A poet in the churchyard


Forncett has two well-documented links to famous poets. Dorothy Wordsworth lived at St. Peter's rectory between 1788 and 1794, when her uncle, Rev. William Cookson, was the rector. Her more famous brother, William Wordsworth, also visited her here on a number of occasions. Nearly two hundred years later Philip Larkin, who was staying nearby at Tharston, came to St. Peters and wrote in his diary 'I shall remember Forncett for a long time: the roaring trees, the exultant rooks, the flowering graveyard.'

However, it is less well known that a published Victorian poet lies buried in St. Peter's churchyard. A beautiful stained-glass window in the south chancel of the church was placed there in 1892 to honour the memory of James Wilson Holme. 

Photo - Richard Ball
Photo - Richard Ball

Intriguingly, Wilson Holme never lived in Forncett, wasn't born here and didn't die in the parish, so why is he interred and commemorated at St. Peters?

James Wilson Holme was born in Liverpool, in June 1829. His father, Samuel Holme, was a builder and a Victorian entrepreneur who became, at one time, the largest employer in Liverpool. James was educated at Wadham College, Oxford and, after marrying in 1859, he became a successful solicitor, living in St George's Square, Westminster. On his death in 1892 he left an estate of over £17,000 (around £1.5m in today's currency). However, James Wilson Holme wasn't just a successful solicitor, he was also a prolific poet who published at least three books under the pseudonym Philip Acton (the name of his maternal grandfather).

Wilson Holme's link to Forncett is that he was the brother of Maria Atkinson Holme, the wife of the Forncett rector, William Grieve Wilson who served the parish from 1847-1896. James Wilson Holme was just 18 when his sister first moved to Forncett and he almost certainly came here from time to time to visit her. It seems that the tranquil rural life led him to decide to be interred here. His wife, Caroline, outlived him by nearly thirty years and, although she too is commemorated on his grave, she is buried elsewhere in Sussex.

So, the poet Philip Acton lies peacefully at rest and largely forgotten in the south-east corner of the churchyard. The attractive photograph of his grave was taken by Nigel Battley in 2017 and published on the FindaGrave website.