Edith Holden was born on 26th September 1871 and grew up near Birmingham. She was one of seven children (5 girls and 2 boys) of Arthur and Emma Holden, both Unitarians and spiritualists. Edith and her sisters were educated at home by their mother where they were taught to appreciate literature especially poetry, sketching, painting, and knowledge of nature.
Edith showed particular aptitude in freehand drawing and was enrolled at the Birmingham School of Art at only 13 years old. Around this time, she began to concentrate on nature drawing and painting and explored the countryside surrounding her home to gather samples for study.
She later became an art teacher at the Solihull School for Girls and started to put together what will become ‘The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’, a carefully observed record of the seasons in the countryside around her home which includes poetry and delicate paintings of birds, plants, and insects.
The diary was inherited by Edith Holden’s great-niece Rowena Stott who recalls being fascinated, as a child, by the beautiful and delicate watercolours of flowers and nature. Rowena took the diary to a local publisher, Webb, and Bower, who published ‘The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ in 1977 in conjunction with London based publisher Michael Joseph.
It immediately became a publishing sensation as it entered the Sunday Times publishing best sellers list where it stayed for a record-breaking 63 weeks earning it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Additionally, it was named by the Sunday Times the bestselling book of the 1970s, and remains at No. 4 in the overall best-seller lists of the last 40 years.
The success of the book quickly led to an interest in the development of merchandise based upon Edith’s illustrations. The first products were a range of greetings cards that were marketed by Elgin Court, a leading card company at the time. These were followed by the development of highly successful ranges of ceramics, stationery, and home furnishings including a successful range of bedding designs from leading bedding manufacturer Dorma. A Country Diary pocket diary was developed for Marks and Spencer and was issued each year making it the longest continuously running license for M&S.
The popularity of Country Diary also led to a range of spin-off book titles ranging from books about home furnishings and gardens to guides on wildflowers and butterflies.
Interest in The Country Diary quickly spread abroad. ‘The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ has been published in over 13 languages with merchandise programs marketed in Europe, Japan, and the United States. The success also leads to a twelve-part television series made by Central Television in 1988 based upon the life of Edith Holden which was broadcast both in the UK and internationally.
Webb and Bower were contacted by Susan and Nancy White who owned a similar diary for 1905 which they believed was also by Edith Holden. Following extensive examination by experts, it was verified as being a genuine diary by Edith Holden and was published by Webb and Bower under the title ‘Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady’ in 1988.
In 2009 the interests of Webb and Bower in The Country Diary were acquired by Chorion company. In 2011, following the demise of the
Chorion, the rights were acquired by Lilytig Limited, who confirmed The Copyrights Group as the merchandise licensing agent. Working with Rowena Stott, a number of new merchandising and publishing initiatives have been introduced, including new ranges of cards, stationery, ceramics, and home furnishings.