Catherine Bailey’s book, Black Diamonds, opens with the funeral of William the 6th, Earl of Fitzwilliam. The author uses this as a starting point to not only look into the lives of the aristocrats, but also as a way to focus on the intermingling lives of the aristocrats and the working class. She uses different historical factors such as class differences, the effects of two world wars on England, and how the labor government effectively brought about the end of one of the richest aristocratic families in English history. She uses this downfall to help readers better understand the history of the coal industry in England.
Bailey’s book discusses many different aspects of life, from social to economical. She focuses on both the lives of the Fitzwilliam’s family, as well as, the lives of the poor laborers that worked away in the mines for the family. In looking at these different aspects, Bailey is able to focus on many different stories that demonstrate what life was like for both the Fitzwilliam family and their workers. Stories such as the allegation that the 7th Earl, Fitzwilliam, was a changeling and not actually the true son, or how the story of the Fitzwilliam family ended with the tragic deaths of the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam and his mistress Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, the sister of JFK, in a plane crash.
Contained in this book is a large amount of worthwhile information and interesting facts that pertain to the state of affairs in and around the Wentworth house and its estate. Throughout the book, Bailey is able to show two things. First, she is able to accurately recount what brought about the virtual end of two classes in England, the lower coal workers and the very upper aristocrats, and second, she was able to demonstrate how much the lives of the Fitzwilliam’s depended on their workers. Finally, Bailey’s book does a wonderful job explaining how the lives of the aristocratic families, such as the Fitzwilliam’s, were affected by the working class and how the fall of one due to the creation of the steam engine brought about the fall of the other. Bailey’s book was a wonderful read that gave the reader a look into a part of society very few had access to, yet, it also showed how two classes who seemed to have no connection at all were dependent upon each other to survive. The book can be found in the general collection at the Bellevue University Library and can be checked out for 21 days.
Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than Books, V. 19 No. 3, Summer 2016.