This year marks 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country and the anniversary has been celebrated widely in the media and in the gay community. We cannot let this pass without wondering what difference this would have made to E M Forster's life and work.

Forced to conceal his sexuality in his conventional, middle-class family and judgmental society, his literary expression may also have been repressed. ‘Maurice’, his only attempt to write about same sex love, was written in 1914 but only published posthumously, in 1971.  Apparently this was his wish.

Said to be modest and retiring by nature, he would not have wanted to upset or even outrage; he evidently lacked the audacity of the Bloomsbury circle with whom he was friendly or maybe was more philosophical about his situation.

His last novel ‘A Passage to India’ was published in 1924, when he was 45, and for the rest of his life - he died aged 92 in 1970 - he produced non-fiction and made broadcasts. He maintained a high reputation, was nicknamed the ‘holy man of letters’, but despite this was not awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. Perhaps he would have been had his imagination not been fettered by the law of the land. What did he think when it was reformed three years before he died? Did he even care?

E.M.Forster age 13

The writer Edward Morgan Forster lived at Rooks Nest House from 1883 to 1893, from the ages of 4 to 14. In later life he returned there often, as the guest of composer Elizabeth Poston. 

His novel Howards End was inspired by his childhood home and its surrounding countryside. Forster’s writing is studied in schools, colleges and universities throughout the world.   His work is concerned with themes that are still current today, including:-  

  • human relationships,
  • conflicts of loyalty               
  • the need for connection between apparent opposites such as commerce and culture, poetry and prose,                      

He is constantly quoted in newspapers and has the distinction that one of his short stories is available in full on the Internet.

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'I was brought up as a boy ....... in a district which I still think the loveliest in England'.These were E M Forster’s nostalgic sentiments in 1946, broadcast on radio when participating in the first campaign to save the countryside around his old childhood home from development. 

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Elizabeth Poston
 A highly regarded composer and musicologist, Elizabeth Poston had a distinguished career in radio broadcasting. During World War II she worked for the BBC in London, Bedford and Bristol, ending as a 'secret agent', using gramophone records to send coded messages to allies in Europe. She never revealed the exact nature of this work and it remains secret to this day. After the war, she was one of the team who founded the Third Programme, which became Radio 3. She was an authority on carols and folk-music; her two Penguin books of Christmas carols, published in 1965 and 1970, were regarded as definitive. One of her best-known and loved carols is Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, which is a regular feature of the Christmas Eve service of Nine Lessons and Carols televised from King's College, Cambridge. How many people realise that the composer lived and worked in Stevenage. 
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The original drafts and recordings of Elizabeth’s music, once performed or published, found their way into her attic at Rooks Nest House, together with programmes, newspaper cuttings, correspondence and photos.  This was because they were finished and also she was wary of dealing with publishers, having had occasion in the past to fight them hard in order to receive fair play.

Towards the end of her life she met Malcolm Williamson and his partner & publisher, Simon Campion, and decided that he should be her literary executor and copyright holder, expressing in her will the hope that he would give all manuscripts of her musical and literary works to a suitable trust for safe-keeping.

In 2013, some 100 box files of written material, mainly correspondence, were duly catalogued and deposited at The Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) at County Hall, Hertford and now, all the available music (nearly 300 items) has been checked and recently deposited at the Music Department of the British Library.  So Elizabeth’s dying wish for the safe-keeping of her archive has been largely fulfilled.