Posted by: billpurdue | April 22, 2009

51 An interview with Paul Holland

As promised in Blog 50, here is an interview with the former Mansfield Town, Blades, Spirites and Bristol City player, Paul Holland. Paul is currently doing signing sessions for his new book, Talking Double Dutch [Breedon Books, £16.99, 9781859836972]. If you missed him in Mansfield last Saturday, he will be at Waterstone’s, Chesterfield from 10 am to 12 noon this Saturday (18th April) and in Waterstone’s Nottingham the following Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm.  My thanks to Paul for coming to Mansfield for the interview.

The fall of an English Dynasty.

Wentworth House in South Yorkshire is a stately home, but it isn’t one that is open to the public: in 1902 it was the largest privately owned house in Britain and it still is today. The house is the starting point for the story of the Fitzwilliam family : Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey [Penguin £8.99 9780141019239]. I’m grateful to my friend Janet for letting me borrow her copy – she had certainly enjoyed reading this incredible story. Shortly afterwards, two more people also recommended the book to me, so I just had to read it and I’m very glad I did.

The story of the Fitzwilliam family is centred around this ancestral pile, Wentworth House, whose east front is nearly twice as long as Buckingham Palace. The family has a very complicated history and researching it must have been especially difficult for the author due to a “bonfire” of sixteen tonnes of family papers held in 1972. Most of the book details the lives of William Charles de Meuron, 7th Earl Fitzwilliam and his son William Henry Lawrence Peter, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam: I was very grateful for the handy family tree at the start of the book which I needed to refer to quite a lot at first.

The book begins with the fight to prove William Charles’ (Billy’s) inheritance to the title since his father had taken his wife to a remote part of Canada where his son was born and no records had been kept. The Fitzwilliams were coal owners – that is they owned land under which coal was mined – and they also had two collieries of their own. There are many enthralling episodes in the lives of the two earls, but here is just one example; working conditions and pay for miners in the very early part of the 20th Century were extremely poor, but the Fitzwilliams were among the better employers in the industry. In 1912 the threat of civil unrest amongst the mineworkers and other trades was very real. It was the beginning of the reign of King George V and in order to strengthen the position of his throne against the threat of revolution, a public relations exercise was staged in which the King and Queen visited Wentworth in order to see for themselves the way miners worked underground. The description of their visit to Wentworth and their reaction to a serious mine disaster in a nearby colliery  (not owned by the Fitzwilliams) during their stay is enthralling and moving. In spite of the disaster, the King went ahead with a visit underground at one of the Fitzwilliam collieries. It is curious to note that in their royal highness’ letters of thanks sent after their stay they make no mention of the disaster and yet at the time both the King and Queen were visibly moved by the tragedy.

It is about two thirds of the way through the book, that a new family – the Kennedys – is introduced, but it is quite a while, perhaps too long, before we are allowed to find out what their connection is with the Fitzwilliams. We read about Katherine (Kick) Kennedy’s romance with Billy Cavendish, eldest son of the Duke of Devonshire and the agonising over whether the marriage should go ahead. The Kennedys were staunchly Catholic and the Devonshires Protestant. Not long after Billy Cavendish is killed in action in the second world war, much to the relief of Rose Kennedy, Kick’s mother, Kick falls for Peter Fitzwilliam, from another aristocratic, but, again,  Protestant family. This part of the story has another tragic ending.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it seems not everyone would say the same. In his Guardian review of the first (hardback) edition, Roy Hattersley criticises parts of the book for their resemblance to a romantic novel. It’s true that the writing style does seem to vary from time to time, but I think that is all part of the enjoyment of the book. I urge you to read it and form your own opinion.

Next time more humour .

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