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on 27 February 2017
This is one of the best researched books I have ever had the great pleasure to read. I have been an avid rider for 50 years and this book I can honestly say is simply outstanding. The book is a delight to read written in a manner that takes you into so much history in an easily readable fashion. This is one of the books that when you finish reading, you feel a sadness that it had come to an end. Now I have to really search to try and find another book to match this one, I think it will be a long and hard search.
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on 2 January 2018
This is an epic book, detailing the winds of change in the landed gentry and the coal mines of England.
How times have changed, the landed gentry had so very much and their workers had so little.
Even then a kind and generous man could make life for his workers so very much better than a man whose only efforts were towards profit.
The lot of the working classes in England is a little better nowadays, but we still have a very poor pension, although it has been paid for throughout a working life.
I feel very unsettled after reading this history lesson, the rich are rich because they use the poor who do not have the means to advance themselves.
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on 9 July 2016
Very intriguing book and an insight into the history of mining and trade unions. This portrays the good and bad mine owners, and is portrayed through a neutral lens, telling the whole story, from the point of view of both the miners and the family who owned Wentworth and who happened to be the best pit owners in the area, looking after their miners better than all the others.
It tells of war, and peacetime, and the massive changes in society in a relative short space of time.
You may want to go and visit Wentworth Woodhouse after reading this. It has recently changed hands again, but will remain open to the public, supported by the National Trust initially. It is near Sheffield, in south Yorkshire.
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on 15 February 2018
I absolutely loved this book as I have lived near Wentworth all my life and knew nothing about it..Not only did it teach me so much about the people who owned Wentorth House and Village but also about the struggle of the miners to survive, something I am familiar with to a certain extent as my forefathers were all miners in Derbyshire and south Yorkshire.. I treasure this book and the author of this book for having shed so much light on the immense difference between the way of life of the miners and the aristocracy who bled them dry in order to live a life of great opulence.And most of all, I am immensely proud of those same miners who, with immense courage, abandoned the mines and their work on the estates of the aristocracy to fight and die for their country during two World Wars.I thank you with all my heart Catherine Bailey for the tribute you have made in your book to these men.
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on 29 May 2017
I visit Wentworth village on a regular basis so to read this book and to ba able to recognise the places mentioned in the book makes you feel you are touching the past.
At times it is quite sad in how things were seen and dealt with in that era. How the young boy who was likely tongue tied and treated as someone would be seen today as someone who had severe learning difficulties. How the Kennedys were involved with Wentworth was also fascinating. How the village miners and their families were treated by those at Wentworth House in comparison to other near by mining villages.
It's a powerful read from beginning to end.
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on 23 January 2016
I started reading Black Diamonds a long time ago, then life overtook me and it got forgotten. When the recent proposed sale of Wentworth Woodhouse was announced and the house was linked to Jane Austen's 'Pemberley', I thought it was time to find out more! I discovered that limited tours were available, so I saw the park, the West Front which is twice the length of the frontage of Buckingham Palace, the pillared hall, the marble salon, the Whistlejackjet room, the chapel and much more besides. I then got down to reading the book in earnest. Many of the papers and archives of the Fitzwilliam family and their home at Wentworth Woodhouse have been destroyed, so Catherine Bailey draws on whatever resources she could find, at times painting a picture of life at Wentworth by describing life elsewhere. She writes vividly and draws the reader along although at times I found myself wishing that she would stop digressing and get back to the main story or collection of stories. I grew up maybe 10 miles away to the South. My paternal ancestors lived much closer than that to the North and East and some of them undoubtedly worked below ground in mines owned by or linked to the Wentworth estate. My mothers maternal grandmother grew up not far to the West. Most of the place names mentioned in the story are familiar to me and, at times, I wondered if it could become a little tedious to readers who didn't already have pictures of these places in their minds eye? I'm going back next month to see more of the house and hopefully the East Front which Emanuel Shinwell failed to destroy in his vindictive action to take coal out of the park by open cast rather than drift mining. A fascinating read for anyone interested in the lives, times and decline of the great stately homes of England, illegitimacy and property rights which make Dickens's famous case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce pale into insignificance, the family of JFK, the history of coal and the nationalisation of the coal mines, the general strike and the effects on Britain of the treaty of Versailles and much more besides. I've given it 4* rather than 5* because I think a bit of editing and maybe transferring a few less relevant items (e.g. concerning some of the houses in what locals know as the Dukeries) to the notes or an additional section outside the main narrative would have improved readability as at times I found myself just urging her to 'get on with the story'. But overall WOW and a must read, especially for anyone born and brought up in the West Riding of Yorkshire. I loved it!
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VINE VOICEon 27 November 2011
Black Diamonds is a fascinating social history of the Fitzwilliam family who lived in the massive Wentworth House in South Yorkshire. The author's research was made more difficult by the secrecy and deliberate destruction of many of the historical documents relating to the Fitzwilliams. However what emerges is a family with little familial affection and loyalty - there is much greed, selfishness, spite and hubris. But on the other hand there seems to have been a real and continuing relationship between the family and the local mineworkers.

The events in the country at large and how they impinged on Wentworth are well researched. The Great Depression of the late 1920s was caused by the speculative activities of London's bankers and leading to the "flight from sterling" that led to a massive budget deficit. The solution? Cut unemployment benefit by 10%. As Catherine Bailey says: "Once again, labour, - the impoverished working class in Britain's old industries, a large percentage of them miners - was being asked to bear the cost of capital's mistakes." Now what does that remind me of?

In 1912 King George V and Queen Mary visited Wentworth. This was very much a Public Relations exercise as there was a growing feeling that the King was out of touch with ordinary people (and they were fearful about the revolutions afoot in various European countries). The plan was for the King to visit a local coal mine and meet some miners. But the King's visit was disrupted by an accident in a local mine leading to the deaths of 132 men and boys. This disaster reverberated round the country and had a great impact on everyone. But when the King and Queen wrote letters to the Earl thanking him for his hospitality at Wentworth neither of them mentioned the Cadeby disaster. So much for public relations!

I would have liked to have known more about the early history of the family and how they made their wealth before the Industrial Revolution. Also the part about Kathleen Kennedy and her relationship with Billy Hartington seemed a bit superfluous - and a bit too much like a soap opera!

A great read filled with insights into a vanished world.
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on 15 April 2015
This was a title that suggested, as stated, intrigue, and turmoil in one of the Great Families of the country, but, I found it so dis-appointing! After the setting of the story, about the Fitz-Williams, and their wonderful house, and parkland, I was so put off by the very heavy political bias that I almost gave up! While I can understand, that like a lot of other very fortunate families, they made sure that their Coal Mines, their miners, and their children, were provided for, it was very much 'At a Distance'! Even at the time of the miners strike, they did not make a stand, to show their Equals, that their particular miners meant more to them,- after all - without them - They would not have had the wealth and privilege that they did!! I would have so much preferred, to have heard more about the Family, the House and its up-keep, than again, the very biased view that was given.
Judy M.
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on 22 January 2013
Fascinating tale of aristocracy set against a 20th century social backdrop of the coal industry and war. Privilege and deprivation are both investigated. A great story and one that I had not heard before but I felt some of the writing was over-dramatized almost over-egging the unnecessary cliffhanger chapter endings. Some of the narrative seemed to veer off all over the place only to return at an unexpected later stage. Not sure if it is poor editing or bad writing.
However this is a really strong story with a great insight into life both at the top and the bottom of the social strata and what good benefactors actually did. There is also an interesting brush with the Kennedy clan revealing more about social mores and religious beliefs than I had previously known. Well worth a read
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on 24 October 2015
Finished this at last. An exemplary history book; lots of detail, clear chronology, anecdotes to bring the characters to life, and it provides an extraordinary insight into how people lived during the 19th and 29th centuries in particular. A huge frustration is the destruction of so much of the recent family archive - the description of servants carrying armfuls of priceless papers and letters out to a huge bonfire is sad in the extreme.
The thought of a film being made around the life of the Fitzwilliams and their fabulous house and estate stirs mixed feelings: it could be a Downton whitewash or it could be cursory and superficial. But then it could be marvellous, so let's wait and see. In the meantime the house is open at certain times for guided tours, all at fairly stiff prices, but for readers of Black Diamonds, a must!
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