grocers &c., I was shown in before three female beaks! one the original Giacometti (one could see the wires under a clinging gown of bedroom pink); the chairman, an immense working model of Epstein Earth Mother hanging sack-like over the Bench; the third a scared-looking mouse that had got in from the outhouse. The result negative: court adjourned ‘for discussion’. I have not paid the rates and there has been no fresh demand, and I read in the local paper that the lane is to be closed for the installation of main drainage, though no one has told me!’
Much more pleasant than tussles with the law that year was the performance at Rooks Nest of an adaption of Howards End by her friends, Jack and Imogen Thomas and a group of sixth formers from Haileybury School; this again brought Elizabeth closer to Forster and she wrote
‘We – the house & I – were honoured […] I so wish he [E. M. Forster] could have been with us to share in the indescribable legacy he left the place (‘It always was a merry house’), something that will continue’
‘Now all is peace again, punctuated only by the cuckoo, and emotion not only recollected but experienced. For that day, your day, was a special one and has left something of’ itself behind. Yes – a sunset-touch.
Perhaps that is part of the house’s mysterious secret, fragile and yet so strong, a spell that is a sense and seems also to impart one … too mysterious for description. Yet one can’t attribute it only to Forster, as he was conscious of it when he first trotted in at the age of’ four … to left, to right, straight on, and then up and down again. All those 300 years odd of Howards perhaps, living and dying and going on again? But, no more. It defies analysis. Feeling is enough.
You all left me with an uncannily vivid afterglow. For a brief few hours the place was filled with youth and impulse under the happy hosting of you both. And then suddenly, all went waving away and I was left with silence and splendidly-laid gravel and a bottle of wine to prove it had all really happened… above all, the moving memory of you and them enacting such depths inside the walls. He – EMF – would be glad – his message had such torch-bearers, and that we were all, in those memorable moments, Connecting. I hope some of that joyful band will come back, some day, some time. I may not be here, but it will, and all that you and they have helped and all it means, will go on. It must.’
But later that year the ‘hauling over of the house’ was back on the agenda:
‘I am busily ‘doing up’ my four centuries of house, which the Schedulers have top-graded A1. For tho’ in due course I shall have to leave the scene, I can’t see why the house should, & am hoping to give it in Trust for the arts/cooker/gardening or some such worthy object!’
She gave more details to her old friend, Diana Sparkes:
‘I seem to have spent the summer working madly to very little purpose, the latest Penguin [Book of Carols] still uncompleted. It has been an awful year of repairs & liability to Rooks Nest after the disasters of last winter. A chunk of the old farm buildings, with their lovely old roof, took off vertically in a blizzard & was deposited in the drive, taking the coal shed with it & the ancient farm loo – unbroken. I laughed & laughed. Then started to build up & onto the house, with matching Jacobean handmade bricks I had collected & stored in case of just such an eventuality. (I’m quite a good bricklayer, though, unlike [Winston] Churchill, not yet a Union member). With a new arch onto the view, it is now enchanting with a lovely place to sit. But it was expensive & took time, & I am as far in arrears as ever. But nil desp[erandum; never give up]. I am cheered by your lovely remembrance.’
New Threats from a New Authority
Other developments in 1982 were of even greater concern than either drains or house maintenance, for the Stevenage Borough Council, which had taken over control of the town from the Stevenage Development Corporation in 1980, now threatened the edge of Forster Country near Rooks Nest. Elizabeth released some of her pent up anguish about it to her friend Gunnvor Stallybrass:
‘I had learned in the last few hours that this Marxist Borough Council of rich retired grocers &c, were going to build a cemetery, a crematorium and a Shopping Centre in the next field and onwards up the lane. This, although all Oliver [Stallybrass]’s efforts and mine [in 1976], was supposed to be Conserved in Perpetuity. They have now de-conserved it (they have the power, unless the government intervened).
If one ice-cream van clanged and one transistor bellowed, there would never be another lark. The cuckoo would never be heard again. The flowers and loveliness would go like a war, and instead of the peace and farm carts would be a highway and hearses, the plough and woodland turned into a sea of gravestones.
I felt – for once – so alone. No Oliver, no one near who cares, though so many do all over the world. The long fight, on and on over the years, the Letter [organised by Oliver to The Times] and all … and now, all to do again as from square one. If only God would be on our side and not let them. But now, it seemed just me alone.
I can usually sleep, even if the world is coming to an end. I woke up with a jolt and a sense of doom. Went down to stroke Polly [her dog] and get a cup of tea. And there was your gorgeous Thing with your dear sweet message. I put it round me over my dressing-gown and something of yourself, your wonderful spirit, a sudden and miraculous sense of warmth and un-alone-ness came over me. ‘Go on. Go on.’ [Elizabeth’s father’s saying] How, at the moment, I don’t know. I feel so shattered. But the ‘very present help in trouble’ was yours, all your doing.’
The holding of the Public Inquiry, noted in her diary for 21 September 1982 as the second, was actually the seventh since the New Town was proposed in 1946, so it is little wonder that Elizabeth reacted so sharply. The cemetery and crematorium went ahead, taking a small, but significant slice of the Forster Country next to St. Nicholas’s churchyard.
Costly work on the house continued, as she confided again to Diana, when she asked her to ring her:
‘I need your advice and opinion. I am also in the midst of Rooks Nest crises over the long-accrued subsidence on the south front. This, I think, I have dealt with – but at a pretty desperate builders’ cost and I have to save every penny and shall probably shortly be busking!’
Elizabeth was not well again in 1983 and, convalescing in Colchester said:
‘I hope to be back before long. I would rather die in the dear place than live without it, tho’ I have no intentions of doing either just at present! so not to worry.’
The Future of Rooks Nest
Jack Thomas has told how, in 1985, Elizabeth had wanted him to have the house when she died, and for it to be kept exactly as Forster would have remembered it, but that, after she had been in hospital later that year, she wrote saying that ‘it had all gone wrong and that relatives, quite reasonably, wanted the house’.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth persevered with maintaining the house despite her failing strength:
‘Now the whole domain of Rooks Nest is being cleaned up and restored, a quite voluntary sword in heart, so that when I go it can go ahead prepared, with its treasures in place. At between 80 and 90 this leaves me much to do (and to earn!) at around double the volume and some half the tempo! But perhaps better so – it makes death less of a vacuum and oneself daily more up to the mark with an unknown deadline to keep.’
She added a post script:
‘I am not sure whether I said before, but will make it clear now, that the move in your life with your acquisition of Chanterhayes [Joan Littlejohn’s home in Devon], automatically rules out any position of on-the-spot help as regards Rooks Nest that might have been possible with your proximity, as I suggested some years ago, you might like to have. Though I hope this revision will in no way preclude your status as its friend always persona grata. That would make me very happy here & now.’
Later, in May 1986 Elizabeth reported:
‘The house is still in chaos & discomfort & will be for some time, with repairs & structural doings from roof to cellar, which I have had no choice about, they had to be done, or there would have been disaster – much worse that I knew – dirty & out of action, total discomfort, & will be, for at least another year or more.
The only thing is to go along with it. I knew it would take at least two years, & it will be three or more, as I cannot manage to do it more than gradually, bit by bit. All in one go, by a firm it would be beyond price.
The only way I can hope to get through is by a wonderful workman, a rare and extra-ordinaire craftsman, ‘Sent’, I verily believe, ‘from God’, & by the terms of his own life, he cannot give me all his time, but comes when he can. This makes it just possible, by very careful living & the utmost economy, to pay him as we go. So I’m like the field mice on the card, withdrawn from the world for the duration and working all out to try & carry through.’
Then, later that year, in October, Elizabeth suffered a serious fall that put her in hospital with a fractured shoulder and pelvis, necessitating a period of convalescence in Colchester with relatives, the Revd. & Mrs. Robert Poston. There in December, she penned, in a very uncharacteristically spidery hand, letters of thanks to friends who had helped her deal with her situation. To Dr. Willoughby, she wrote:
It was so good of you to spare me such time and personal thought over that odd adventure – I don’t know to this day how it happened. It had been a reasonably tough year, trying to make arrangements about the house, & more work than I could well manage, & perhaps I had been overdoing it, tho’ trying not to – but it is difficult when on one’s own.
Your get-together with Robin [Poston] was wonderfully timely – I was in such a shaky stage at that point that I don’t know otherwise what would have happened. As it was, I was whisked off down to him & had a marvellous week there. He is so kind & unfussy, at the same time so precautionary & commonsense – his wife as good, a splendid person – […].’
To her French friend, Suzanne Rose, she wrote:
‘What on earth should I have done without you! You are sweetness itself to come to my rescue & so very marvellously to prop me up and cheer me on & feed me through a time that was pretty much of a cauchmar [nightmare]. Maggie’s cuts not the time to be in hospital – a normally decent place turned into a madhouse. Without you I think there were times I should have gone under; the sight of your sweet face & the knowledge that you were there pulled me through.
Me voici [Here I am], after a very nice week with Robin, the doctor cousin & his family, handed me on to his parents, dear saintly people, he now retired, in their happy warm & attractive home, a wonderfully peaceful setting where I am slowly getting second wind, though it isn’t exactly blowing a gale yet! Bones are proverbially slow to mend, & mine are no exception, but the arm is a tiny bit less helpless, and legs have progressed from walking frame to stick. The weather has been fine & mild since I have been here, & I have greatly enjoyed drives about this lovely river-countryside where Constable painted his pictures.
Tom & the neighbours have been marvellous keeping an eye on Rooks Nest & Polly [the dog], one of the girls sleeping in, to my great relief; & I expect to be getting back before long, as I have to go back to the hospital for a check nearer Christmas. It will be awkward being without car for a bit, but I hope it won’t be too long. My bed has been moved downstairs, & I think some Bach &c. in the left hand will be the best therapy!’
No doubt, the accident, happening when so much work remained to be done on the house, prompted Elizabeth to focus on ways of preserving Rooks Nest for posterity. Her nephew, Robin Poston wrote about it to Gunnvor Stallybrass in December, enclosing a copy of the letter he had written to Kings College, Cambridge.
‘I had a long talk with Elizabeth and she asked me to get her in touch with Kings, so here is a letter to Donald Parry.
P.S. Her present financial position is very bad, worse than I thought previously.’
The enclosed letter from Robin Poston to Dr. Donald Parry reads:
‘Following a detailed discussion with my cousin Elizabeth, I can confirm that if Kings has an interest in the matter, she would be pleased to discuss the bequest of her house, Rooks Nest, to the college.
If the college were to receive the house, I feel it would be by far the best means by which the future of the house could be secured in a way which would accord with the wishes of Morgan Forster and Elizabeth. The connections of Forster with Kings mean that the college is uniquely placed to fulfill this role.
Apart from its interest through its connections with EMF, the convenience of the house for travel to both Cambridge and London would make it attractive as a residence for foreign visitors to the college, and it would be suited to the housing of those with families. I feel sure that it could be put to good use.’
That winter was yet another of burst water pipes, frustration at being incapacitated and letters of appreciation to friends, painfully written or typed. To Gunnvor she wrote
‘I have been praying nothing dire happened to your lovely house in the freeze – tho’ I’m sure you are a bred-&-born authority at staving it off. 2 bursts here, tho’ thank goodness I managed to get them dealt with, but it has made an awful mess… added to all the other!
I simply can’t tell you how your glorious & long-lasting picnic has buttressed one up & kept one going at a seemingly impossible moment – your gift of the most wonderful meals & supplies just when most needed & I couldn’t summon hand or leg to help! Everything chosen with such super imaginative & discriminating gourmet taste – even the most generous addition of the most gorgeous (long-keeping) cake I am still enjoying, all encrusted with red cherries & golden almonds & green candied peel in colours like a 14 cento masterpiece! It couldn’t have been anyone but you! Such wonderful loving spoiling has helped one in every way, more than I can say. X X
I am going along, slow but sure, with cheer at sight of the sun at last today.’
And, to Madeau Stewart, she included an apologetic paragraph:
‘Whatever, & not too many, excuses offered, my present disposition of typewriter is because of an accident which caused me a broken shoulder & fractured pelvis, flat on back in hospital since end October, only now wobbly promotion with various weakling aids, on sufferance for Christmas, but otherwise thankful – bed transferred downstairs, cared for by the workman who is my loved companion (a like mind); fed, on the lines of Elijah & the ravens, by the neighbours who are more than kind. Otherwise, signed & sealed by the Queen Mother with commission for massed voices of the Women’s Decacentenial Day of Prayer in the Albert Hall, though I doubt she will make the journey either in the most sublimely heated of Daimlers if this weather persists, & I am pretty certain I shan’t.
Old bones mend slowly & it is no longer possible to cut corners (or capers) at rising 82.’
At this stage Elizabeth would not have been unduly worried about the security of the Forster Country because the Borough Council had resisted housing development in the corridor between Stevenage and Graveley. And, despite all the difficulties with her health, she was still composing, the quality of which was at last, once again, recognised by the establishment:
‘I have had news that I have been recommended for an honour, i.e. award. It has been suggested that rather than letters after my name, which carry no cash, but run one into more expense, ( – and after all, I have already been made a Fellow, which is the most coveted of all in the musical profession) it takes the form of a Civil List Award, which carries a special pension. The Civil List for Merit is usually published in the Honours List without further details, & I have been asked if I would accept it.
Needless to say, I should be only too thankful to! I have no idea what it would amount to, but truth to say, I’d be truly grateful to get any help on what remains of the way, however modest. It has been a long tough haul, always with love – otherwise I don’t think I could ever have gone through with the dear house, & there is always, now, inevitably less physical strength to fight with. But I think there is a kind of blessing & presence over the place – & perhaps this proposition now is a part of it. Dear EMF would be glad, I am sure.
I waste a lot of time being wobbled back to hospital by ambulance for X-ray checks & surgeons & treatment, with interminable waits and always the doubt as to whether one will ever get home!
But things go on as predicted, I am thankful to say, tho’ interminably slow. A nurse appears at intervals to give me a bath; I am a little more mobile; and I have somehow managed to get my Choral Setting done for the Albert Hall do, now in rehearsal, & I am told, going well, and liked.
I have called it My Settled Rest, a quotation from its words, a very beautiful 18C. paraphrase of the Twenty Third Psalm which I have re-fashioned with harp on a lovely early tune. Perhaps it will reach Oliver [Stallybrass].’
Elizabeth’s own ‘settled rest’ was soon to come, as Robin Poston told Gunnvor Stallybrass:
‘In case the sad news had not reached you while you were away, I am very sorry to tell you that Elizabeth died on 18th March.
She was found unconscious sitting in her chair, by Tom Allen the previous morning. This was the result of a severe stroke. She did not regain consciousness and died at 1 a.m. It was a peaceful end which would have caused her no suffering.
Words are inadequate to express the loss that we all felt, as she was a dear friend to all in the family and many outside. However, Malcolm Williamson did write a very appropriate obituary that appeared in The Times and The Independent.
No funeral service was held, as she donated her body for medical purposes. A memorial service will be held at St. Nicholas Church, Stevenage at some time yet to be fixed near to Easter, and a memorial concert will be arranged in London in the autumn.
James Poston, Margaret Ashby and myself are her executors, and Simon Campion is her literary executor. She made her last will when she was in the Lister Hospital after her accident in November. She leaves the main part of her estate, including Rooks Nest, to Jim. Simon has all her musical and literary possessions.
I feel that this will was intended as a temporary measure, as far as the house is concerned; her true intentions, so long expected, were that the house should be left as a literary memorial to herself and Forster.
She died only three days after I had visited Cambridge to meet Michael Cowdy, the Bursar of Kings, Donald Parry and George Rylands, in order to discuss possible futures for the house. It was of course thanks to your efforts that this meeting took place. They entertained me most hospitably, and discussed the problem in a very helpful manner. It seems though that Kings would not have any interest itself in owning the house, as it does not fill any particular need they have. (Personally I think that the financial acumen of Keynes has left them as it would be a very good investment in view of the likely spread of Stevenage). However, they agreed that it might well interest an American university, and Professor Frank Kermode was about to go from Kings to America and sound out interest in Forster circles.’
The Service of Thanksgiving was held on 2 May 1987, at which Margaret Ashby emphasized for everyone, once again that, for Elizabeth,
‘Interwoven with her creative genius was her passionate love of Rooks Nest and her determination to protect it for future generations.’
Three years earlier Elizabeth had composed a poem, Celebration of my Death: The Honey Year; Howards End – the House, the last few lines of which read:
This is my hour. This is mine, for me.
Now I am outside looking in,
am each sill and hinge and latchet,
Forster’s ‘merry house’, the loving one
in rooms of wood-smoke, summer roof-rain:
Here all the seasons meet:
they suddenly burst out singing,
Here there is honey still for tea.
Rooks Nest was bequeathed to Elizabeth’s nephew, Jim Poston who, when posted abroad rented it to Malcolm Williamson (Master of the Queen’s Music) and Simon Campion; they remained there until Jim’s return in 1992 and it is now in private hands.
The Forster Country remains open farmland, its ancient footpaths well used by an adjacent urban population and still affording views of the Chiltern countryside to the west, so beloved by Forster and Elizabeth and others. This situation has had to be fought for in the face of pressure from the Hertfordshire County Council and housing developers staged at three more Public Inquiries (in 1987, 1992 and 2002) and finally leading to agreement not to build on Green Belt Forster Country.
Recently, there has been further uncertainty, following the revision of planning procedures under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act of 2004 which established a new planning authority, the East of England Regional Assembly. When its draft East of England Plan was debated at the Examination in Public in 2005, government representatives made it clear that they wanted more houses than the 478,000 specified in the draft plan, despite the general overpopulation in the South East, the inadequacy of the necessary infrastructure and the concomitant reduction in the quality of life. And after the Examination the Secretary of State put the extra number at up to 100,000 for Hertfordshire, many inevitably to encroach on Green Belt and green field sites.
The problem of the deteriorating quality of life in the South East, particularly in Hertfordshire was highlighted in 2006 when it was shown that compared with 87 counties in England assessed for tranquillity, it came 53rd, compared with neighbouring Essex at 39th and Cambridge at 15th.
In 2007 the Stevenage Borough Council recommended that conservation areas near St. Nicholas Church and Rectory Lane be extended to include part, but not all of the Forster Country (i.e. extending westwards only about halfway between Rooks Nest on Weston Road and North Road). This was a step in the right direction, but clearly not far enough, because any housing development between the halfway line and North Road would overlook the undeveloped eastern part of the Forster Country and also, perhaps more importantly, occlude the oft mentioned and much appreciated views westwards to the Chilterns.
In November 2007, however, the Council, jointly with the North Hertfordshire District Council, in their (SNAP) consultation document, offered as one of three alternative proposals, inclusion of all the Forster Country in a Forster Country Park within the Stevenage Borough Council Boundary up to North Road (see the crosshatched area in Fig. 2, opposite).
Unfortunately, the SNAP consultation did not include any proposals on the extent to which the Forster Country Park should extend northwards beyond the border of Stevenage Borough Council into the area of the North Hertfordshire District Council. The Friends of The Forster Country, therefore, proposed in January 2008 that the Park boundary should extend into the District Council’s area, running along the North Road, skirting Graveley, continuing northeast up the bottom of the valley west of Ledgeside Plantation and include Chesfield Park and of course, Rooks Nest (as shown in Fig. 2).
In the meantime, the East of England Plan was launched on 12 May, proposing a target for the year 2021 of 16,000 new homes in Stevenage, 9,600 of which would form an extension of Stevenage within the North Hertfordshire District Council boundary. Opposition to the plan on environmental grounds was expressed by the County Council, the District Council, and local Members of Parliament. With such an expansion of local urban areas as central government policy, the need for the Foster Country remaining as open recreational space for the health of the expanded community is greatly enforced, but we must await developments.
The huge expansion of Stevenage during Elizabeth’s lifetime, from the time (in 1943) she regarded it as ‘the village’ and since her death is also summarised in Fig. 2 (opposite). It is little wonder that the subject occupied so much of her time and effort and her correspondence. We owe it to her and to E, M. Forster to preserve for all time the relatively small area of Forster Country that to date remains unspoiled.
Fig. 2 Stevenage Housing Expansion, 1919-2007
- Draft letter to Max Reinhardt, Bodley Head and Judy Taylor Hough, Children’s Book Editor (Box 80 of the Simon Campion Archive covering papers of 1972). ↑
- Published by Bodley Head in 1971. ↑
- The Children’s Song Book, published by Bodley Head in 1961 ↑
- Furbank’s, E. M. Forster: A Life, in 2 volumes was published in 1977 & 1978 by Harvester Books. ↑
- Oliver Stallybrass was editor of the Abinger edition of the works of E. M. Forster. ↑
- Could this refer to ‘man’s ‘power over his female in due awe’? from Milton’s Samson Agonistes, lines 1052-1053? ↑
- In 1961, to Elizabeth’s great surprise, Forster paid off the mortgage on Rooks Nest House. ↑
- St. Teresa of Avila insisted that recreation should be a time of laughter, sometimes with music and dancing. ↑
- The Schlegels were characters in E. M. Forster’s Howards End. ↑
- Her father, Charles Poston and her mother’s ashes are buried there. ↑
- Editor’s title. ↑
- From Elizabeth Poston’s manuscript draft (Box 83, Simon Campion Archive), corrected where dates are in doubt by information kindly supplied by Shirley Rowe whose mother was a Poston and who has researched the Poston family. ↑
- One of many places visited by Elizabeth with her friend, Jean Coulthard. ↑
- William John’s father, William was also a Posten [sic] (Shirley Rowe, personal communication). ↑
- Baptised, 3 October 1845, St. Edwards, Romford (D/CR 299/1-4, Essex Record Office); birth registered, Romford (Family Records Centre) (Shirley Rowe, personal communication). ↑
- There were actually seven children: Mary Ann, Julia, William John, Charles, Eliza (Lilah), Alice Grace and George James (Shirley Rowe, personal communication).. ↑
- Elizabeth’s mother. ↑
- E. M. Forster’s mother. ↑
- 2 November 1871, with further details from The Times, Saturday 4 November 1871 (Shirley Rowe, personal communication). ↑
- A tendency to take oneself too seriously from the character, Charles Pooter in Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith (1892). ↑
- Later known as Highfield House. ↑
- Aged 54, registered at Hitchin, Hertfordshire in the December quarter (Family Records Centre; Shirley Rowe, personal communication). ↑
- May’s birth was registered as Mary at Billericay in the June quarter of 1875 and her marriage to Philip Clement Mead was registered in Kensington in the June quarter of 1903 (Shirley Rowe, personal communication). ↑
- A ‘Susannah’. ↑
- From Elizabeth Poston’s typed drafts. ↑
- Pink May-flowers (hawthorn). ↑
- Great North Road that ran through Stevenage, now named the B 197. ↑
- Woodfield House occupied by Admiral Fellowes. ↑
- St. Nicholas Church, Old Stevenage. ↑
- Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was fashionable at the time and Clementine might have been impressed by his successful exhibition at the Grafton galleries, London in 1905. ↑
- That is, that Forster was (according to Paracelsus), endowed with magical insight and power. ↑
- Frank Franklin (1880-1943) farmed Rooks Nest Farm from 1903 (from a footnote supplied by Elizabeth Poston). ↑
- Suffolk Punches. ↑
- Local dialect form of ‘Gee Back’, meaning to turn right. ↑
- Meaning Chesfield Manor, from an old spelling, ‘Chivelsfeld’ (Margaret Ashby, personal communication), see map on p. 12. ↑
- He was the first chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation. ↑
- Elizabeth was an avid collector of newspaper cuttings which remain in the Simon Campion Archive. ↑
- Elizabeth’s landlord. ↑
- Neal Poyntz-Stewart, son of Mrs. Caroline [Lena] Poyntz-Stewart who had died. ↑
- From Box 30 (Simon Campion Archive). ↑
- Emile Jacques Dalcroze (1865-1950), Swiss composer and music educator who devised rhythmic gymnastics, in which an important element of his teaching was to feel first and express afterwards. ↑
- Also, when she was 13, Elizabeth was sent to St. Margaret’s School, Yorkshire (Margaret Ashby (1991) Forster Country, Flaunden Press 176 pp.). ↑
- Elizabeth travelled extensively abroad: to Tasmania with her mother in 1932 (Margaret Ashby, 1991, Forster Country, Flaunden Press 176 pp.); and to the Middle East (where her brother Ralph was working) in 1936, 1938 and 1939; and to Europe in 1937 (Poston Pocket Diary). ↑
- Elizabeth’s visit to Malaya with her mother in 1934 is reported later in this section. ↑
- Elizabeth visited North America in 1948 where she met Jean Coulthard with whom she subsequently travelled quite extensively in Europe. ↑
- Published in Collected Letters of Peter Warlock Barry Smith (2005) Vol. IV. Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Surrey (Nos. 995 & 996; pp. 309 & 312-316). ↑
- In Box 83 of the Simon Campion Archive, together with the drafts of Living Memory (used in Part 1) as well as anecdotes and items with dates added in pencil in Elizabeth’s hand, collected probably for use in her autobiography. ↑
- Smith, Barry (2005) The Collected Letters of Peter Warlock. Vol. IV. Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge Surrey. ↑
- Peter Warlock’s alias Philip Hestletine and referred to as Phil or Philip by Elizabeth. ↑
- See Beyond the Apple Tree, The Published Music of Elizabeth Poston, Jamie Clare Bartlett (1996) Doctorate Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA ↑
- More information is given in: Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp.; Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp. In which Elizabeth’s broadcast on Warlock Dispelling the Jackals is reprinted. ↑
- Barbara Peache lived with Peter Warlock and Jack Moeran in Eynesford, Kent. ↑
- Memorial Concert held at the Wigmore Hall, on 13 February 1931. ↑
- The home of Peter Warlock in Montgomeryshire, Wales. ↑
- The Ladies’ Imperial Club, 29 Dover Street, London. ↑
- Nigel Heseltine, Peter’s son by his marriage to Bobby Channing (’Puma’), had been brought up by his grandmother at Cefn Bryntalch Hall, Abermule, Wales and was age 14½ at the time. ↑
- Bernard van Dieren, Anglo-Dutch composer (1887-1936) whose music was much admired by Warlock. ↑
- Nichols’ article (Radio Times, 16 April 1943, Vol. 78, No. 1020) is reprinted together with Williams’ reply and Elizabeth’s letter in Peter Warlock Society Newsletter 81, Autumn 2007. ↑
- Elizabeth used the term again in her BBC broadcast on Warlock in 1964, Dispellling the Jackals, reprinted in Elizabeth Poston: Post-Centenary Appreciation. Ed. John S. Alabaster. Friends of the Forster Country. 138 pp. 2007. ↑
- This was Nichols’ home in Winchelsea. ↑
- The first secret police of the newly formed Soviet Union. ↑
- The date is indicated because Elizabeth had probably been to Devon that year (Letter No. 5) &, more certainly, because of Poston Pocket Diary entries: Friday 19 February, ‘Damage [to ankle?] discovered’ & Monday 22 February, ‘Orthopaedic operation’, followed by physiotherapy; Monday 9 August ‘Go to Bapton – 2.50 Waterloo to Hazlemere 3.45; 13 Aug; churches, monuments, Chichester Uncle Pen’. ↑
- The date is suggested because Elizabeth went to see her brother Ralph in the Middle East in 1938 (Poston Pocket Diary). ↑
- This probably relates to 1937 for the celebration of the accession of George VI on 12 Dec 1936. ↑
- Elizabeth did go to see Ralph in the Middle East in 1938 (Poston Pocket Diary). ↑
- Elizabeth returned from a trip to Europe: Paris 11 September 1937; Cortina 13th; Salzberg 15th; Munich 17th; Heidelberg 19th; Stuttgart 20th; Düsseldorf 22nd; Köln 23rd; Brussels 24th; and home 28th.(Poston Pocket Diary). ↑
- Julia Busch (2007) Some letters from Elizabeth Poston to William Busch. pp. 3-8. In Elizabeth Poston: Post-Centenary Appreciation. Ed. John S. Alabaster. Friends of the Forster Country. 138 pp. 2007. ↑
- Letter No. 3, 14 January 1943. ↑
- Letter No. 21, 7 September, 1943. ↑
- See Nicola Beauman (1993) A Biography of E. M. Forster Hodder & Stoughton, 404 pp. ↑
- E. M. Forster, Howards End, Penguin Books, 1941, 319 pp. ↑
- E. M. Forster (1973) Howards End, The Abinger Edition, Vol. 4 (Ed. OliverStallybrass) 364 pp. [Appendix, Rooks Nest, p 341]. ↑
- Letter No. 25, 6 October, 1943. ↑
- Letter No. 44, 5 September, 1944. ↑
- Letter No. 47, 20 November, 1944. ↑
- Letter No. 50, 24 January, 1945 ↑
- William Bruneau (2007) Elizabeth Poston and Jean Coulthard, Trams-Atlantic Artists. pp. 37-48. In Elizabeth Poston: Post-Centenary Appreciation. Ed. John S. Alabaster. Friends of the Forster Country. 138 pp. 2007. ↑
- Margaret Ashby (2005) Elizabeth Poston, Composer: Her Life at Rooks Nest. The Friends of the Forster Country.40 pp. 2007. ↑
- Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005: Contributed Articles and Personal Letters. Ed. John S. Alabaster. 129 pp. (2006); Elizabeth Poston: Post-Centenary 2005 Appreciation. Ed. John S. Alabaster. Friends of the Forster Country, 138 pp. 2007. ↑
- The figure of 700 that has been published includes envelopes as well as letters & notes (William Bruneau, personal communication). ↑
- There are four Packets of letters: (1) some of 1948-50; (2) 1950-52; (3) Paris etc., Santa Lucia etc; (4) Cornwall 1955-56 Santa Lucia that are inscribed, ‘destroy at my death’. One of these (No.2) also has, erased, ‘In event of my death please send enclosed to Elizabeth Poston […] if she is also deceased kindly destroy’. In another (No. 4), ‘Destroy at my death’ was erased and, ‘send to Elizabeth Poston’ substituted. ↑
- Only a small part of the Simon Campion Archive (29 out of 83 box files of material) has been examined to date, and there are five items from Jean in Box 18 and one in each of Boxes 13 and 80. ↑
- By a Mr. Chamberlain (see Letter to Jean Coulthard, 6 October, 1953). ↑
- Jean, when quite young, had lost her own mother. ↑
- See, for example the letters of 12 and 31 December 1955 from Clementine to Jean ↑
- Poston Pocket Diary. ↑
- But, of course, Elizabeth did bear it, and Ralph’s subsequent visits were recorded in her diary over a long period (1962-1974) and warm exchanges have cropped up in the Simon Campion Archive (e.g. for 1971and 1972 in Boxes 30 and 80), not all of which has yet been examined in detail. ↑
- Apples sent to Elizabeth by Jean Coulthard on several occasions for Christmas. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 10 September 1951. ↑
- This included recording Crossroads and the music for Forster’s Room with a View (Poston Pocket Diary). ↑
- Not really a relative but someone originally taken on to help in the house though by this time failing – ‘she is quite dotty, pouring tea into the milk, throwing away the soup etc, etc, and convinced that every day is Sunday’ (Elizabeth’s letter to Jean of 21 June 1972). ↑
- A term of affection used over a long period by both Elizabeth and Jean, started with a pun on Rope Souls. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 7 December 1949. ↑
- Poston Pocket Diaries, May 1956. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, ‘Rooks Nest (Howards End) Feb. 12, 1949’. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, ‘Howards End Tues: May 15th 1951. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, ‘Howards End, Nov. 30th’1954. ↑
- 26 December, 1971. Yet another, rare variant of the address was the abbreviated ‘Howards End Nest’, while the even simpler ‘Nest’ appeared in the late 1950s and occurred right through the 19670s. This particular epithet is not yet found in any other letters of Elizabeth. ↑
- John S. Alabaster (2007) Elizabeth Poston and the BBC Production of Howards End, 1969-1970. pp. 29-36, in Elizabeth Poston: Post-Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster. Friends of the Forster Country, 138 pp. 2007. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, ‘Howards End May 5th ’1948. ↑
- Greater London Plan by Sir Patrick Abercrombie. ↑
- Letter to R. L. Shields (See p 35 of Elizabeth Poston, Post-Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp.). ↑
- William A. Chislett’s Note from The Gramophone, March 1967; Elizabeth’s response 1 May to William Varcoe – crit. Lincs. Echo, 3 April, 1967 (Box 14, Simon Campion Archive). ↑
- Letter to Norman Peterkin, 3 July 1972 ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 15 February 1968. ↑
- Poston Pocket Diary. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 30 May 1950. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 4 November 1954. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 8 August 1959; Elizabeth did not like atonal music! (See letters to Jean Coulthard: 15 December 1948; 12 & 30 January 1950; 22 November 1953; & 16 October 1960). ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 26 March 1956. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 24 April 1956. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 10 February 1958. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 26 March 1958. ↑
- Poston Pocket Diary. ↑
- Poston Pocket Diary ↑
- Margaret Ashby (1991) Forster Country, Flaunden Press 176 pp. ↑
- Letter to the Editor, Hertfordshire. Express (sent 26 September 1960) see Simon Campion Archive, Box 29.. ↑
- Included among many letters of support was one from Elizabeth’s friend and colleague, David Holbrook (Simon Campion Archive, Box 64) and another from Linda Hambly (see letter to Jean Coulthard, 5 November 1960. ↑
- It was in an article in The Guardian that the phrase ‘Forster Country’ was coined. ↑
- Letters to Jean Coulthard, 5 December 1960 & 5 February 1961. ↑
- Entries in Poston Pocket Diary on 30 September, and 8 & 15 October 1961. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 25 March 1964. ↑
- Margaret Ashby (1994) Stevenage. Alan Sutton Publishing, 124 pp. ↑
- Poston Pocket Diary, 1969: ‘Mill Field went. Pond Close was filled in & the water crowfoot went’. ↑
- Letter to Oliver Stallybrass, 31 May 1976 (courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass). ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 24 October 1976. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 4[?] February 1977. ↑
- Letter to Jean Coulthard, 26 May 1977. ↑
- Letter to Douglas Cleverdon, 10 September 1981 (Courtesy of Lilly Library, Indiana University, United States). ↑
- Undated letter to Douglas Cleverdon, 1981, designated No. 12 (Courtesy of Lilly Library, Indiana University, United States). ↑
- Letter to Joan Littlejohn, 27 May 1980, in Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter JL6. ↑
- Letter to Madeau Stewart, 9 January 1982, in Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter S48. ↑
- Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), a Swiss sculptor who made figures, usually elongated and emaciated, from Plaster of Paris formed over a wire foundation. ↑
- Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), a British sculptor influenced by African art. ↑
- Letter to Jack Thomas, 5 May 1981, see Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp. Letters JT2 & JT3. ↑
- See Howards End, Chapter XXII, ‘… she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion… Only connect! That was the whole point of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.’ ↑
- Letter to Madeau Stewart, probably, summer of 1981 (see Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp. Letter S50). ↑
- Letter to Diana Sparkes, 25 October 1982 (see Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp. Letter DS 24. ↑
- Letter to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 29 April 1982 (kindly made available by Gunnvor Stallybrass). ↑
- Oliver Stallybrass had died on 28 November 1978. ↑
- Letter to Diana Sparkes, 19 October 1983 (see Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp. Letter DS 26). ↑
- Letter to Joan Littlejohn, 16 April 1984 (see Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter JL4). ↑
- See p.37 in Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp. ↑
- Letter to Joan Littlejohn, 10 January 1986 (see Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter JL6). ↑
- Letter to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 30 May 1986 (Courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass). ↑
- Letter to Michael Willoughby, 1 December 1986 (see Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp., Letter MW10). ↑
- Robin was Elizabeth’s nephew, a young doctor, who was indeed a providential source of help here (Michael Willoughby, personal communication); see also Letter RF3 (Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp.). ↑
- Letter to Suzanne Rose, 5 December 1986 (see, Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter SR15). ↑
- Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher. ↑
- John Constable (1776-1837) a leading 19th century English landscape painter. ↑
- Tom Allan, a local fireman, who helped Elizabeth particularly with repairs to Rooks Nest, including the roof to the bay window on the west side that turned out to be inhabited by a large colony of bees! ↑
- Letter from Dr. Robin Poston to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 23 December 1986 (Courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass and Robin Poston). ↑
- Letter to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 29 January 1987 (Courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass). ↑
- Letter to Madeau Stewart, 13-14 January 1987 (see Elizabeth Poston, Post- Centenary 2005 Appreciation, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2007) Friends of The Forster Country, 138 pp., Letter S49). ↑
- Letter to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 1 March 1987 (Courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass). ↑
- Letter from Dr. Robin Poston to Gunnvor Stallybrass, 29 March 1987 (Courtesy of Gunnvor Stallybrass and Robin Poston). ↑
- Dr. Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen’s Music, who had met Elizabeth in 1985 and soon became a friend. ↑
- See Elizabeth Poston Centenary, 2005, Contributed Articles and Personal Letters, Ed. John S. Alabaster (2006) Friends of The Forster Country, 129 pp., pp.59-60. ↑
- This line is a quotation from Sieigfried Sassoon’s poem, Everyone Sang:Everyone suddenly burst out singing;And I was filled with such delightAs prisoned birds must find in freedom, Winging wildly across the whiteOrchards and dark-green fields; on; on; & out of sightEveryone’s voice was suddenly lifted;And beauty came like the setting sun;My heart was shaken with tears; & horrorDrifted away… O, but Every oneWas a bird; & the song was wordless; The singing will never be done. ↑
- An answer to the last line of Rupert Brooke’s, The Old Vicarage, Granchester, ‘And is there honey still for tea?’ ↑
- Saving Tranquil Places, Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Report 24 October 2006. ↑