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Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

When I think of black diamonds, I think of the black gem stone, not coal. But coal and coal mining is the subject of this account of the aristocratic Fitzwilliam family and their Yorkshire coal mines. This fast-paced social history shows how coal gave this family its fortunes yet also caused its rapid downfall.

The family owned not only a vast estate but most important, the mineral rights to the coal below ground. The villages the coal miners lived in, the schools, hospitals, stores, everything that touched the miners' lives was dependent on the Fitzwilliam family. By all accounts they were decent people to work for and the mines were productive and successful. When the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902 he left an estate among the richest in England.

The family lived in the 300-plus room Wentworth House, once the largest privately owned house in England. But the politics that emerged after the great wars changed the family's fortunes in a spectacularly short time. The Labour government that came to power after the first World War levied massive taxes on the great landed estates; the government nationalized the country's mines following World War II. Today the Fitzwilliam estate is a wasteland and the once great Wentworth House a ruin.

Bailey writes books about the British aristocracy and their failings and foibles. In this fascinating book she lays the family's affairs, politics, deaths, alcoholism, illegitimate children, the cutting off of heirs and its ties to the Kennedy family bare for all to see. The story of their spectacular downfall reads like a novel. I found it fascinating.

 
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