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Warner Sylvia Townsend

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Born in 1893, Sylvia was the only child of one of Harrow School’s housemasters, the brilliant George Townsend Warner and his wife, Nora.

An accomplished musician, only the outbreak of War in 1914 prevented the young Sylvia from going abroad to study composition under Arnold Schoenberg.   From 1917, she was involved in preparing volumes of Tudor Church Music for publication.  Also involved in this project was a long-term lover, Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years older than her.

In 1922, Sylvia went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset to visit the writer Theodore Powys and instrumental in the publication of his novels and short stories. Her own novel, "Mr Fortune's Maggot",  which followed, owed something to the genre.

Sylvia first met the poet Valentine Ackland (see separate entry) in Dorset. When in 1930 she bought a cottage opposite the village inn in Chaldon, she invited Valentine to live there. So began a love affair which lasted until Valentine's death from breast cancer in 1969. The couple's joint collection of poems "Whether a Dove or Seagull" was published in 1933.

In 1935, Sylvia and Valentine became committed members of the Communist Party, attending meetings, fund-raising and contributing to left-wing journals. They twice visited Spain during the Civil War. Their lives at this time and most of their writings - like Warner's "After the Death of Don Juan" - were charged with politics. This brought them to the attention of the Security Service.

In 1941 Sylvia was considered as a lecturer to the troops but blocked by MI5.

Although most of their life together was spent in Dorset, they also travelled widely and lived from time to time in Norfolk notably at Frankfurt Manor, Sloley and Great Eye Folly, Salthouse (which was later destroyed by the sea).

In 1937 the two women moved to a house on the river at Frome Vauchurch in Dorset. Here Sylvia produced many of her most important works, including "The Corner That Held Them", (1948) set in a medieval East Anglian nunnery. Valentine met with less success in her own painstakingly-sustained career.

In the 1950s, Sylvia allowed her Party membership to lapse.

After Valentine’s death, Sylvia allowed a collection of her poems, "The Nature of the Moment", to be published.

Sylvia lived on for another nine years, dying on May Day, 1978.

The couple's ashes lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard.