The Northrop Hall Trilogy

Northrop Hall

Northrop hall

Volume One:
NORTHROP HALL

In the first years of the Twentieth Century life at Northrop Hall carries on as it has always done, under the watchful eye of the dowager Lady Arndale. Her son Charles now runs the estate as his father had done before him, supported by his amenable wife Elspeth, who models herself on her mother-in-law. In a few years’ time their eldest son, Teddy, now away at public school, will return to learn the ways of the estate, which in due course he will inherit.

 

Lady Arndale does, however, have some worries; her younger son, William, has got himself a very beautiful but quite unsuitable wife. Selina has come from nowhere and Lady Arndale recognises an adventuress when she sees one, even if poor William doesn’t. She disapproves of their gadding about in the fashionable London society created by King Edward, but now he has just died and the new King George is believed to share the strict morals of his grandmother, the great Queen Victoria, for whose passing Lady Arndale is still in mourning. So no doubt Selina will be influenced to change her ways.

 

All the same she is glad that it is Charles who will inherit and preserve the traditional way of life at the hall, the hierarchy where everyone knows his place and his duty. Witchart, the all-powerful butler, in command of the indoor staff, ensures the smooth running of the household while Jimson, the head gardener, ensures perfection in the grounds with an invisible army of undergardeners who must never be seen by the gentry as they stroll among the flower beds or wander in the park.

 

In the nursery Nanny Stone rules as she did when Master Charles was a child. Now his younger children, Rupert and Laura, live with her in the nursery and no doubt when their elder brother Teddy finishes his education and comes home, he will marry and Nanny will look after his children too. Governesses come and go but Nanny Stone is a fixture, as unchanging as the nursery chimneypiece.

 

In the school which Lady Arndale founded forty-five years ago, the children of the estate workers are taught by Miss Poole who was appointed, at the age of fifteen, when the school was built. Here they learn to read and write and recite their catechism. The girls are taught needlework so that the best of them can be usefully employed as lady’s maids up at the hall. The boys are taught to be obedient farm workers. They too know their place in the hierarchy; regularly they sing:

 

The rich man at his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high or lowly
And ordered their estate.

 

It is a well ordered, predictable existence in which everyone, master and servant alike, knows their place. But the storm clouds are gathering over Europe and soon the outbreak of “the war to end all wars” will turn their world upside down, destroying all their old certainties.

 

The Years Between

The Years Between

Volume Two:
THE YEARS BETWEEN

After the horrors of the First World War, the Arndales, like so many others, must start again.

 

Northrop Hall itself has been turned into a rehabilitation home for returning soldiers, under the direction of Diana’s tireless husband, the good doctor James Bramley. Diana is proud of James and works dutifully alongside him, but she mourns the fact that their marriage has given her no children, and that James seems more devoted to his work than he is to her.

 

So when Sebastian, the love of her teenage years, reappears in her life, she can’t help wishing that fate had arranged things differently. Later on, pity drives Sebastian into making a disastrous marriage so it seems that there is no hope of happiness for either of them.

 

Meanwhile those early post-war years of the nineteen twenties are turning into the pre-war years, as the Nazis come to power in Germany in the thirties. Many believe that peace must be preserved at any price, even if it means appeasing Hitler. A few, like Sebastian, believe that war is inevitable. Before it breaks out he moves his wife and children to safety in the Yorkshire Dales. He himself is moved to London to work on building defences against the expected bombing raids. It is in the south that once more, by chance, he is reunited with Diana.

 

For Better, For Worse

For Better, For Worse

Volume Three:
FOR BETTER
FOR WORSE

Safely away from the bombing, Sebastian’s family suffer the heartbreaking death, through an inexplicable accident, of their only son. The three girls come to realise that their parents’ marriage is a sham, and that their loving father will never be happy until he is free of his censorious wife. His youngest daughter, Felicity, grows up into an intelligent, attractive young woman. Determined to help her father, she embarks on the journey that will, ultimately, bring her back to Northrop Hall and to the family who once lived there.


 

Reviews of The Northrop Hall Trilogy

The early years of the Twentieth Century, like the opening chapters of Northrop Hall, drift across the mind like a gentle breeze. Dowager Lady Arndale is a strict martinet and under her rule there is scarcely a ripple. Diana may suffer a disappointment in love, Selina may weave her wicked spells of enchantment and spite, a man may lose both his home and job for something that was not his fault, yet life goes smoothly on.

 

A sudden and accidental death begins the fundamental changes that are to destroy all this family have accepted as their due, and the onset of a cruel war brings death and disillusionment to the bravest. It is perhaps the story of one of the estate workers, however, that makes the heart wrench and gives this book its outstanding quality.

 

Because of her mother’s selfishness and the unkindness of others, Celia Arndale does not have the secure and loving childhood of her cousins. To reveal more of the plot of The Years Between might spoil the first book for those who have not yet read it. So I shall just say that it is the continuing story of the Arndale family and those around them as they contend with a changing world after the war. As the stories of Diana, Rupert, Laura, Sebastian and Celia unfold, the author’s tentacles embrace the reader keeping them fast until the last page. These absorbing books are a pleasure to read and must not be missed.

The Historical Novels Review

 

Margaret Bacon’s Northrop Hall opens with the conventional scenario of a titled family living in a stately home, where wealth, a huge estate and the servility of countless minions are taken for granted. Inevitably the plotline follows history: war breaks out, egalitarianism breaks in and what seemed to be an immutable way of life is destroyed or changed. The rebellious adolescent daughter escapes to become a nurse, her brother a doomed officer and their obedient servant a self-sacrificing soldier. But it is not so much the story which makes this book an engrossing read, as the individuality of its characters, whose behaviour and feelings are vividly and sensitively portrayed.

 

Margaret Bacon’s For Better for Worse completes the trilogy which began with Northrop Hall. This is the best kind of family saga, bringing both its characters and their times to life. I hope this is not the last we shall see of the Crawley family, first encountered before the outbreak of the First World War and here trying to rebuild a disrupted family life after the second. Detail and dialogue are Bacon’s strong points and she has a particular knack of creating memorable young women, whether delightful or devious, and of noticing the minutiae that add up to a complete picture of a particular world.

The Sunday Telegraph

 

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