ON the weekend of International Women’s Day Olton in Solihull is honouring one of the village’s most famous female residents this Saturday, (March 7) – Edwardian ‘eco-warrior’ Edith Holden.
Edith’s 1906 book, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, was a sensation when it was published in 1977, selling seven million copies worldwide, topping the best-sellers list for more than a year.
Final preparations are underway for Edith’s ‘Centenary Celebration Day’ – with a range of free eco-conscious community activities all of which reflect her concern for the natural world.
They include the unveiling of a restored stone birth-bath, a new public artwork by wood sculptor Robot Cossey and a new micro-garden with Edwardian planting – transforming a neglected patch of greenery with two new Victorian-style benches.
Lizzy Quiney, a neighbourhood co-ordinator for Solihull Council, has helped to instigate many of these projects. Watercolour workshops run by Chair of the Residents Association David Nash at Olton Library have proved so popular they are set to continue. Lizzy has also helped to organised Edith Holden: Life & Times, an art exhibition and competition at Olton Library.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the artist and amateur naturalist who began teaching art to older girls at the Solihull School for Girls in 1906.
Originally she compiled her best-selling nature notebook as a home-made school text book to inspire her pupils to appreciate and protect their natural environment.
This has led John Palmer, the writer of a new musical about her diary to style her as an eco-warrior before her time.
He says her passion for nature conservation is as relevant now more than 100 years on, as concerns about environmental devastation, climate change and global warming have inspired young and old to take action.
Free events during the day will be attended by special guests including the Mayor of Solihull, MP Julian Knight and Edith’s biographer Ina Taylor and the general public are invited to them all.
A specially-composed musical The Country Diary in Song with Broomdasher is the culmination of the day’s events. It will receive its world premiere before touring the UK in the summer.
The production will take place at The Olton Project – the newly opened Muslim Centre for educational and spiritual development in the former United Reform Church, Kineton Green Road, Olton. It was here Edith’s father rented a pew for one shilling a week and the family used to worship – just across the road from her house.
Local residents and members of the Muslim community have been working together to decorate the church with flowers, ornaments and displays. An added attraction at the show is the bumper picnic that will be held during an extended interval. Traditional Muslim treats will be served alongside traditional English Country afternoon cakes and sandwiches.
“It’s a great way to end what is shaping up to be a superb day,” said John who wrote the musical with the London-based a capella folk group Broomdasher. “Edith writes a lot about stopping for picnics when she was painting and writing, so we thought it was appropriate to have a picnic of our own where the audience can all get to know each other.
“It’s imaginative of Solihull Council to celebrate Edith through events that make us all aware of the threat of climate change, the disappearance of the countryside and our own responsibility to do something about it.
“If she’d been a schoolteacher today, she would be encouraging her pupils to join the schoolchildren’s Global Climate Strikes
“Edith was committed to capturing the fine balance between plants, birds and animals in the countryside. Her beautiful Diary did that in a stunning way.
“Everything she did reflects what today’s eco-warriors are doing – although she did it more subtly, in keeping with her character and her time”.
Celebrations kicked off last September with an Edwardian Cycle Ride from Tudor Grange Park to Packwood House.
WHAT’S ON: Edith Holden’s Centenary Celebration Day, Saturday March 7
11.30am The opening of a micro-garden and Victorian-style public benches restored by Olton residents, on Warwick Road, Olton. Olton Residents Association together with Solihull Council neighbourhood co-ordinator Lizzy Quiney have reclaimed a patch overgrown and unkempt land, tended it and created a garden for people to enjoy some moments of tranquility. There are Victorian style benches and a restored clock to capture Edith’s time along with planting inspired by the Edwardian era – including lavender, tulips, roses and daffodils.
11.45am The unveiling of a giant stone bird bath commemorating Edith in St Margaret’s Churchyard, Olton. It was originally produced to commemorate her and had several previous homes before disappearing into storage at Packwood House. Now it has been restored and will be a permanent public commemoration of Edith.
12noon The unveiling of a large, wooden owl in in Kineton Green Road. The tree came down many years ago and a large stump was left. Now celebrated wood sculptor Robot Cossey has carved into a spectacular owl, who will keep a watch on Edith’s former home for all time.
12.30pm The opening of an exhibition of Edwardian life, at Olton Library. The exhibition features original work by Olton residents reflecting the Edwardian period, plus some genuine artefacts and objects from Edith’s time
1pm The Announcement of the winners of the children’s painting competition at the Library. There are several prizes on offer for the best entries and dozens of entries have already been received.
7pm The day will end with the world premiere of the musical The Country Diary in Song with Broomdasher. This is the first major public event at The Olton Project, the newly opened Muslim Centre for educational and spiritual development – at the former United Reform Church, Kineton Green Road, Olton.
Tickets cost £9 and £7 and are available from The Core Theatre Box Office at 0121 704 6962 or [email protected]