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Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of a Great English Dynasty [Hardcover]

Catherine Bailey
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2007
Wentworth is in Yorkshire and was surrounded by seventy collieries employing tens of thousands of men. It is the finest and largest Georgian house in Britain and belonged to the Fitzwilliam family. It is England's forgotten palace and belonged to Britain's richest aristocrats. "Black Diamonds" tells the story of its demise: family feuds, forbidden love, class war, and a tragic and violent death played their part. But coal, one of the most emotive issues in twentieth-century British politics, lies at its heart. This is the extraordinary story of how the fabric of English society shifted beyond recognition in fifty turbulent years in the twentieth century.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (1 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670915424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670915422
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Magnificent . . . peels back the grand façade of Wentworth to
reveal a family riven with fueds, mental illness and forbidden love'
-- Tatler

`A compelling new history . . . fascinating insights into the
dynasty that once ruled this Yorkshire roost' -- Daily Mail

`A finely researched piece of social history' -- Sunday Times

`An aristocratic tale of epic proportions, this gripping novel
cleverly interweaves interviews, letters and historical fact . . .
Fascinating' -- Easy Living

`One heck of a good read . . . brilliant, gripping . . . 'Black
Diamonds' will keep you bolt upright all night' -- Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Catherine Bailey read History at Oxford University. She is a successful, award-winning television producer and director, making a range of critically acclaimed documentary films inspired by her interest in twentieth-century history. This is her first book. She lives in West London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
107 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You couldn't make this up 18 Mar 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have to express an interest, having been brought up in one of the villages mentioned, knowing some of the people quoted, & going to a school founded by Lady Mabel Smith. It was a really fascinating read which I found hard to put down. It isn't easy to link the generations in a large family, but the author does it very well, the product of a great deal of research into the family, & much wider.

As the son of a miner I was particularly interested in the detail of the lives of the miners & their families, & the varying attitudes of the mine owners. The machinations of Royalty, the Government, & the committees explained so much of their struggle. Again the attention to detail gave credence & real life to the situations without the story dragging. In passing I would contrast the detail given of the Denaby situation with its wholesale evictions & legal threats, surely a milestone in industrial relations & the awful plight of many working people, with the lack of any mention in his book "The Edwardians" by local Labour politician Roy Hattersley. I found this book gave real insight & understanding of some of the important events in British history of the twentieth century, better than many textbooks, as well as a surprise unfolding of an aristocratic dysfunctional family. You are left asking "Are they all like that?"
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Diamond of a Book! 7 Nov 2008
A fascinating book which tells the story of the feuding aristocratic Fitzwilliam family and their struggles, both inward and outward, to hold on to their historic seat at Wentworth House and ultimately their place in British society.

Set against the wider backdrop of both the First and Second World Wars this is a story of love, glamour, revenge and bravery. It is also the story of the British coal industry and how the nationalisation of that industry threatened to rip the heart out of the very fabric of British society and its class system and was seen by many as being a far greater threat to our country than Hitler.

The book explores the grinding poverty of the coal miners who risked and often lost their lives for a pittance whilst their masters, like the Fitzwilliams, grew rich from the mineral mining rights. It makes you feel desperately ashamed that our country was built on the sweat of these people who from childhood braved the most horrendous working conditions and who during their often short lives were never far from the threat of mutilation and death from mine collapses.

The book also explores the glamorous lifestyle of Peter Fitzwilliam (8th Earl) as he flitted around the French Riviera in an attempt to escape from his loveless marriage to Obby Fitzwilliam and his ultimately doomed liaison with the American heiress, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the devoutly Catholic daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy and sister of Jack and Bobby. Kick is vividly brought to life in the book and we feel her anguish as she tries to balance her love for firstly the Protestant Marquis of Hartington and secondly for the Protestant Peter Fitzwilliam with the demands of her Catholic faith and her fear of causing the first family of America any scandal.

This is a thought provoking book and as such it is not necessarily a quick read but one which I would have no trouble at all in recommending.
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145 of 152 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A local history that everyone should read 15 Jun 2007
A few miles from where I like is the small village of Wentworth and the little known (outside this area) building called Wentworth Woodhouse.

The house should be well known, as it's the largest non royal residence in Britain (I believe), and one of the largest in the world. The east front is the longest facade in Europe at 185 metres and the house covers over 2.5 acres. It's a mysterious place though. You can walk down the drive past it and be impressed by its scale, but nobody knows too much about the current owner, who apparently does live in it.

The house was built by the Wentworth family, who's members included Charles I's adviser in the lead up to the English Civil War and a British Prime Minister in the 1700's. It then passed to the Fitzwilliams, who still owned the house and large tracts of land at the beginning of the 20th century. The family wealth was sustained by coal mining.

Despite the huge historical and architectural significance of the house and its estate, it is difficult to find too much information about it. Therefore, when I found this book in a garden centre (which is actually in the grounds of the house), I had to buy it.

At first glance there was a disappointment. The book is subtitled "The Rise and Fall of a Great English Dynasty", but there is very little contained in it about the rise. The book starts in 1902 when the Fitzwilliams were at the height of their powers. They controlled the whole area, owning the mines where people worked and the houses where they lived. Thousands of people were utterly dependent on the Family for their wellbeing.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is much more than the history of one family. The first part also paints a vivid picture of the lives of miners is south yorkshire before the first war. It makes clear the difference between the conditions in mines owned by companies and those owned by the families such as the Fitzwilliams and the all-round care that they provided for the thousands who worked for them.The other side of the story was the details of the often dissolute life lived by some members of the family and the links with the Kennedy family.
There was an excellent section on the results of nationalisation in particular the open cast mining on the estate which destroyed much of the landscaped grounds & seems to have been no more than vindictiveness on behalf of the Labour government of the time.
It would have been good to know more about the house itself but a very good job has been done with the information available before it passed into the present hands which has cut off all access.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Social History
Thoroughly enjoyed the history of land ownership including the coal mines. The section about the kennedys was unecesssary and added little to the book.
Published 2 days ago by lesley wiles
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent.
This book should be compulsory reading in schools. It explains interestingly how we got from 1900 to the present day.
Published 2 days ago by David A Greenwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Helped with understanding the effects the WW1 had on changing our country, the research done helps those of us researching our ancestry.
Published 3 days ago by Lizzie
5.0 out of 5 stars BLACK DIAMONDS
Bought this book for my mum who has an interest in the history of this family. She has found the book to be very informative and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading... Read more
Published 5 days ago by sesc
5.0 out of 5 stars Review
This was one of the best and well researched biographies I have read for a very long time. I have given copies to my friends which I only do for outstanding books!
Published 6 days ago by Mina Bowater
5.0 out of 5 stars First class reading
I am so glad I was not born into the fitzwilliam family, so many of the family stabbing you in the back.
Published 8 days ago by a g desert
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative
This is excellent if you live in South Yorkshire, where I do. I used to play round there and had quite a few friends who lived in the pit villages, where I did. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Philip
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
I liked this book so much, I bought the kindle version and the paper version. Great mix of history (which I normally hate) and the story of the Wentworth Woodhouse and the family. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Tracy
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant history of 2 social classes in the early 20th century
I loved this book. The author has researched the subjects so well, drawing on letters and news reports and making a very informative read in the style of a well written novel. Read more
Published 16 days ago by mizee
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting!
A long book but well written so it draws you in and you get to know this complex and fascinating family.
Published 18 days ago by DORIANNE BUTLER
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