"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady"

I've recently been re-reading one of my favourite books "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" by Edith Holden.

In 1906, when she was living with her parents in Olton, she kept a diary of Nature Notes filling it with poems, observations and charming paintings of wildlife seen through the months of the year in the surrounding Warwickshire countryside and whilst on holiday in Dartmoor and Scotland. For 70 years the diary was undiscovered and when it came to light a facsimile reproduction was published in 1977 entitled "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Edith had also kept a similar diary in 1905 and this was also later published as a predecessor to the "Country Diary" and was called "The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady".

On 24th February 1906 Edith cycled from her home in Olton to Packwood Hall and she noted in her diary that the garden of the Hall adjoining the churchyard held huge clumps of snowdrops. She picked a huge bunch of these flowers and was also able to hold in her arms a newborn lamb shown to her by the farmer who then lived at the Hall.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to visit and see if the snowdrops were still there.

(Not the best of photos - it started to rain half way there and the light was awful!)

Here's the entrance to Packwood Hall and yes, there are still lots of snowdrops!

The Hall is now privately owned so I didn't really like to take the risk of marching up the drive to get a photo! but here's a picture of the moat which surrounds the Hall. Most of the house seen today is fairly modern but the east wing 17th century timber framing survives.

There were plenty of snowdrops along the path to the church

St Giles, Packwood, adjoining the Hall grounds. The churchyard was full of snowdrops and a few primroses were flowering.

I did have a look round the church which has some fascinating features but I will write about these in a posting later in the week.

Crocuses in the churchyard

Looking across the churchyard towards Packwood Hall

More than 100 species of wildflower have been recorded in the churchyard which is managed for wildlife and I hope to visit again later in the spring (in drier weather!)when the flowers are at their best.

I did drive round nearby lanes and, although there were plenty of sheep about, I was unable to find any lambs to photograph!


Edith Holden was born in Kings Norton in 1871, one of seven children. Her father was a paint manufacturer. She attended art school and worked as an illustrator and many of her drawings of animals were published in books. The Holden family lived in Moseley, Birmingham between 1871 and 1880 when they moved to Warwickshire occuping various houses in Darley Green, Kingswood, Dorridge/Knowle, and Olton. In 1911 Edith met and later married Ernest Smith a sculptor and lived with him in Chelsea, London. They had no children and tragically she died, aged 49, on 16th March 1920, when she slipped whilst gathering chestnut buds and drowned in the River Thames.

The places in Warwickshire mentioned in her diary are all fairly close to where I live so I am hoping to visit more of these over the course of the year.

Many thanks to the kind lady (sorry I forgot to ask your name) I met in the church who had come to replenish the supply of church guides and gave me such an interesting tour of the church and churchyard showing me many things I would otherwise have missed.


Rohrerbot said...

Robin, this is so wonderful. I am not sure where to begin. First this is a great post to drink with a cup of tea...which I am going to make...sleepy time because it's time for bed. Second, the reading.....you have a book that takes place in your area!!! And you went back to the place...what did it feel like? To see the same flowers she mentioned in her writing? It is an incredibly beautiful area. Lovely. Sad. Beautiful. Looked like a lot of fun to visit. Very touching and introspective piece you have here. Love the pics and narrative.

Ragged Robin said...

Hi Chris

Many thanks for your lovely comment - I am so glad you enjoyed reading the post.

It was very moving to visit the place she had written about and see the snowdrops. Some of the areas she visited over 100 years ago will have changed due to "Urban sprawl" and development but others, like Packwood Hall and the churchyard, remain unspoilt and rural. So it was beautiful to have seen it more or less as she would have done.

The one big difference between our visits was that within minutes after I left I was in a warm, dry car whereas she had to "ride home (on a bicycle) 7 miles in a storm of sleet and snow"!

I'll visit more areas she went to later in the year and I will certainly go back to the churchyard later in spring to see the show of wild flowers.

Thanks again.

Toffeeapple said...

A lovely post, I look forward to reading more about Edith and her habitat. I have those books on my wish list but everyone ignores them.

The area is rather lovely, you are lucky to live there.

Ragged Robin said...

Thanks for the lovely comment Toffeeapple.

I hope you get bought the books soon (I've had mine for donkeys years) - if you ever go to second hand bookshop or Fairs I've seen the Country Diary for sale in such places. They are truly charming books and her paintings are beautiful.