A Cotswold vicarage, a former girls' boarding school in Surrey and a Jacobean house now buried in inner London -- these three houses represent the changing face of England over four centuries through the lives of the many people who lived in them.
Many lives indeed, from the wealthiest to the poorest. The pages of Gillian Tindall's fascinating new book teem with pen portraits, from Eugenia Stanhope who sold Lord Chesterfield's scandalous letters, to the autocratic vicar who held the same parish from age 28 to 82, from the just-literate wife of a parish clerk who wrote riddles in his registers, to the cow-keeper who farmed 226 acres in Hornsey till he sold them profitably when the railways came through.
The railways bypassed the Cotswold village, famous for its stone-masons, which remains rural to this day; whereas some Surrey inhabitants were, like the Jane Austen characters they resembled, already commuting to London in coaching days. Each house has gone through a series of physical transformations, most of all the seventeenth century merchant's house which eventually became the Conservative Club and then a drinking club for lorry drivers.
Gillian Tindall is a master of miniaturist history, making a particular place, person or situation stand for a much larger picture, and it is with the skill of an accomplished researcher and elegant writer that she paints this panorama, from the Reformation to the Oxford Movement, from poor relief run by church vestries to the age of the blogger.