The Chadwick Trilogy

Marcia on Staverton Station

Marcia on Staverton Station

Although the first book was to open in the summer of 1957 (on this platform at Staverton Station), it was soon very obvious that the history of the family at the centre of the trilogy was terribly important and much research was needed before Marcia started writing. How did this family come to be living in an unusual and rather over-large house in the south Devon countryside between Staverton and Rattery whilst still enjoying a reasonable private income in the late twentieth century?

There were, of course, a number of possibilities. We explored shipbuilding, mining and farming. We thought he may have been involved in the Great Western Railway. It was all great fun but we kept hitting the same buffers. ‘It’s very good,’ Marcia would say, ‘but it doesn’t sound right.’ Sometimes there was a slight variation. ‘Yes, I can see it makes sense but it’s not what my people are telling me.’ Right. Start again. Eventually we hit gold – or, to be more accurate, clay.

The story really starts in 1746 when a man from Kingsbridge called William Cookworthy discovers deposits of china clay in the west country – clay that was finer than any other in Europe. Initially the clay was used only in the production of fine pottery. Suddenly, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the demand for china clay soared when it became a vital ingredient in the coatings used in the manufacture of paper. It was at this time that the patriarch behind the stories arrives in Devon.

Edward Chadwick (born 1788, died 1881) on reaching adulthood sails overseas in search of a fortune – and he finds one. Like the tales of many other adventurers of the time, the details are vague but it had something to do with trade and some of it was probably running fairly close to the wind. In any event, in 1841 he returns to England determined to enjoy his wealth. He is soon bored by society in London and hears that new companies are being formed in the West Country to exploit this new market for china clay. Edward is soon a major shareholder and very active director in one of these companies.

Having sorted out the business side of his life, Edward turns his attention to more personal matters and sets about creating a home he considers suitable to a man of his standing situated near to the new, and very convenient, form of travel – the railway.

Finally he “uses his wealth – and considerable charm – to buy himself a well-born wife, half his age, but his formidable energies are, in the main, channeled into ensuring the success of the china clay workings so that, before his death, his fortune had doubled and redoubled.”

Everything mentioned above is based on fact although not everything happened to one person or one family as in this book.

Marcia had in mind a house which faced into a courtyard or walled garden. The approach to The Keep (as the house was to be called after the central, castellated tower built at Edward’s insistence) is through an archway joining two small lodges. Once the gates between the lodges are closed, a sanctuary is created.

Behind the house is another walled area containing the kitchen garden. Beyond are some paddocks leading down towards a stream alongside which a small coppice stands.

Marcia knew that the house was somewhere in the muddle of lanes between Staverton and Rattery. We never really decided exactly where it was although I do remember one early morning when we were looking for it. After driving around for a while, we stopped to let the dogs – the two Newfoundlands at that time – have a run and for us to have a warming cup of coffee. The sun was burning off a light mist and there was virtually no wind to add to the chill. Suddenly we heard a cuckoo calling in the wood below. He serenaded us while we drank our coffee and then, to our delight, flew out of the wood and across the field in which the dogs were playing. It is not that often one sees a cuckoo.

Having decided that the exact location of The Keep was not really critical, we were faced with trying to work out the family connections.

The Chadwick Trilogy starts in the June of 1957 when three children, whose parents and eldest brother have been killed by the Mau Mau in horrific circumstances, arrive to be with their grandmother at The Keep. It ends forty-one years later in the spring of 1998. Marcia wanted to have the opportunity to follow her main characters from childhood to parenthood and to the point where their children were approaching adulthood. At the same time she wished to explore how a family copes when a generation is removed, in this case a grandmother raising the grandchildren who are trying to come to terms with their loss, and the effect this would have on the three siblings.

Marcia being Marcia, it was inevitable that there were many other matters to be explored. One was triggered by Marcia spending time on retreat at a convent where she began to practice contemplative prayer. She rarely talks about these experiences as she is horrified at the idea of preaching but these retreats must have been an influence on her. I believe they nurtured Theo (and other characters in later books) who refuse to lower their own standards and who believe they have no strength of their own but must rely on God. On the other hand, Marcia has been blessed to know a number of wonderful clerics (including those who have served as chaplains in the services) and it would be wrong to ignore the impact that they have had on her.

When Headline agreed to publish a trilogy, Marcia thought that this was wonderful as she now knew where she was going for the next three years. It didn’t work out as she expected. It may have been three books but it was one story and the result was that she had no proper break from her writing for the whole of that time.

Each book is divided into four parts and each part covers a three month period as follows:-

Looking Forward: Summer 1957, Autumn 1962, Winter 1965 and Spring 1970.

Holding On: Summer 1972, Autumn 1976, Winter 1980 and Spring 1984.

Winning Through: Summer 1986, Autumn 1990. Winter 1994 and Spring 1998.

I leave you to ponder on two thoughts. How did Marcia manage to record on the page just three years of this family’s history whilst writing a seamless story spanning forty-one years? How many authors could have decided on such a format and made it work – not just for one book but for three? The remarkable thing is that not one person has even noticed – and that includes all the professionals (editors, proof readers, reviewers, etc) as well as her readers – or, if they have, they have kept it to themselves.

Marcia was very grateful to Hodder Headline for allowing her to write a trilogy before she was really established as a novelist. The first book, as we have seen, was hardly a modern story and readers were not to know that it was the first of a trilogy. Looking back, I am sure all her readers would agree that it was the right decision as these three books remain highly popular.

For some notes and photographs describing The Chadwick Trilogy country the link is TCT Country