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13 July 2013

Beryl Kingston: Tuppenny Times

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Rags to Riches selling Newspapers
This is a fascinating beginning of a historical family trilogy starting at the end of the 18th Century. Nan Smithen started the era as a ladies maid and by accident and sheer determination becomes one of the wealthiest women in England.

One evening 14 year old Nan is attacked by drunken sailors when returning from delivering a message for her master. She is rescued by 44 year old bachelor William Easter who happens to be passing by in his carriage. William is the third son of a wealthy family which tends to the heirs and not the spares. He is a meek, unhealthy but very kind man and he and Nan start up an unusual friendship which develops into marriage when she turns 16. On hearing of this relationship his uncaring family cuts off his allowance and spikes his businesses.

Within a few years they have 3 children, a circle of progressively minded friends and William is slowly drawing down his savings to maintain his standard of living. Nan and William visit France during the Revolution and see the trial and execution of the French King. After the execution there is a melee and William gets killed  helping a woman who has been attacked.

Nan is left a widow, with 3 small children, and little money. To survive she buys a news walk in the centre of London selling newspapers, both on the street and by delivery to wealthy houses and clubs. Through hard work and enterprise Nan builds her business into the biggest of its kind in London and is closely involved with the start of an information revolution where newssheets are being replaced by newspapers, the iconic "The Times" is established and steam driven printing machines are installed. All of this happens when the English public is worried about a French invasion which triggers a huge demand for newspapers.

Nan is soon one of the richest women in the country. Her family is very worried about what would happen if Nan married her long term spendthrift lover at a time when all property and wealth is transferred to the husband on marriage.

I enjoy reading family saga's about England in the late 18th and early 19th Century when that country was being transformed from a basically feudal society into the world's first industrialised economy. My favourites are R F Delderfield and Malcolm MacDonald and Beryl Kingston has been added to my list. Her writing may sometimes be a little tedious but she makes up for this with a clever tale and fascinating characters woven around some well researched and memorable parts of England's history. I look forward to reading the other books in this trilogy.

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