• Categories: 20th Century

Musician, composer and intelligence worker.

The private papers of the musician Elizabeth Poston, preserved since her death in 1987 in some 100 box files by her literary executor, copyright holder and publisher, Simon Campion, have been deposited in the Hertfordshire Archives and Rural Studies in Hertford. They form an invaluable, accessible part of our social and cultural heritage.

Her letters, beautifully written in English, French and German, provide a great insight into her thoughts about music, music-making and musicians, and in particular about people.
They also touch on her early years of privilege and foreign travel in the 1930s; her part in the development of the BBC and its intelligence work during the war years; the place of women in society; the impact of Stevenage New Town; and, above all, the nature of friendship, for she engaged with a wide spectrum of society, often keeping quite separate the many professional and private elements.

Her copious writings show how, nurtured in rural Hertfordshire, she loved the countryside – its wildlife, its peace and beauty – and especially the views to the west of her home, Rooks Nest House in Stevenage. These views were equally beloved by her friend E M Forster, who lived in the house as a boy and wrote about them and the house and its inhabitants in his novel Howards End. Appropriately, when the book was televised by the BBC in 1970, it was Elizabeth who wrote the music for it.

Elizabeth received a belated Civil List Award, which carried a special pension, but she died before she could receive any benefit from it. Her own ‘settled rest’ had finally come on March 18 1987. A plaque next to the monument to Forster in the graveyard of St Nicholas Church, Stevenage, where her parents are interred, commemorates the centenary of her birth.