The Quarryman’s Wife

Written by Elizabeth Gill
Review by Douglas Kemp

Set in the north-east of England in the middle of the industrialising 19th century, this is a rather grim saga of personal hardship, a tale of events conspiring to make a difficult life even more challenging and heartrending. Nell Almond is widowed with the sudden death of her husband. Not only does she has have to cope with her bereavement, but the family’s stone quarry, which her husband had owned and run, needs to be managed, and Nell has to face a number of severe difficulties in keeping the quarry a going concern to provide an income. Nell also had the death of her daughter Arabella, who left Nell responsible for her orphaned grandson, Frederick. For various reasons, Nell decides to farm Frederick off to a local family to be looked after – but she suffers all sorts of consequences. There is unhappiness, conflict and desperation. Through it all though, there is room for human compassion, for the determination to act on one’s conscience and do the right thing.

This is a well plotted and interesting saga, well located in this historical context of England in the 19th century, when there was no social support, and when times were hard (as they invariably were) then you could only rely on family, friends, and neighbours to keep you from starvation or (horror!) the threat of the workhouse.