Laurence Housman

Laurence Housman (1915)

Laurence Housman (/ˈhsmən/; 18 July 1865 – 20 February 1959)[1] was an English playwright, writer and illustrator.

Early life

Laurence Housman was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, one of seven children who included the poet A. E. Housman and writer Clemence Housman. In 1871 his mother died, and his father remarried, to a cousin. After education at Bromsgrove School, he went with his sister Clemence to study art at the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London.


He first worked as a book illustrator with London publishers, illustrating such works as George Meredith's Jump to Glory Jane (1892), Jonas Lie's Weird Tales (1892), Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (1893), Jane Barlow's The End of Elfintown (1894) and his sister's Were-wolf (1896)[2] in an intricate Art Nouveau style. During this period, he also wrote and published several volumes of poetry and a number of hymns and carols.[3]


When his eyesight began to fail, he turned more and more to writing. Housman's first literary success came with the novel An Englishwoman's Love-letters (1900), published anonymously. He then turned to drama with Bethlehem (1902) and was to become best known and remembered as a playwright. His other dramatic works include Angels and Ministers[4] (1921), Little Plays of St. Francis (1922) and Victoria Regina (1934) which was even staged on Broadway. Housman's play, Pains and Penalties, about Queen Caroline, was produced by Edith Craig and the Pioneer Players.[5]

Some of Housman's plays caused scandals because of depiction of biblical characters and living members of the Royal House on stage, and many of them were only played privately until the subsequent relaxation of theatrical censorship. In 1937 the Lord Chamberlain ruled that no British sovereign may be portrayed on the stage until 100 years after his or her accession. For this reason, Victoria Regina could not be staged until the centenary of Queen Victoria's accession, 20 June 1937. This was a Sunday, so the premiere took place the next day.[6]

Housman also wrote children's fairy tales such as A Farm in Fairyland (1894) and fantasy stories with Christian undertones for adults, such as All-Fellows (1896), The Cloak of Friendship (1905), and Gods and Their Makers (1897). [7]

A prolific writer with around a hundred published works to his name, his output eventually covered all kinds of literature from socialist and pacifist pamphlets to children's stories. He wrote an autobiography, The Unexpected Years (1937), which, despite his record of controversial writing, said little about his homosexuality.[8] He also edited his brother's posthumous poems.


Dedication by Laurence Housman in Mabel Cappers WSPU prisoners scrapbook October 1910

Housman held what for the time were controversial political views. He was a committed socialist and pacifist and founded the Men's League for Women's suffrage with Henry Nevinson and Henry Brailsford in 1907. He was also a member of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology and the Order of Chaeronea.[9]

In 1909, Laurence, with his sister Clemence founded the Suffrage Atelier, an arts and crafts society who worked closely with the Women's Social and Political Union and Women's Freedom League. They encouraged non-professional artists to submit work, and paid them a small percentage of the profits.[10]

Housmans Bookshop

In 1945 he opened Housmans Bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, founded in his honour by the Peace Pledge Union, of which he was a sponsor. In 1959, shortly after his death, the shop moved to 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, where it is still a prime source of literature on pacifism and other radical approaches to living.[11]

Later life

After World War I, Laurence and his sister Clemence left their Kensington home and moved to the holiday cottage which they had previously rented in the village of Ashley in Hampshire.[12][13] They lived there until 1924,[14] when they moved to Street, Somerset, where Laurence lived the last 35 years of his life.[15]


A list of his works from the Open Library.[16]


Short fiction





Works edited


  1. 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica gives his birthdate as 18 June 1867.
  2.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Housman, Laurence". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. "Hymns and Carols by Laurence Housman". Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  4. Cockin, Katharine. Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players 1911–25, Palgrave (2001)
  5. All the Best People ...: The Pick of Peterborough 1929–1945, George Allen & Unwin, 1981; p. 139
  6. "Housman, Laurence" in Stableford, Brian (2005). The A to Z of Fantasy Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2005) (p.205).
  7. "Laurence Housman". Knitting Circle. Archived from the original on 5 February 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  8. Cockin, Katharine (2004). Housman, Laurence (1865–1959). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  10. Tom Willis and Emily Johns, "The man who made it all possible" Peace News #2516
  11. Laurence Housman, (1937), The unexpected years, page 331. Jonathan Cape
  12. Hampshire Treasures Volume 5 (New Forest), p. 268
  13. A. T. Lloyd, J. E. S. Brooks, (1996), The History of New Milton and its Surrounding Area, Centenary Edition, page 66
  14. "Catalogue of Laurence Housman's works" (Word). Street Society. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  15. Laurence Housman, OpenLibrary, retrieved 25 February 2013
  16. in: Fitzgerald, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, followed by Euphranor, a dialogue on youth, and Salaman and Absal, an allegory translated from the Persian of Jami. Collins, London & Glasgow 1953 and often (last ed.: Wildside Press, Rockville MD 2008 ISBN 1-4344-7914-5 pp. 15–24.
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