The Secrets of Ironbridge by Mollie Walton:  The second book in a gripping, drama-packed saga series - book review -

When teenager Beatrice Ashford leaves her home in Paris to live with her estranged family in Shropshire, her life is about to change in more ways than she could ever have imagined.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 4:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 4:21 pm
The Secrets of Ironbridge
The Secrets of Ironbridge

When teenager Beatrice Ashford leaves her home in Paris to live with her estranged family in Shropshire, her life is about to change in more ways than she could ever have imagined.

Welcome back to the second book in a gripping, drama-packed saga series set against the fascinating backdrop of the brick and ironwork foundries that became the beating heart of the nation’s industrial revolution.

Mollie Walton, pseudonym of historical novelist Rebecca Mascull, reveals she was inspired to write this exciting series on a trip to Shropshire where she gazed down from the world famous iron bridge near Telford… the pioneering structure which marked a turning point in English design and engineering.

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And after the success of The Daughters of Ironbridge, which introduced readers to families from both sides of the rigid 19th century class divide, Walton sweeps us back to 1850 to meet several generations of women whose lives and loves are forever prey to the fickle winds of fortune.

Margaret Ashford is returning to Southover, the mansion in Shropshire where she was born and raised, and the place she ran away from under a storm cloud of recrimination to start a new life in Paris.

But Margaret’s dreams never came true and she only just made ends meet for both herself and her daughter Beatrice, now aged eighteen, by giving English and pianoforte lessons. Now her father Ralph King has died, and suffering from ill health and eager to secure Beatrice’s future, she is finally going home.

For young Beatrice, this is a time of excitement tinged with fear. She has never before travelled far from her home in Montmartre, and she is about to encounter a complex family she barely knows… a family that has never experienced the lack of money that has been the constant companion of her life so far.

Soon Beatrice, a girl of beauty, sweet temperament and strength of character, wins the heart of her indomitable great-grandmother Queenie, but the privileged social position of her new family as masters of the local brickworks begins to make her feel uncomfortable.

And then Beatrice meets local brickburner Owen Malone, son of Anny, who was once a close friend of her mother. Owen is handsome, different and exciting, and from a class beneath her own, and they fall head over heels in love.

But an old family feud has been ignited, and growing industrial unrest threatens to drive them apart. Can they overcome their different backgrounds, and can Beatrice make amends for her family’s past?

A compelling blend of real history, rich period detail, and a gritty story brimming with love, loss, intrigue, hope, and bitter revenge, The Secrets of Ironbridge evokes the struggles, hardship and back-breaking working conditions of those tough pioneering years of the industrial revolution.

Here, Walton pays particular tribute to the hot, dirty, grinding work of the brickmakers, the people who created the bricks that built the houses which so many of us live and work in today.

The contrasts between the privileged life of the Kings and the families who toil in their factories and iron and brick-making foundries are exposed in stark relief as the unfolding love affair between Beatrice and Owen plays out against old feuds and social unrest.

With each character superbly portrayed, emotions high and passions powerful, and the bonds between friends and family movingly explored, this is a captivating, atmospheric story written with a warmth and insight that will delight Walton’s army of fans.

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)