7th Jul, 2020

The Country Diary in Song - centenary tribute to Olton's famous 'Edwardian lady' Edith Holden

Catherine Vonledebur 11th Feb, 2020 Updated: 14th Feb, 2020

A NEW musical show about The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady author Edith Holden featuring live traditional folk songs premieres near her former home in Olton, Solihull – the highlight of a weekend of events commemorating her centenary.

The Country Diary in Song, with Broomdasher, a London-based six voice acapella group, opens on March 7 at The Olton Project, based at the former United Reform Church in Kineton Green Road, where Edith and her family used to worship.

The drama – approved by Edith’s estate – intertwines Edith’s nature notes with folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp and others at the time she was writing. Actor Margaret Moore plays Edith. After its Olton debut, the show tours UK venues in Devon and Scotland locations featured in Edith’s diary.

The British artist, part-time teacher and illustrator of children’s books was living in Gowan Bank, Kineton Green Road, Olton, Solihull in 1905 and 1906 when she recorded the notes for The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

It became a worldwide phenomenon when published posthumously  50 years after her death in 1977. Her beautiful paintings and words created an exhilarating journey through the seasons, celebrating birds; flowers; animals and the life of the people of the countryside.

Edith’s book sold seven million copies and was in the Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 63 weeks.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has an exciting programme of events marking the centenary of one of its most celebrated residents, who taught art at Solihull School for Girls. She died in March 1920 after tragically drowning in the River Thames while collecting flowers from a riverbank at Kew Gardens, London.

Edith would have been well aware of the folk song revival while compiling her diary, say promoters. She was an ardent supporter of William Morris’s and John Ruskin’s Arts and Crafts Movement, having met and been encouraged by another of the Movement’s leaders, Birmingham’s most famous Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne Jones, when she was a pupil at Birmingham School of Art.

The Movement attracted artists and designers who were committed to preserving the fast disappearing culture and traditions of a rural Britain.

Cecil Sharp became an advocate of William Morris having heard him at Cambridge University. Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger made their contribution to the Arts and Crafts Movement in collecting folk songs from labourers, craftspeople and travellers across the whole country.

From around 1903, they transcribed and recorded songs that had only ever been handed down by word of mouth, many of them from Devon. Thousands of these songs are now stored and logged at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of British Folk Music, in London.

All Broomdasher’s recordings are part of the National Sound Archive at the British Library illustrating ‘grass roots folk’ and they are affiliate members of the English Folk Dance and Song Society based at Cecil Sharp House, Camden (www.broomdasher.com).

Before going to the show, VIPs and local dignitaries will join the commemorations as guests at several public events, including:

*the unveling of the restored bird bath from Edith’s garden, in its new location at St Margaret’s churchyard, St Margarets Road, Olton.

*the completion of the carving of an owl in tree stump in Kineton Green Road, outside Edith’s house, commissioned by Olton Residents Association to commemorate their 50th year and Edith’s life and work

*the opening of a restored micro-garden on the gateway to Olton on Warwick Road. The neglected garden has been given a makeover by local residents, who have assisted in replanting it. They are also repairing the clock and replacing the existing benches with period versions and a plaque will be installed for Edith.

Ongoing activities include an Edith Quiz Trail; a colouring competition for children and a plan to repeat the Edith Edwardian Bikeride which was held in September last year, on Edith’s birthday.

In Olton Library, an exhibition of local life at the time Edith lived in Olton opens at the end of February. This will include art work from local residents, inspired by Edith.

The show is supported by Solihull Council, The Olton Project, Notcutts, providing flower displays; Sanders Senior Living and Olton Residents Association, with refreshments. Tickets are £9 (£7 concessions), available in person from The Core Theatre Box Office, www.thecoretheatre@solihull.gov.uk or Tel: 0121 704 6962.

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