The Daughters of Ironbridge
This is the debut saga from Walton, a successful transition for the author, who also pens historical fiction under her real name, Rebecca Mascull. She writes with admiration for the ordinary people whose toil fueled industrial growth in mid-19th-century England. The setting is Shropshire in the 1830s, over 50 years since the world’s first iron bridge—which gave the nearby town its name—was constructed over the River Severn. The two protagonists, Anny Woodvine and Margaret King, are unlikely friends. Anny is the amiable, well-loved daughter of a furnace filler at the ironworks, while Margaret, whose ironmaster father despairs of her shyness, lives in privilege at Southover, the wealthy estate overlooking the town.
When the girls first meet by accident in the woodland, Anny, whose mother taught her to read and write, has just taken a job running errands for Mr. King’s estate manager. She is nervous about speaking with the daughter of the house, but Margaret, a lonely girl abused by her older brother, Cyril, tries to put her at ease. They get to know one another through meetings and secret letters, but problems arise years later due to Cyril’s actions, and when a handsome artist comes to town.
Their story is rooted in the history of Ironbridge and the local region, with many examples of the class divide. Anny’s parents take pride in a good day’s work, while Mr. King (somewhat stereotypically) is cold and stern, aiming for profit above all. There’s also some mystery about a baby whose young mother died while carrying her across the iron bridge late one evening, but the plot doesn’t take the obvious route here. Despite some head-hopping which gives away people’s motives too early, The Daughters of Ironbridge is an engaging read with surprising twists, and the ending sets events up nicely for the next in the series.