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27 November 2014

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You are in: Beds Herts and Bucks > History > History Features > Hertfordshire Literary Map

Hertfordshire's Literary Map

Hertfordshire's Literary Map

Hertfordshire Literary Map

George Bernard Shaw is probably Herts most famous literary resident but Francis Bacon, Beatrix Potter, Barbara Cartland, Frederick Forsyth and more have lived here too.


John Scott (‘Scott of Amwell’ 1731-1783)

Scott generally wrote conservative pastoral verse but this Quaker poet is now best remembered for two things - the shell grotto he created at Amwell in Hertfordshire (described by English Heritage as "one of the finest grottoes in England") and the pacifist poem "I hate that drum's discordant sound ...".

Nevertheless he was also a social reformer (championed Poor Law Reform), literary critic, road builder and critic of the views of his good friend Samuel Johnson.

As well as the grotto, there are other legacies of Scott in Great Amwell. The name Amwell is derived from 'Emma's Well', now a dried up hollow alongside the New River which broadens around two small islands there. The well has a stone enscribed with part of John Scott's poem "Emma" at the entrance.


Shaw's Corner (G.B. Shaw)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

The playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw lived at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire for 44 years, from 1906 until his death in 1950. His house is open to the public.

Shaw's Corner

Shaw's Corner

With the onset of middle age, Shaw began looking for a country house that also had reasonable access to London. This Edwardian house, just few miles outside of Welwyn Garden City, provided the solution.

Built as the 'New Rectory', the house was isolated enough to give Shaw the peaceful environment that he needed in order to write, but it wasn’t so remote that he couldn’t get back to London easily.

He rented the house from the Church for nearly 14 years, before buying it in 1920, and he spent much of his later years in the seclusion of his garden. Here he could write uninterrupted from his revolving hut and entertain invited guests when it suited him.

After his wife Charlotte’s death in 1943 Shaw remained permanently at Shaw's Corner and was known as a bit of an eccentric recluse.

In November 1950 he died at Shaw's Corner, and the house became a shrine to him and his great literary works. His ashes were scattered around the garden and all his personal effects from his London home were transferred to Hertfordshire.

The rooms remain much as he left them, with many literary and personal effects still there together with quotes and verses that display his humour. Shaw’s writing hut is hidden at the bottom of the garden, which has richly-planted borders and views over the Hertfordshire countryside.

During his life, Shaw wrote many books, plays, and film scores, and received a number of accolades in recognition of his great works, including, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926, and an Oscar for 'Pygmalion' in 1938.

House opening hours:

27 March to 3 Nov Wed-Sun and Bank Holiday Mons: 1.00pm–5.00pm
Adult: £3.60
Child £1.80
Family £9.00
House has ramped access and the garden is accessible via grass slope.


Berkhamsted Collegiate School (Graham Green)
Graham Greene, (1904-1991)

Graham Greene was born on 2 October 1904 at St. Johns, Chesham Road and lived there until November 1910. There is a plaque recording it as his birthplace.

Berkhamstead Collegiate School

Berkhamstead Collegiate School

From November 1910 to September 1922 he lived at the School House, Berkhamsted Collegiate School, Castle Street where his father was headmaster. Going to school here was not easy as he was bullied.

From September 1918 to July 1922 he was a weekly boarder at St Johns.

One of the most widely read novelists of the 20th-century, Greene was also a short-story writer, playwright and journalist.

He was a great storyteller whose novels were always full of adventure while tackling moral issues and religious themes in the context of political settings.

As a result, many of his books have been made into successful films, such as The End of the Affair starring Ralph Fiennes.

He also wrote over five hundred reviews of books, films, and plays, mainly for The Spectator.

Greene was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times, but he never received the award.

Some of his novels:
1925 Babbling April
1929 The Man Within
1932 Stamboul Train
1938 Brighton Rock
1940 The Power And The Glory
1948 The Heart Of The Matter
1951 The End Of The Affair

The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust has an annual festival.


Famous essayist Charles Lamb (1775 -1834) is said to have stayed with relatives at Button Snap Cottage in Buntingford. In 1796, his sister Mary Ann Lamb in a fit of temporary insanity attacked and wounded their father and stabbed and killed their mother.


Camfield Place
(Beatrix Potter/Barbara Cartland)

Camfield Place, near Hatfield, was not only the country estate of the late romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, it was also the summer residence of Beatrix Potter.

It is 19th century Italianate with a water tower, a small 18th-century stable block and early 19th-century lodges.

Dame Barbara is buried in the grounds by a 400-year-old oak tree which was planted by Queen Elizabeth I.

The Eight Bells Inn in Old Hatfield

The Eight Bells Inn in Old Hatfield

As well as writing, Beatrix Potter was a talented watercolourist, particularly of the natural world.

Beatrix drew landscapes, bats and insects as well as fungi at Camfield Place and her paintings and drawings are now in collections all over the world.

Eight Bells Pub, Fore Street, Old Hatfield

In the days of horse drawn coaches, Hatfield was a staging post on the Great North Road linking London to the North of Britain. In 1839 a coach called the Sovereign left 'The Eight Bells' (c.1630) public house for London at 7.00am every day.

Although it is not actually named in the novel, this 17th-century coaching inn was chosen by Charles Dickens as the setting for Bill Sykes’ retreat with his dog after the murder of Nancy in ‘Oliver Twist’.

"It was nine o'clock at night, when the man, quite tired out, and the dog, limping and lame from the unaccustomed exercise, turned down the hill by the church of the quiet village, and plodding along the little street, crept into a small public-house, whose scanty light had guided them to the spot. There was a fire in the tap-room, and some country-labourers were drinking before it."

Dick Turpin is also said to have leapt from one of the upper windows onto his horse Black Bess, and galloped away as the Bow Street Runners entered the place.


Frederick Forsyth

Bestselling author Frederick Forsyth lives in a 26-room Queen Anne manor house set in 175 acres of rolling Hertfordshire farmland at East End Green.

Following an intense career in journalism, he decided to write a book using journalistic research methods. This result was The Day of the Jackal, which spawned a career of many more successful books including The Odessa File, Dogs of War and The Fourth Protocol.


Knebworth House
(Sir Edward Bulwer- Lytton)

Victorian Statesman and romantic novelist Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1st Lord Lytton) who wrote The Last Days of Pompeii, succeeded to this property in 1843.

He lived here until his death in 1873 and was visited by Disreali, Charles Dickens and other literary friends.

He redecorated the exterior in Gothic style in 1843. The house now contains 17th and 18th century furniture, portraits and relics and manuscripts of Bulwer-Lytton.


Gorhambury House

The present Gorhambury House, the seat of the Earl of Verulam was built in the late 18th century by the architect Robert Taylor and replaced the old 16th-century Gorhambury House that was home to Francis Bacon.

The ruins of Bacon’s house still stand nearby and the new house has an extensive picture collection of 17th-century portraits of the Grimston and Bacon families and their contemporaries.

The blue plaque commemorating Charles Williams

The blue plaque commemorating Charles Williams

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) - 1st Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans

The English philosopher, lawyer, and politician inherited the Gorhambury estate in St Albans when his brother died in May 1601.

In January 1621 he was created Viscount St Albans, but just five days after this he was accused of accepting bribes. The House of Lords fined him £40,000 and banished him from court.

His political career in tatters, he retired to Gorhambury on 23 June 1621 to concentrate on his writing, after briefly being imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Some have suggested that during this time he wrote plays that have been attributed to Shakespeare.

What we do know is that after retiring to Hertfordshire he published works including the History of the Reign of Henry VII, 'Apophthegms, New and Old', 'Translation of Certain Psalms' and the 3rd edition of 'Essays'.

Victoria Street (Charles Williams)

Charles Williams (1886-1945)

Charles Williams' family moved to St. Albans in 1894 where they ran an art-materials shop. Charles was brought up at 15 Victoria Street and went to St Albans School.

The blue plaque commemorating Charles Williams in Victoria Street, Street St. Albans
The house is no longer there as it was knocked down to make way for The Maltings Shopping Centre, but there is a blue plaque on the spot to commemorate his former home.

He was a prolific writer and produced over 30 volumes of poetry, plays, literary criticism, fiction, biography and theological argument.

He was renowned for his ghostly and weird fiction, although Tolkien was said to find Williams’ fascination with black magic and diabolism repellant. Often branded ‘spiritual shockers’, his aim was not just to make the flesh creep as Williams used them as vehicles for his brand of religious mysticism.

Some of his publications:
1925 Windows of Night
1930 Heroes and Kings
1937 Descent into Hell
1937 He came down from Heaven
1939 Judgement at Chelmsford
1941 Witchcraft
1942 The Forgiveness of Sins
1944 The Region of the Summer Stars
1944 All Hallows' Eve

We want to make these literary maps as comprehensive as possible.

If you know of any other literary associations, please let us know. We will add them in and of course tell everybody who told us!

Tony Reeve, Potters Bar Friday, 06-May-2005 23:52:41 BST

Indeed Orwell lived and worked in Wallington, just east of Baldock - and H G Wells lived in Hay Street. My grandmother, Lisa Sheridan, informal Royal photographer, lived in Welwyn Garden City and photographed both HG Wells and George Bernard Shaw - who completely outclassed her when my grandmother said she'd received a letter addressed "Lisa, England", Shaw retorted that he'd received one addressed "GBS, England"

Julie Wright, Hertford Sunday, 13-Mar-2005 20:31:32 GMT

I'm sure W E Johns who wrote the Biggles books used to live in Hertford near Cowbridge/Port Hill. There is a Blue Plaque on his cottage there.

Lesley Dunlop, Nascot Wood, Watford, Herts Tuesday, 19-Oct-2004 15:52:59 BST

And what about Mrs Humphry Ward, the phenomenally popular Victorian-Edwardian novelist who lived in Aldbury, near Tring. Her 30+ books, including Robert Elsmere, Marcella and Helbeck of Bannisdale, earned her the critical respect of Henry James. Several of her books were made into films in the early 20th century and the BFI have them on record. She helped found Somerville College, Oxford, inaugurated some of the earliest play-centres for children in London and founded a welfare-based settlement. The Mary Ward Centre in London exists today as an adult specialist education college. Although BBC radio dramatised one of her books some years ago, amazingly BBC television has yet to discover her literary treasure trove. 

Douglas Michael Massing, Oakland, California Sunday, 19-Sep-2004 04:10:23 BST

Pride and Prejudice is of course largely set in Hertfordshire: the town of Meryton, the Bennets' home at Longbourn, and the Bingley house at Netherfield are all imagined as being there.





last updated: 12/03/2008 at 10:42
created: 31/01/2006

Have Your Say

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Tom Doig
Charlotte Mary Yonge, the great Victorian childrens' author, regularly visited Barkway where her grandfather, Rev Thomas Bargus had been the Vicar of Barkway and Rector of Reed. Many of the great houses mentioned in her books are based on the nearby mansions of Newsells and Cokenach.John Leech, who illustrated Surtees' Jorrocks books spent much of his time visiting Charles Frederick Adams at Barkway House and many of his drawings show the landscape in the vicinity. Indeed, a couple of Surtees' characters are based on Barkway, etc people. In Leech's illustrations, both Newsells and Cokenach are often used as well as the interior of Barkway House and the village High Street.

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