The Disgrace of Kitty Grey

Written by Mary Hooper
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1813. Dairymaid Kitty Grey loves her work at Bridgeford Hall, and her heart beats fast for the young ferryman, Will, who she is sure loves her. Or does he? When he disappears, Kitty wonders whether he’s deserted her and gone to seek his fortune in London, something he often spoke of. So, when Miss Sophia asks her to go to London to pick up a copy of Jane Austen’s newly published Pride and Prejudice, Kitty jumps at the chance to track down Will and confront him with his perfidy.

She has no idea how big London is, or how thieves wait at coaching inns on the lookout for innocent country girls. Within minutes of her arrival, Miss Sophia’s money and Kitty’s own luggage is stolen. She now has no means of getting home, and how can she survive with just a few shillings in her pocket? Worse is to befall her. She manages to find a dirty room to lodge in and work in a malodorous city dairy (the cows live in the cellar), but her rapacious landlord accuses her of theft and arson and she is carted off to the notorious Newgate prison. Arson is a capital crime. Kitty faces the gallows…

I enjoyed this. Mary Hooper doesn’t pull her punches about London squalor, the degradation of life in Newgate prison for the penniless, or the arbitrariness of the Justice system. Kitty is innocent but she is still sentenced to transportation to Australia. My one niggle was whether Kitty’s noble employers at Bridgeford Hall would really welcome her back. Wouldn’t knowingly sheltering a convicted felon carry the death penalty?

The author’s appendix gives an illuminating insight into Newgate prison, the law, transportation, etc. This book is a cracking adventure, and girls of 11 plus are sure to enjoy it.