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Dear Reader #132

Dear Reader,

This week, Sam’s Song received its 800th review. I can still recall my sense of wonder at reading the first review. Someone actually liked the book and gave it five stars 😱 Sam’s Song was supposed to be a one-off. Nineteen books later…

My direct ancestor, Philippa of Hainault 24 June 1310 – 15 August 1369, Queen of England, wife and political advisor of Edward III. More importantly she was popular because of her compassion. This is an ancestor I can definitely relate to.

Many of my London ancestors worked on the River Thames. Here’s a scene from 1895.

My direct ancestor, Isabelle Capet born 1292 in Paris, died 22 August 1358 in Hertford Castle. Isabelle was noted for her diplomatic skills, intelligence and beauty. She also overthrew her husband, Edward II, and embarked upon an affair with Roger Mortimer. A feisty woman.


The Gadsden branch of my family were millers, travellers, traders and latterly grocers. And in John Gadsden they were involved in ‘Popish plots’.

In 1650 a report stated that John Gadsden, a miller, possessed ‘a very ill character and is a very dangerous person and was very busy in a Popish Plot.’ He left his home ‘for fear of being taken up upon some matters against the government.’ However, he was easily found, betrayed by neighbours, and the deputy took him into custody. John’s fate was not recorded, but his death on 18 August 1666 in Newport Pagnell suggests that he survived that immediate crisis.

John’s son, Richard, my direct ancestor, was born on 6 July 1613 in Stoke Goldington, Buckinghamshire. In Newport Pagnell on 28 October 1633 Richard married Catherine Wright. The couple produced six children.

Around this time various members of the Gadsden family were travelling and trading in America and the West Indies. Some sources suggest that Richard died in St Kitts and Nevis, c1690.

French map of Nevis, 1764.

In 1690, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed the city of Jamestown, the capital of Nevis. The damage was so extensive that the survivors abandoned the city. It’s reputed that the whole city sank into the sea. To date, I have not been able to establish whether Richard witnessed this earthquake or was a victim. It’s possible that this might be a family legend with no basis in truth. Before stating the story as true I would like to discover more evidence. Colonial and shipping records show that the Gadsdens were definitely in the region during this period, but more research is required.

Richard and Catherine’s son, William, my direct ancestor, was born on 30 July 1642 in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. William married Mary Nicholl on 6 January 1668 in Stoke Goldington, Buckinghamshire. The couple produced eight children.

Again there is a suggestion that William died abroad, in 1691 in West Nimba, Liberia. What was he doing in Liberia? To answer that question, we need to look at Liberia’s history.

Map of Liberia, c1830.

Portuguese explorers established contacts with people living in what later became known as Liberia in 1462. They named the area Costa da Pimenta, the Pepper or Grain Coast, because of the abundance of melegueta pepper, a highly desired spice in European cooking.

In 1602 the Dutch established a trading post at Grand Cape Mount, but this was destroyed a year later. In 1663, the English established new trading posts on the Pepper Coast and it would appear that William was involved in them. Again, before confirming this as fact more research is required, but the patterns of the Gadsden’s lives and their interest in trade suggests the tale might contain a grain of truth.

The above generations of the Gadsdens illustrate the fascination and frustration of genealogy. The fascination is there on a personal level because these people are my ancestors and also as a storyteller I’m entranced by their stories. However, sometimes there are gaps in the historical records, which makes definitive proof impossible to find. Sometimes it’s tempting to follow this quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ As a storyteller, this appeals to me. However, as a social historian I like to base my family stories on fact.

After John, Richard and William Gadsden, we move on to firmer historical ground with Christopher, Robert and William. Their stories also involved travel, to America and Australia, and they featured in dramatic trials at the Old Bailey. More about them in future posts.

*****

My next blog post will appear after Christmas Day, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a healthy and happy Christmas with this Christmas card from 1876.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #130

Dear Reader,

My latest translation by Nelmari, the Afrikaans version of Sam’s Song. Available soon 🙂

My latest genealogy article appears on page 48 of the Seaside News.

Another scene familiar to my London ancestors, High Street, Camden Town, c1890.

This week saw the longest game in World Chess Championship history, 136 moves. Eventually, Magnus Carlsen’s rook, knight and two pawns proved too strong for Ian Nepomniachtchi’s queen. Carlsen currently leads the fourteen game series 4 – 3.

Arranging our Christmas decorations with the usual suspects 🌲

I’ve traced the Gadsden branch of my family back to 1086 and the Doomsday Book. At that time the name was recorded as Gatesdene. The family were living in Hertfordshire. Maybe they arrived with William the Conqueror, or shortly after. That said some sources suggest that the name Gadsden has English origins relating to ‘valley’.

A page from the Doomsday Book

The early Gadsdens were well-to-do, landowners who relative to the times enjoyed comfortable lifestyles. For most branches of the family this pattern continued into the nineteenth century.

The Gadsdens mixed with the nobility and moved in royal circles. An example: John of Gadsden was a physician to Edward II and Edward III, the first Englishman to hold that appointment. John wrote a book, Rosa Anglica, the first English textbook on medicine, which compiled the medical knowledge of his age. 

It is believed that John of Gadsden was familiar with the method of distilling fresh water from saltwater. This process, desalination, was thought to be a modern discovery.

Some of John of Gadsden’s contemporaries regarded him as a genius, the ‘brightest man of his age’. He was a philosopher, a philologist, a poet, he was skilled at manual operations and bone-setting, and he was a great oculist. He was skilled at physiognomy and wrote a treatise on chiromancy. A great dealer in ‘secrets’, he also performed ‘miracles’.

John’s greatest skill was in concocting ‘receipts’, potions. However, some people doubted his wisdom and regarded him as a superstitious quack. His doubters accused him of ‘laying baits’ for the delicate, the ladies and the rich. 

When small pox afflicted Edward II’s son, the future Edward III, the king called for John of Gadsden. John’s ‘prescription’ was to dress his patient in scarlet and ensure that everything about the sickbed was made of scarlet. John worked on the ‘sympathetic’ concept, which stated that the colour red cured inflammation. Quackery or not, the king’s son duly recovered ‘without a mark on his face’.

John wrote his book, Rosa Anglica, while resident at Merton College, Oxford. The source of his material stemmed from the Arabians and the moderns ‘who had written in Latin just before him’. His book was an encyclopaedia of all his potions and it offers an insight into the medical practices of the day, as applied to the nobility and common people.

The preface to Rosa Anglica

John wrote ‘Rosa Anglica, or Practical Medicine From Head to Foot’, between 1304 and 1317. His book contained four tracts on urine (a key to medieval medical diagnosis and treatment). The original manuscript was owned by All Souls College, Oxford, a leading centre of medical studies in Europe during the fifteenth century.

In his preface to ‘Rosa Anglica’ John wrote, ‘Just as the rose excels among flowers this book excels among textbooks on practical medicine.’ Clearly, he didn’t suffer from undue modesty.

John found time to be prebendary of St Paul’s. He also held theological posts at Chipping Norton and Chichester. Chaucer knew of him and mentioned him as the ‘Doctor of Physik’.

So, was John of Gadsden a genius or a quack? I suspect that he was a bit of both. Here’s an example of his quackery, a cure for toothache. John recommended that you should extract a tooth by smothering it with the fat from a dead green tree frog, cow dung or partridge brain. For the tooth to grow back, you should apply the brain of a hare to the gums. Clearly, this was nonsense and liable to do more harm than good. Yet, editions of his book were published in 1502 and 1595, and for centuries read throughout Europe.

A dentist with silver forceps and a necklace of large teeth, extracting a tooth c1365.

Many of John’s methods were based on superstition while others were crude. However, whether through luck or good judgment he formed a formidable reputation. 

John was a man of his time. Thankfully, over the centuries we have made advances in medicine. But we should also consider that future generations will look back on us and reckon that some of our methods were based on quackery and that they were crude.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #127

Dear Reader,

Preparing for 2022. The new year will see the continuation of my Sam Smith and Eve’s War series, the conclusion of my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War Saga, and the start of a new series, Women at War, five novels about ‘ordinary’ women fighting fascism in France, Spain and Bulgaria, 1936 – 1945.

Exciting news. My Sam Smith Mystery Series will be translated into Italian. We will make a start on Sam’s Song this week. As a European, I’m delighted that my books are available in twelve languages.

A rarity in the Victorian era, a husband’s petition for divorce, filed 16 November 1883. The husband stated that on ‘diverse occasions’ his wife committed adultery with ‘sundry persons’. Marriage dissolved. Damages awarded to the husband.

For Armistice Day.

My latest genealogy article for the Seaside News appears on page 36.

My direct ancestor Sir Edward Stradling was born c1295, the second son of Sir Peter de Stratelinges and Joan de Hawey. The exact location of his birthplace is unknown, but likely to be the family estates in Somerset.

When Sir Peter died, Joan married Sir John Penbrigg, who was granted wardship over Sir Peter’s estates and both young sons, Edward and his older brother, John, until they reached their twenty-first birthdays.

As an adult, Edward was Lord of St. Donats in Glamorgan, and Sheriff, Escheator, Justice of the Peace, and Knight of the Shire in Parliament for Somerset and Dorset. He rose to such prominence through his staunch support for Edward III.

St Donats Castle, a print from 1775.

Edward Stradling married Ellen, daughter and heiress of Sir Gilbert Strongbow. They produced the following children:

Edward (my direct ancestor) who married Gwenllian Berkerolles, daughter of Roger Berkerolles of East Orchard, Glamorgan.

John, who married Sarah, another daughter of Roger Berkerolles. Two bothers marrying two sisters.

When John died, c1316, Sir Edward inherited the following lands:

St Donat’s Castle, Glamorgan.

Combe Haweye, Watchet Haweye, Henley Grove by Bruton, Somerset, all of which included three messuages, a mill, five carucates, two virgates of land, thirty-one acres of meadow, and one hundred and forty-one acres of woodland.

Halsway and Coleford in Somerset.

Compton Hawey in Dorset.

Through his wife’s inheritance, he also obtained two manors in Oxfordshire. 

As Lord of St. Donats, Sir Edward rose against the Crown in the Despenser War of 1321–22. The war was a baronial revolt against Edward II led by marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, fuelled by opposition to Hugh Despenser the Younger, the royal favourite.

15th-century illustration showing Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer; execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger in the background.

The Crown arrested Sir Edward in January 1322 and seized all his lands in England and Wales. It took two years and a loyalty payment of £200 – £92,000 in today’s money – before his estates were restored.

When Edward II was deposed in 1327, Edward Stradling was knighted by Edward III. Several appointments followed, including Sheriff and Escheator of Somerset and Dorset 1343, MP for Somerset 1343, and Justice of the Peace for Somerset and Dorset 1346–47. On 11 September 1346, Sir Edward was one of three knights of Somerset at Edward III’s Westminster parliament.

Sir Edward was one of the chief patrons of Neath Abbey and on 20 October 1341 he gifted the monastery one acre of land. He died c1363, either in St Donats or Somerset.

The Strandling line continued through the second Sir Edward, born in 1318 in St Donats Castle to Sir William, born in 1365 in St. Donats, to another Sir Edward, born in 1389 in St Donats. This Sir Edward was Chamberlain and Receiver of South Wales, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset 1424-6, Steward and Receiver of Cantreselly and Penkelly, Keeper of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire (appointed 22 August 1439), Constable of Taunton 1434-42, and Knight of the Sepulchre.

Already well established amongst the nobility, the Stradling’s influence increased through the deeds of the third Sir Edward. He married Jane, daughter of Cardinal Beaufort, great uncle of Henry VI. This marriage ensured that he held a powerful position within the royal court. 

Administrative posts in South Wales and money followed. As with modern nobility, medieval nobility was a moneymaking-racket, a mafia, exploiting the poor. Lords and knights gave money to the Church to assuage their sins. Many lords were brutal and ruled through fear. Some, and I hope Edward was amongst them, used their positions of privilege and wealth to better their communities. For Edward these communities included parishes in Glamorgan, Somerset, Dorset and Oxfordshire. Of particular interest to me is the Stradling manor of Merthyr Mawr, a beautiful village, which is on my doorstep.

Sir Edward fought at Agincourt. He was captured by the French, and wool, a staple product of South Wales, was shipped to Brittany to defray his ransom.

In 1411, Sir Edward Stradling went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1452, aged sixty-three, he went on a second pilgrimage, but did not return. He died on 27 June 1452 in Jerusalem.

View of Jerusalem (Conrad Grünenberg, 1487).

To be a peasant or a noble in medieval times? Although I’m descended from noble houses, my inclination is to side with the peasants. Life is hard for the poor in any age, and it was certainly hard in medieval times. Against that, the nobles had to contend with political intrigues, treachery, wars and pilgrimages, from which many did not return. 

Given a choice, I think I would select a middle course, neither peasant nor noble, but an observer, a chronicler, recording my life and times. After all, through fiction, that’s what I do today.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #126

Dear Reader,

Some chart news. Operation Zigzag, book one in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, is #1 on the Amazon charts while Operation Cameo, which I’m currently writing, is a #34 hot new release. Many thanks to all my readers for making this possible.

Through Ellen, born c1320, daughter and heiress of Sir Gilbert Strongbow, I’ve added a Strongbow branch to my family tree. I wonder if this entitles me to free cider 🤔

As mentioned above, Operation Cameo is now available for pre-order. You can find full details here https://www.amazon.com/Operation-Cameo-Eves-Heroines-Book-ebook/dp/B09K82MQNY/

A view familiar to my London ancestors, the Strand looking west towards Trafalgar Square, 1890.

Just asked my youngest son, “What do you want for Christmas?”

“A skeleton.” (He’s thinking of becoming a doctor).

“Where are we going to keep it?”

“The front room.”

Welcome to the Addams family.

In this month’s issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads…

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Joanna Penn interviewed by Wendy H Jones

Plus…Art, Author Resources, Flash Fiction, New Releases, Photography, Poetry, Puzzles, Recipes, Travel and so much more!

The son of Zephaniah Thorpe and Margaret Entwistle, my direct ancestor Ralph Thorpe was baptised on 14 March 1753 in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire.

A warper, a common trade in Lancashire with its proliferation of cotton mills, Ralph moved south in the early 1780s and plied his trade in Essex and Norfolk.

A cotton warper oversaw the industrial process of winding threads from various bobbins on to a warp beam, which had one large bobbin at the back of the loom containing all the warp threads. These threads would gradually unwind during the weaving process, producing the cloth. Warping was the second stage of cotton cloth production, following winding.

A warping machine. Image: Wikipedia.

On 9 December 1783, Ralph married Mary Wakefield in Wanstead, Essex. The couple produced six children including my direct ancestor Thomas Thorpe who, on 9 October 1814, married Mary Ann Freeman and settled in Essex.

Mary Wakefield died on 25 February 1796. A few months later Ralph spent some time in St Thomas’ Hospital, London. That the couple were ill at roughly the same time suggests that they were affected by a transmittable disease. One possibility was smallpox.

Ironically, that same year, 1796, Edward Jenner demonstrated that an infection with the relatively mild cowpox virus conferred immunity against the deadly smallpox virus. His research was crucial in the development of the smallpox vaccine, the first effective vaccine against a contagious disease.

Painting by Ernest Board. Dr Edward Jenner performing his first vaccination on eight year old James Phipps, 14 May 1796.

St Thomas’ Hospital originated as an Augustinian infirmary in the twelfth century and was dissolved in 1540. In 1551 the hospital was refounded by royal charter and functioned as a general hospital for the sick-poor, including sufferers of venereal disease. 

Endowments gave St Thomas’ a degree of financial security. Nevertheless, they still charged patients admission fees, a policy that was condemned by the hospital’s critics for limiting the ability of the very poor to access its services.

A central court of governors governed the hospital and they could number over two hundred. These governors were wealthy individuals who gifted £50 each to the hospital.

Old St Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark, 1739. Image: The Wellcome Library.

The original St Thomas’s Hospital survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. However, upgrades were needed and between 1693 and 1720 more than £37,000 was raised in order to create an elegant classical structure around three spacious courtyards. The rebuilt hospital had nineteen wards, including two foule wards for venereal patients and a cutting ward with room for more than 400 patients. Male and female patients were strictly segregated, as were the venereal patients.

The medical staff included physicians, surgeons and an apothecary, who was not allowed to marry or run a private practice. The nursing staff included a matron, sisters and nurses. The sisters and their nurses lived in the hospital and had to be single or widowed. 

St Thomas’ catered for patients with a wide range of medical and surgical conditions although they did exclude people classed as ‘incurable’ or ‘insane’. Patients were not allowed to stay longer than three months, after which time they were deemed incurable. Ralph left St Thomas’ Hospital on 9 June 1796. Therefore, he must have entered a month or so after Mary died.

St Thomas’ Hospital treated large numbers of patients. In 1800 the total number of inpatients was more than 3,200 with a further 4,700 outpatients. In wartime the patients were often supplemented by large numbers of wounded soldiers and sailors.

‘Taking Physic’. Image: The Trustees of the British Museum.

The death rates at St Thomas’ were relatively low, although it must be remembered that the hospital did not admit ‘incurable’ patients. In 1726, 4,873 patients were cured while 392 died, a mortality rate of 7.4 percent. In 1735, 4,688 patients were cured while 307 died, a mortality rate of 6.1 per cent. This pattern of mortality rates continued throughout the century.

The patients could be disruptive with harassment, petty theft and ‘ward wandering’ reported. Some patients ran away before the completion of their treatment, especially venereal patients who were subjected to the deeply unpleasant and extremely painful mercury-based ‘salivation’ therapies.

Having recovered, but without his wife, Ralph returned to Bolton-le-Moors where, on 23 January 1803, he married Mary Holden. Ralph died on 28 August 1826 in Bolton-le-Moors.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #124

Dear Reader,

I’m researching the Victorian era and my poverty-stricken London ancestors. This is a view of Whitehall from Trafalgar Square, 1839. Produced by M de St Croix, it’s one of the earliest daguerreotype photographs of England, taken when M de St Croix was in London demonstrating Louis Daguerre’s pioneering photographic process during September and December 1839. 

In the foreground is Le Sueur’s statue of Charles I on horseback, and in the distance Inigo Jones’ Banqueting House – practically everything else has subsequently disappeared. The image has been reversed to show the scene as it was, as daguerreotypes only produce reversed views.

My direct ancestor Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile. Joan was born in April 1272 in Akko (Acre), Hazofan, Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Joan has appeared many times in fiction, often depicted as a ‘spoiled brat’.  There is no evidence that this depiction represents her true character, but the myth remains. That’s the power of fiction.

A lovely drawing of St Mary’s, West Bergholt, Essex, in the 1600s and 1700s the parish church of the Fincham, Balls, Clark and Sturgeon branches of my family.

My 4 x great grandmother Mary Ann Thorpe was baptised on 4 August 1816 in Great Braxted, Essex. The daughter of Thomas Thorpe and Mary Ann Freeman, she married Henry Wheeler on 3 November 1844 in St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey.

Mary Ann was Henry’s second wife. He was a petty thief. Also, she was eighteen years younger than him. Why did a young woman marry a far older, disreputable man? We will explore that question later.

A slum in Market Court, Kensington, 1860s.

Mary Ann and Henry produced four children: Mary Ann, Charlotte, Joseph and Nancy, my direct ancestor, who when married at sixteen changed her name to Annie. There was a nine year gap between Mary Ann’s birth and Charlotte’s birth. This pattern replicated Henry’s first marriage to Elizabeth Mitchell where there was a nine year gap between their first two children, Henry and Eliza. That marriage produced five children in total. Why the nine year gaps? Henry’s wives were clearly fertile, but he was not around. Where was he? Read on…

After each marriage and the birth of the first child, Henry resorted to petty crime to make ends meet. The family endured great hardship, extreme poverty, and with new mothers and babies to feed Henry became ‘light-fingered’.

At other times, Henry was no saint. His name features frequently in the criminal records. However, on many occasions he was found ‘not guilty’. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the Wheeler family lived their lives on the fringes of society and mixed with petty, and possibly, hardened criminals.

“Wentworth Street, Whitechapel”, 1872, by Gustave Doré (Wellcome Trust).

In 1845, after the birth of his daughter Mary Ann, Henry served a seven year prison sentence. The Victorians were keen on multiples of seven for their prison sentences, and this pattern extended to periods of transportation as well.

While Henry was in prison, his wife Mary Ann endured a difficult time. On 24 August 1849 it’s possible that she entered St Luke’s asylum. The records are sketchy, so it’s difficult to be certain, but the facts and circumstances fit so I am inclined to believe that she did spend some time in the asylum, maybe due to the burden of her circumstances. 

Or maybe Mary Ann suffered from long-standing mental health issues. It’s possible that those issues made a match with a man her own age unlikely, hence her choice of Henry, the eighteen year older petty criminal. The psychological profile certainly fits. That said, maybe it was a love match. Love can still blossom even in the most dire of circumstances.

Earlier, on 20 September 1848, Mary Ann entered the workhouse, a foreboding institution that was more a place of punishment than support. The Victorian era through the Industrial Revolution generated great wealth, but that wealth was concentrated on a relatively small number of individuals. These people were extremely rich, but they treated the poor with contempt. We can see a parallel in our own times.

Mary Ann left the workhouse on 10 January 1849, but her troubles were far from over. She still had a baby to feed, no husband to call on, and a fight against the diseases poverty brings. For all her troubles Mary Ann was a strong woman and lived to be eighty-six.

Before exploring Mary Ann’s later years, first we must go back in time, to 3 February 1845 when she found herself following her husband’s well-trodden path to the Old Bailey.

A trial at the Old Bailey.

Mary Ann was indicted for feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Susan Laws, on the 18 January 1845, and stealing two gowns, value 30s., the goods of Caroline Allen; and one shawl, 6s., the goods of Henry George Steer.

Caroline Allen, a dressmaker, gave evidence: she locked her door and went to bed late. In the morning, she discovered the door open and her possessions gone. She had no knowledge of Mary Ann. She also stated that two families and an old gentleman shared the dwelling-house.

John Robert Davis stated that he was a shopman to Mr. Folkard, a pawnbroker, in Blackfriars Road. On the 18 January, at half-past nine in the morning, Mary Ann pledged the stolen gown at the pawnbrokers and he gave her an inferior duplicate. He reckoned that Mary Ann made three shillings on the trade.

The Pawnbroker’s Shop, 1876. 

Police constable Michael Cregan stated that he visited Mary Ann’s lodging and found the gown and shawl hidden under bedclothes. The court also established that the main door was ‘broken open’ although there were no marks of violence. The conclusion was that someone had used a skeleton key.

Eliza Beale, a fellow lodger, stated that she knew Mary Ann and that she was ‘an unfortunate girl.’ – An observation on Mary Ann’s mental health? Crucially, Eliza added that she came home at four o’clock in the morning when a man and woman asked her if she knew where they could get a bed. She let them into her room. They had a bundle with them, but she did not see them the following morning.

Martha Winfield, the landlady, contradicted Eliza Beale. However, Martha did not live in the house and therefore she was not an eyewitness to the events that night. Her contradiction was based on opinion, not on fact.

Verdict: Not Guilty.

In her closing years, as a widow, Mary Ann lodged with other elderly people. Over her eight-six years she certainly witnessed the darker aspects of London life. She also witnessed a period of dramatic change. At no stage was Mary Ann’s life easy. But she battled through and her life stands as a testimony to the human spirit.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

#1 for value with 565,000 readers, The Fussy Librarian has helped my books to reach #1 on 31 occasions.

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