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The Valley A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family by Richard Benson

The Valley A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family

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Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for biography 2015.

If I could nominate a Book of the Month, this would be it, Richard Benson’s family memoir has kept me up late and made me get up at dawn the next day to finish reading, to find out the end of the story, an intricate and powerful history of the miners and other working people who don’t usually find themselves in the spotlight. This is history from the working families’ point of view, a hundred years of toil and survival. The book excels at tiny details - exotic butterflies hatching out of chrysalises in imported timber but also the greater story such as the breaking of the coal industry and its effect on mining communities. Superbly well told, gripping as any novel, an important contribution to social history, recording an era of work and community now almost entirely eradicated. ~ Sue Baker

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The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. The Dearne Valley at the epicentre of the South Yorkshire coalfield is a collection of villages, close-knit communities, with their dance halls, clubs and pubs, that were home to four generations of the Hollingworth family. Here the author’s great-grandfather Walter Parkin, returned from the Great War, battered in body and mind, and then married. His daughter, Winnie, lived for 92 years in the Dearne Valley, a long life and a lot of living, its richness recounted in this epic tale. The hardship of work down the pits bred an astonishing kind of wit and vitality. Those mining communities are gone now, but they will never be forgotten.
~ The Good Book Guide


The Valley A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family by Richard Benson

The close-knit villages of the Dearne Valley were home to four generations of the Hollingworth family. Spanning Richard Benson's great-grandmother Winnie's ninety-two years in the valley, and drawing on years of historical research, interviews and anecdotes, The Valley lets us into generations of carousing and banter as the family's attempts to build a better and fairer world for themselves meet sometimes with triumph, sometimes with bitter defeat. Against a backdrop of underground explosions, strikes and pit closures, these are unflinching, deeply personal stories of battles between the sexes in a man's world sustained by strong women; of growing up, and the power of love and imagination to transform lives.


'It's hard to imagine a more compelling account of its generational aftereffects than the one contained here . Profoundly moving . To be allowed to share all of those secrets is, as Benson notes, a privilege for the writer - but it's a privilege for the reader too. This is social history at its very best' GQ Magazine

'The moving history of four generations of one Yorkshire mining family. Through them emerges the story of 20th century working-class England' Woman & Home

'This rare and finely tempered work serves up a devastating combination of memory and imagination ... The Valley is a landmark history Literary Review The detail is delivered in a fine poetic rhythm ... Wonderfully evocative ... Not for a heartbeat is there a false or faltering note as various life stories unfurl and conflate, invariably amid hardship and leading to heartbreak' The Times

'Could not be more meticulous or magically intimate if it tried . Exquisite, finely worked texture of petit point ... the reader comes to feel he is holding not a book of social history in his hands, but a fat and vivid novel ... The Valley is a masterpiece of empathy and good writing, and I hope that in months to come it will be on the receiving end of a great deal of reciprocal love' Observer

'Benson captures the hard graft and constant perils of colliery life with cinematic vividness ... For an unvarnished, well-crafted obituary of the human side of mining, there won't be anything better than The Valley' Independent

'The early sections of The Valley recall the world described by D. H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers but, with her spirit guides and secret passions, Winnie could have wandered in from the pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude ... The Valley is an extraordinary book about hidden lives' ***** Frances Wilson, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Richard Benson

Richard Benson is a former editor of The Face and has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK. The Farm is his first book.

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Book Info

Publication date

26th March 2015


Richard Benson

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Bloomsbury Publishing PLC


544 pages


Biography / Autobiography
All Shortlists and Winners
eBook Favourites

Family history, tracing ancestors
Local history



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