E. M. Forster

The novelist Edward Morgan Forster knew West Hackhurst, the Abinger home of his aunt Laura, from childhood. Observation of her neighbours provided material for his descriptions of Edwardian Surrey’s class hierarchies – in A Passage to India (1924) – and stifling conformity – in A Room with a View (1908). He inherited the house and moved to Abinger with his mother in 1924. He was unsympathetic to the class distinctions of village life and at odds with the local gentry who he felt had too much power.

Morgan (as he was known) had many friends nearby: Max Beerbohm in Abinger, birth control pioneer Marie Stopes at Norbury Park, and Labour MP Fred Pethick-Lawrence and campaigning wife, Emmeline, in Peaslake, and he played an active part in village life. In 1934 he wrote the Abinger Pageant, with Ralph Vaughan Williams providing the music, in aid of the church restoration fund. 4 years later he wrote England’s Pleasant Land for the Dorking and Leith Hill Preservation Society. He collaborated with Vaughan Williams to found the Dorking and District Refugee Committee. When trying to sum what was worth fighting for in the face of imminent invasion during the Second World War, he wrote about Abinger and the lives of his neighbours.

EM Forster named his collected essays Abinger Harvest. When the lease on West Hackhurst came to an end in 1946 the villagers, who had initially found him somewhat aloof, if not distinctly odd, saw him off with a rousing party at which he gave a speech in defence of local footpaths.