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British Author
Born 1880 Died 1955

Constance Holme was was born on the 7th October 1880 at Owlet Ash in the village of Milnthorpe in Westmorland, the youngest of the fourteen children of John Holme and his wife Elizabeth Cartmel. Both her parent came from prominent Westmorland families; her father was the land agent for the nearby Dallam Tower estate and later became a local magistrate and deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Westmorland, whilst her mother was from a family who owned land in nearby Farleton. Constance's education began when she was sent as a boarder to the Methodist school at Oakfield Place in Arnside at the age of eight. This was followed by periods spent at Buckingham House in Birkenhead, Cedar Lodge at Blackheath in London, after which she returned to live with her parents at Milnthorpe.

Inspired by the local Westmorland landscape she began to write for her own entertainment and first found success as a local writer with her first two novels, Staggie Three (1905) and Hugh of Hughsdale (1906), being serialized in the Kendal Mercury between 1909 and 1911. She wrote Duck Egg Dick, a play in the local Westmorland dialect, which was peformed in Kendal in 1912, although her subsequent attempts to establish herself as a playwright met with little success. She also wrote poetry which was published in the Westminster Gazette and Country Life, which is now regarded as being "skilful but minor".

Her first novel to be given national prominence was Crump Folk Going Home which was published in 1913, when she was almost thirty-three years old. This and her next two novels, The Lonely Plough (1914) and The Old Road from Spain (1916), were all set in the Milnthorpe area and featured fictionalised accounts of life in the landowning class of Cumbria. The Lonely Plough which featured a dramatic account of the real-life River Kent flood of 1907 was the most successful of these early novels.

On the 8th February 1916 she married Frederick Punchard at St Peter's Church in Heversham. Like her father Frederick was a land agent, in his case for the Underley Hall estate outside Kirkby Lonsdale. The couple therefore settled at Kirkby Lonsdale where she was to spend the next twenty years of her life. She wrote a further five novels while living at Kirkby Lonsdale, all of which appeared under her maiden name. The first four of these novels (which she privately referred to as her Greek novels) differed from their predecessors in featuring a taughter time scheme, with characters from a humbler social level. The Beautiful End appeared in 1918, followed by The Splendid Fairing, which was awarded the Femina Vie Heureuse prize in May 1921, and The Trumpet in the Dust (1921). A few years later what many regard as her finest work; The Things which Belong (1925) appeared to be followed by what was to be her final completed work He-who-Came (1930) which featured a more 'supernatural' theme.

Her novels received respectable reviews in the literary journals of the time and Humphrey Milford, the chairman of the Oxford University Press, became an enthusiast for her work and reprinted many of her novels in the Oxford World's Classics series, and unusually agreed to become the first publisher for her collection of short stories entitled The Wisdom of the Simple which appeared in 1937. However by this time interest in her work was fading. The Saturday Review published an editorial on the 22nd January 1938 that claimed that "We are still hunting for someone who has actually read Constance Holme's novels." In answer to its query the journal received affirmative responses from eleven readers, including a Ruth G. Brown of the Oxford University Press who claimed that Holme "happens to be one of our most popular authors". Nevertheless sales were falling off and in her later years she received little in the way of royalties from her work.

When her husband retired in 1937, they returned to Milnthorpe to live at her parent's former house of Owlet Ash. Her later life was however to be plagued by ill heath as she suffered from sciatica, neuritis, and tetany amongst other things, and spent the rest of her life struggling to complete one more novel, The Jasper Sea, which was never in fact finished.

Her husband died of bronchopneumonia on the 25th April 1946, and with little in the way of income she could no longer afford to maintain the property at Owlet Ash and by 1953 was confined to a single room. In February 1954 she moved to a small terraced house in Arnside in order to be closer to her sister Annie, but Annie died just before the move could be accomplished and Constance followed shortly after, dying of cancer on the 17th June 1955. Her funeral which was held at St Thomas's Church in Milnthorpe and was attended by fewer than twenty people

Bibliography

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REFERENCES

Philip Gardner, ‘Holme , (Edith) Constance (1880–1955)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Charlotte Stewart, University of North Carolina. (Edith) Constance Holme from Dictionary of Literary Biography. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale
'Holme, Constance' A Dictionary of Writers and their Works. Ed. Michael Cox. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

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