Historical novel set in Doncaster explores the town’s agricultural heritage and the lives of real people

The book set in Doncaster in the 1800s delves into the fascinating world of the real people who lived in the town.

By Laura Andrew
Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 10:14 am

Jean Renwick based her book The Mourning Brooch off The Addy Family who originated from a farm in Bentley.

In 1849 a young farmer’s wife named Elizabeth Addy died.

She left behind two young girls named Mary-Ann and Frannie, one six years old and one just six months.

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Jean Renwick - author.

The novel follows the lives of these two Doncaster women as they age, find love and move out into the world.

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At the time of Elizabeth’s death her husband Joseph Addy commissioned a gold brooch to preserve her memory - it contained her hair interwoven with his own.

This brooch is what sparked off the creation of this novel - it was bequeathed to the author Jean in 1989.

The brooch was commissioned in the 1800s.

The 172 year old brooch came into her life from her godmother, Dorothy Walker.

She was inspired to delve into the brooch’s history and write turn the real life people connected to the jewellery into characters for her novel.

Her research began in 2006 and since then she has unwoven a tangled web of heritage that unveils a fascinating tale set in Doncaster.

Jean, aged 75, from Warwick, said: “When I got the brooch I was absolutely fascinated by it.

The book is available on Amazon.

“I got pulled into the research which was absolutely compulsive and just couldn’t stop.

“As the characters are based on real people a lot of the information came from records and from old press.”

For instance one character in the book is involved in a divorce which was very uncommon at the time.

In fact it made national news which meant Jean could pull articles from the Victorian era for information about the people she was writing about.

The novel is set in Bentley.

The novel takes place in Bentley, Arksey, Sprotbrough and Cadeby.

Jean came to Doncaster to research the place that she was writing about but due to Covid-19 wasn’t able to see as many sites as she wanted to.

She was able to see Arksey Church which is a main setting in the novel where characters are baptised, married and buried.

“The church is a gem,” Jean said.

“Built in 1120 and Norman it’s amazing.

“When I was there the vicar turned to me and said ‘The family you're writing about sat in these pews’ which put it all into perspective for me.”

Even though the characters are based on real people the author has given them added personalities from her imagination.

The book has been aided by the help of local historians such as Alison Vainlow and Jean Baldwin.

Amazingly since the book was published Jean has managed to track down living descendants of the people she wrote about.

This is book one in what Jean hopes will be a series.

She will next delve into the town’s railway heritage.

Jean also wants to look into the River Don and how flooding has affected generations of people in the town.

The book is self published and can be found on Amazon here.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.