Berkhamsted has numerous literary links including J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, H E Todd of Bobby Brewster fame and William Cowper. The author Graham Greene was born in the town, the son of the headmaster of Berkhamsted School.
Geoffrey Chaucer is best known as the author of the Canterbury Tales but in his position as Clerk of Works to the Royal Castles, Berkhamsted came under his care.
Another poet, William Cowper, the writer of many poems and hymns, was born in the Rectory in 1731. Although the building has been replaced, Cowper is remembered by the east window of St Peter's church which is dedicated to his memory.Children brought up on the Bobby Brewster stories may know that H E Todd wrote his stories here but it is less well known that James Barrie modelled Peter and Wendy of his Peter Pan story on the children of the Llewellyn-Davies family who once lived at Egerton House (the site that The Rex cinema now stands on).
Graham Greene was born in St John's House, Chesham Road, Berkhamsted on 2 October 1904. He was the third son of Charles Greene who, when Graham was six, became Headmaster of Berkhamsted School. As a pupil at the school he found the tensions between home life and school life on the other side of 'the green baize door' almost unbearable, tensions that he describes graphically in his autobiography ‘A Sort of Life’.
After graduating from Balliol College, Oxford and training as a journalist, he worked for The Times and wrote a number of novels before achieving success with Stamboul Train (1932). Greene had converted to Catholicism at the time of his marriage and his newly acquired faith was increasingly reflected in his writing. The Tablet commissioned him to travel to Mexico in 1938 to report on the persecution of the Catholic Church. This journey inspired him to write The Power and the Glory. Other novels such as Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair helped to develop his reputation as one of the leading novelists of the twentieth century. Most of his novels have been filmed, some more than once. His original screenplay for The Third Man helped to make this one of the most popular films ever produced.
He also wrote a number of plays including The Living Room, The Complaisant Lover and The Potting Shed and four books for children. An underlying spirit of fun pervaded many of his later books such as Travels with my Aunt and Monsignor Quixote.
Graham spent the last 25 years of his life in Antibes, France but his thoughts returned frequently to Berkhamsted, which appeared in his novels and short stories in a variety of guises. He became a Companion of Honour and in 1986 a member of the Order of Merit. He died in Switzerland on 3 April 1991.
In 1997, a number of Berkhamsted residents, with the support of Berkhamsted Town Council, decided to establish the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, a registered charity. The Trust founded the annual Graham Greene Festival. This is held on the four days nearest to the anniversary of his birth (2 October). The Festival, which includes films of Greene's novels, plays and reminiscences from his friends, together with academic discussions of his works, attracts Greene fans from all over the world and is one of the few literary festivals with a programme devoted solely to the works of one author.
The Trust publishes a quarterly newsletter for subscribing Friends of the Trust and also Occasional Papers.
The Graham Greene Berkhamsted Trail is linked with places in Berkhamsted identified in his fictional works or autobiography. It is available free of charge from a number of outlets in the town.