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15 June 2013

Malcolm Macdonald: World from Rough Stones

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From Rags to Riches with the Railways
Many years ago I read and enjoyed The Stevenson Family Saga by Malcolm Macdonald about the heady days of the early Victorian era when huge fortunes were made (and lost) during the first Industrial Revolution. "World from Rough Stones" is the first book in a series about the family of John and Nora Stephenson and their growing and increasingly profitable construction contracting business.

"World from Rough Stones" is the first book in a series about John Stevenson, a mountain of a man we meet first working as a Navvy digging a railway tunnel and his wife Nora, who came to him totally destitute but with a very sharp mind. Just after meeting Nora, with a bit of luck and some skulduggery, John takes over the contract to finish the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time. The contract has an almost impossible timetable and John has limited financial resources. John is a natural manager and gets the best out of the tough and wild men digging the tunnel. He soon finds that Nora has the most amazing financial and commercial skills which support him through the most difficult times.

The title of the next book in the series is "Rich are With You Always" which gives you some idea of the success of the Stevenson ventures. This series is similar to R Delderfield's better known Swann Family Saga (God is an Englishman and sequels) covering a similar era but the Swann's made their fortune by providing transport outside the railway and canal networks.

These were heady and exciting days when in a mere 50 years England transformed itself from an aristocratic and basically feudal society into the world's first industrial society. With the advent of the steam engine and locomotives, railways, factories and housing estates popped up like mushrooms, changing the face of the English countryside and society forever. The factional Stevenson family were an essential part of that revolution.

This book has been out of print for years and it was great to re-visit it now it is available on Kindle. I have a great interest the monumental social and economic changes in England in the first half of the 19th Century and this book was just as exciting to me as when I read it first. Some parts may now seem a bit ponderous but the insight into the period and some of the people involved in creating our modern world are just as gripping to me many years later.

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