"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

Monday, 2 April 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady" - Part 2

Further to my post in February when I wrote about looking for snowdrops at Packwood Hall following in the footsteps of Edith Holden in "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady", I decided last week to visit a few more places either associated with Edith Holden or visited by her in 1905/1906.

Edith Holden lived with her parents at a large house called Gowan Bank, Station Road, Kingswood between 1890 and 1897. At the time there were only a couple of buildings in Station Road - Kingswood Station and their house about 300 yards away. Things are very different today as the whole road is lined with houses. I did consider taking a photo of where she once lived but, on reflection, decided it was probably not the best of ideas!

Just round the corner from Gowan Bank is the Grand Union Canal and, bearing in mind the number of canalside walks she mentioned in her diaries, I am sure she would have walked along this particular canal.

Grand Union Canal, Kingswood

I found some Coltsfoot nearby - a species of flower she picked in March, 1906 and drew in her diaries.

In the "Country Diary" she mentioned cycling along the lanes around Bushwood on 31st March and here's a couple of views she would have seen although I doubt there would have been electricity pylons or power lines in 1906 and the fields would probably have been smaller forming more of a patchwork.

She writes of primroses and violets on the banks of fields and along the roadside, cowslips in bud, and celandines "making the ditches bright" and "strawberry-leafed cinquefoil spangling the banks".

I drove around the lanes near Rowington, Lowsonford and Bushwood and, although I couldn't spot any cinquefoil, primroses or violets, I did find celandines


Dog's Mercury

Although she writes that she did not actually walk into Bush Wood on this particular visit, I parked the car and walked back along the land to see the wood which she regularly visited. Today I think it would be difficult to walk into and through the wood as there is a ditch and stream on one side of the road and a wire fence on the other and, although there are a couple of public footpaths, they only skirt the very edge of the wood.

Bush Wood

It looks as though the wood will have a mass of wild garlic and bluebell flowers in a few weeks time.

When Edith wrote the "Country Diary" she was living in Olton, Solihull and she mentioned in Spring diary entries daffodil fields and violet woods but did not actually name the locations. I have had a look at the 1901 Ordnance Survey map and her house in Olton at the beginning of the twentieth century would have been surrounded by field and woods, copses and spinneys. I very much fear that today her daffodil fields and violet woods will have been covered by housing estates, shopping and business parks although a few woodland fragments do survive nearby.

The population of Solihull in 1901 was just 7,500, by the 1960's it had already swelled to over 100,000 and today it is around 205,000! To be fair to Solihull it does live up to its motto ""Urbs in Rure" (Town in Country) because it has many parks and greenspaces and there are trees absolutely everywhere even in and all round the town centre. However, I suspect that had Edith Holden been able to travel forward in time to 2012, she would not have recognised much of the area surrounding her house!


Rohrerbot said...

I wonder what she'd say. I really like you playing detective on this series of posts. It makes me wonder how the flowers she describes in her walks/book could exist through the changes of suburbia...and have they continued to do so? You have me fascinated by this story....please continue her walks and revisit the area again. I like:)

Toffeeapple said...

I live about two hundred yards from the Grand Union Canal in Wolverton, the old railway town. things have changed here too but it is only recently that the Royal Train has stopped being re-decorated/repaired here. I liked the continuity of that fact.

kirstallcreatures said...

"strawberry-leafed cinquefoil spangling the banks", what a wonderful line.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - many thanks. I'm so glad you are enjoying these posts as I did wonder if they might have limited appeal to those who know the books! Later this month I plan to visit Olton and a mill pool she visited and I will also check out the fragments of woods still left today and see if they do contain any of the wild flowers she mentions.

Toffeeapple - you are fortunate to leave so close to a canal. It is nice to see continuity over many years as you mention. What a dreadful shame that the Royal Train is no longer renovated at the same place.

kirtstallcreatures - it is a lovely isn't it - she certainly came up with a great phrase there - you can just imagine the tiny white flowers sprinkled over the grassy banks like stars!

ShySongbird said...

A lovely read and beautifully illustrated. It must be lovely to be so close to the places she loved so much. As you imply, I suspect she would be dismayed to see the changes now. I live within less than a mile of my childhood home and some of the favourite places I walked in then are sadly unrecognisable now.

I haven't seen any Coltsfoot yet this year! Lovely, golden Celandines.

Ragged Robin said...

Many thanks Shy Songbird for your lovely comment. I think its a good job we can't "fastforward" to 2112 - I think we would be horrified!