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Close to my Herts: John Spiers

PUBLISHED: 17:15 25 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:57 20 February 2013

John Spiers, Chairman of the Friends of Forster Country

John Spiers, Chairman of the Friends of Forster Country

Chairman of the Friends of Forster Country in Stevenage, John Spiers, tells Louise McEvoy about the area's literary and musical heritage

Chairman of the Friends of Forster Country in Stevenage, John Spiers, tells Louise McEvoy about the areas literary and musical heritage.

Tell the reader a bit about yourself.

I graduated in mechanical engineering from Queen Mary College, London, in 1966, married Hilary and started my working life with ICI in Welwyn Garden City and then Teesside.

After four years in Teesside, I returned to work in Welwyn Garden City and we decided to live in Stevenage, where our two sons were born and grew up.

Having worked as a chartered engineer for four major companies, I retired in 2008.

Tell the reader a bit about Forster Country and what makes the area so special.

One of the pleasures for my family has been to walk from our house out into the rolling countryside to the north east of Stevenage, of which Forster Country forms part. Forster Country itself extends northwards from St Nicholas Church in a V shape towards and slightly beyond Graveley, with North Road to the west and Chesfield to the east.

This area was much loved by E M Forster, author of Howards End, for which the setting was Rooks Nest House in Weston Road. Forster, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th Century, lived in Rooks Nest House during his formative years. The composer Elizabeth Poston and former Master of the Queens Music, Dr Malcolm Williamson, also lived in Rooks Nest House, so the area has a strong literary and musical heritage.

Who formed the Friends of Forster Country, when and why?

Plans to build on the area were turned down in 1987. The Friends of Forster Country was launched in May 1989 by two Stevenage residents, Dr John Hepworth, an internationally renowned geologist, and Margaret Ashby, a well-known local author and historian. The group was established with a view to maintaining the heritage and the rural environment for the people of Stevenage to enjoy.

When did you get involved and why?

I joined in 2000. I have friends who have been members from the outset and, as pressure of work reduced, my interest in the Friends increased and I realised how strongly I felt about keeping part of my much-loved countryside open and safe from development.

When did you become chairman of the Friends of Forster Country and what are your main aims?

I became chairman in June 2011 and aim to raise the profile of Forster Country by running events open to all and increase the membership. I want the whole of Stevenage to feel proud of having such an important literary heritage on their doorstep. We have members from across the UK and as far as the USA and Japan, but what Id really like is for masses of new members from Stevenage to join us.

How many Friends are there currently and what does being a member involve?

Membership now stands at around 110 families. Membership involves as little or as much as desired and you can easily join by phoning 01438 350217, emailing or making an enquiry on the website The cost is 10 per family or 7 per individual. Funds are used to publicise the cause, including regular newsletters, and occasionally to seek advice on relevant issues.

Is Forster Country currently under threat of being developed?

Currently the threat to Forster Country is uncertain because the East of England Plan has been scrapped. Were not at all sure what will take its place, or if were out of the frying pan and into the fire. There is huge and understandable pressure for new homes and the situation can change very quickly, so Im reviewing the Green Belt status of Forster Country in the light of the new governmental planning proposals.

What do you consider to be the best thing about Hertfordshire?

I am glad that I live here because I have the best of both worlds, with a vibrant town close to London and beautiful open countryside within walking distance.


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