The village of Stanwood lies in rural East Northamptonshire. Like any other village it has, in its time, been a microcosm, a lithosphere, a discrete domain with its own world of characters, its agglomeration of incident and its arrivals and departures.
I retain memories from my early childhood of a small, Victorian, red brick, end of terrace house there, with its rarely used front parlour, zinc bath still hanging on the back of the stairs, the no longer used outside privy, the long garden laid out to vegetables, the old water mill down the lane and a mere half mile away the mansion – the Big House – ever present, ever remote. Older villagers still remembered the uncertainty of seasonal work on farms or the grinding drudgery in machine-regulated mills or in the factories that churned out the country’s boots and shoes.
Volume One: Flora’s War
This book contains separate but intertwined layers that surround the central story, taking it from its origins in the late nineteenth century to a conclusion in 1940.
The central protagonist of the main narrative is Flora Smythe, daughter to Lord Augustus Smythe of Stanwood House and half-sister to The Hon. Dudley Smythe, Lord Augustus’ first-born son. Flora devotes every spare moment of her young life to horses – first to her pony and then to her colt, Juno. Her love of horses brings her into contact with the book’s other principal character, Will Cobley, a young villager who has a unique rapport with the animals and who, by the age of eighteen, is already far and away the best ploughman in the county.
The book’s second strand takes the form of a letter written at the end of the First World War by Flora’s mother, Alice Haverstock, to the twenty year old daughter from whom she was violently separated shortly after her birth. The letter explains how Alice was brought to Stanwood by Lord Augustus’ mother to tutor Dudley, her grandson; how, once at Stanwood she met and fell in love with Lord Augustus; how, whilst he may have only been thirteen years old, Dudley was already cruel, devious and vicious; how he loathed the process of learning, loathed his tutor and, on after discovering she was bearing his father’s child, how he set out to destroy her life.
The third strand takes the narrative forward to 1940, to London’s East End where the disgraced Dudley Smythe, now in his fifties has become a shadowy, but important figure in the capital’s criminal underworld. On coming across an obituary in The Times of his father’s death he determines to return to Stanwood House to claim his inheritance and to take revenge on those who he blames for his downfall.
Volume Two: Kit’s War
This book tells the story of Katherine (Kit) Dobson – cousin to Flora Smythe’s maid, Maisie Brown. Kit was born in 1900 and exiled at the age of twelve from Stanwood and its environs when her father moves to Surrey to take over his uncle’s garage. She returns finally to the village in 1918 as an unsung war heroine, a fully-fledged pilot and an aeronautical engineer. As in Volume One the story develops on multiple levels. One subsidiary strand of this book deals with the origin in 1868 of Henry The Earl of Chichester’s, hatred for his brother, Lord Augustus of Stanwood. The other strand tells the story of how Dudley teams up with his uncle (Henry Burkett-Smythe, Earl of Chichester), to try and ruin Lord Augustus’ reputation in order that he and his uncle will inherit the Stanwood estate.
Volume Three: Flora’s Peace
World War One is over. Flora, Amelia and Huon are about to face Henry, Earl of Chichester, with their respective partners, to discover what his plans are regarding their inheritances. They have already guessed that Dudley Smythe, Flora’s half-brother, is living at the Earl’s mansion, tying to cause enough trouble in order for him to regain control of his father’s estate.
But then, to Flora’s utter amazement, the letter from her long lost mother arrives at Stanwood House. Her world is turned upside down.