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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2009
In the 1970s for days on end piles of family papers were burned in bonfires at Wentworth house in Yorkshire taking with it most of the late 19th and early 20th century history of the earls Fitzwillam. This is the reconstructed story of the aristocratic Wentworth family from their glory days, flush with coal wealth at the end of the 19th century to their decline and fall in the 20th century.

Wentworth house was one of the great treasure houses of the UK with the longest façade of any house in the country. It was stuffed to the rafters with all the treasures extraordinary wealth for 250 years could buy. However that wealth was bought on the backs of the miners who worked in the coal mines on their land. It comes as somewhat of a relief when you read this book to find the Earls weren't the demons to their employees that the corporations of the period were. In those days you considered yourself extremely fortunate to work in their mines. Yet despite this the revenge of the coal mining industry, when it came in the 20th century was devastating to Wentworth and when it's all said and done, it's a loss for us all if the description of the old house interiors and park are anything to go by - it could easily have been another Chatsworth House with better luck.

This is a fascinating book in which family decisions made for love, money or greed are played out over generations. You get a good look at the old British coal mining industry, service in the great houses and high society and a good look at Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (of THE American Kennedy's) who died with 8th Earl in a plane crash in 1948 and the occupation of the house in world war 2 which effectively bought an end to the house on a residential basis for the family. For a social history this book is hard to beat combining as it does a range of eccentric family members of the Wentworths and all the strange behaviour great wealth can bring.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2013
Catherine Bailey's Black Diamonds presents quite a challenge for me as a reviewer. In terms of content this piece is a treasure trove of information, but the formatting and haphazard construction make it an incredibly difficult piece to digest.

For the record Bailey does not cover the rise of the Fitzwilliams. She takes great liberties assuming the reader is already familiar with the family and entirely omits the early chapters of their history without so much as a footnote of explanation. The title was created in 1716, but Bailey's chronicle doesn't begin until 1902 with the death of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam leaving much of the family, not to mention the origins of their wealth and influence, shrouded in mystery.

This omission, however, is only the beginning. The biographical preface is followed immediately by an emotionless tour book style introduction illustrating the present day appearance of the house and surrounding grounds. Chapters 1 through 3 see a return to the biographic tone with a focus on William "Billy" Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 7th Earl Fitzwilliam and the legal difficulties he struggled with coming into his inheritance and though chapter 4 retains the same voice, it makes an abrupt departure and jumps back to 1839 for the birth William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton, to examine the life of Billy's father. Much to my annoyance, this erratic timetable is continued throughout the book.

To make matters worse Bailey seems to have had more than a little trouble determining the exact scope of her work. The description led me to believe this was a family history, but within the text, the personal lives and accomplishments of the Fitzwilliam's frequently fell to the way side as Bailey examined the coal mining industry, class conflict and the political upheaval that characterized England in the early and mid 1900s. Though I found the information intensely interesting, I often found myself wondering how the work of a pit pony and his adolescent driver or the breakdown of a coal miner's household budget impacted the inhabitants of Wentworth.

I probably don't need to illustrate my point any further, but the most glaring departure of the book takes place between pages 332 and 379, a span in which Bailey devotes nearly fifty pages to Kathleen Kennedy, sister of future president John F. Kennedy. I understand her appearance here considering her tragic death alongside Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, but these pages aren't about their affair. The two don't even meet until page 380. No, this section details her life as a debutante, as daughter of the American Ambassador, her career with the Red Cross and the personal trials she suffered during her relationship with William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. It is fun information, but entirely superfluous in the history of the Fitzwilliams.

Do I think the book is a waste? Not at all. Bailey presents a wealth of wonderful material in these pages, much of which I'd never before encountered. In terms of content, I loved this piece, but that being said I would have liked to see more coherency in the final product.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2013
I got this book on a whim, expecting the story of the Fitzwilliam family and their amazing Yorkshire palace, Wentworth Woodhouse, to be a Lady Montdore-ish look at "All This:" the excesses of the aristocracy. While Catherine Bailey does cover the family and their life at Wentworth very well - what a dim crew they were! - I was most fascinated about the inevitable collision between the coal-owning Fitzwilliams and the miners whose brutal labor made Wentworth possible, and made its downfall unavoidable. Open-pit mining up to the palace door. Abandonment. There is a sadness here, mainly of the architectural-historical kind. Bailey is a very good researcher and an even better writer. A pleasure to read a complex book with exactly two mistakes in it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2012
You will enjoy "Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of An English Dynasty" by Catherine Bailey, if you like period fiction novels and don't mind learning a bit of history at the same time. There are many amazing twists and surprises that make this a real page-turner. There is a rather large section in the middle that tends to go over-long about coal mining, but I was glad that I persevered, because it eventually picks back up the trail of the family drama, and the extra bonus is I now know more about coal mining and the class struggles in England than I ever thought I would. There are heartbreaking moments as well as pure fist-clenching fury at times. The wartime drama and the social and political connections are fascinating. It seems that every generation of this family had incredible connection to some of the most important happenings of their time. From blazing trails across the new world to the Kennedy connection, this book never fails to surprise and fully engage the reader from start to finish.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2013
This is an excellent book. However, Kindle editions suffer from not showing any photographs. Why can not these be included?
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2014
Black Diamonds is a fascinating social history of the coal mining industry in Yorkshire, England, in from the mid-nineteenth century through the nationalization of the industry in 1947.It centers around the Earls Fitzwilliam, whose home, Wentworth House, was built over the Barnsley seam, one of the richest coal deposits in England. The Fitzwilliams were unusual in that they both owned the land and administered the coal mines, rather than turning the mining over to outside managers and merely collecting the royalties. The result was an almost feudal system of mutual dependence and mutual responsibility spread over several generations.

The book tells the story of these years from the prospective of each side--the earls and their workers. In so doing, it documents the breakdown of system of mutual rights and responsibilities, which was attributable to both changing social mores and intrigues within the family itself which ultimately led to the end of the Fitzwilliam line and the loss of their ancestral home. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in English social
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2013
Fantastic book, well researched. It encompasses different eras of British history, global history, social and military, and particularly,the social struggles of the Yorkshire coal miners throughout the years. The Fitzwilliam family history reflects the hardships of both the aristocracy and the so-called lower classes.
The book explains the paradoxical role of the British mine owners aristocracy, who both exploited and through noblesse oblige, cared for them.
The scope of the book covers lives of the social elite including the Kennedys, and their connection to the British aristocracy.
A brilliant book which kept me , as a Yorkshire woman, absolutely fascinated. If you are British read it, it explains your heritage.
Write more, Catherine Bailey!!
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on March 2, 2014
Very interesting time in England. A lot of the book was Very dry information about the coal industry. I wanted more about the family.
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on January 22, 2015
really two books in one; pre world one and then under socialism world war two. A good read hard to put down.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2012
This is a true story. The story of an English family where the truth is definitely stranger than fiction. It is also the story of coal mining in the late nineteenth and early 20th century. It is well told and hard to put down. I was so surprised to see the picture of the Kennedy family and shocked to learn that after the death of Billy Hartington, Kathleen fell in love with the heir to the Fitawilliam fortune.
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