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Illingworth House: 1 - Growing Agitation

Today we begin the serialisation of Illingworth House, a three-volume saga about a Yorkshire mill-owning dynasty.

It's author, the Reverend John Waddington-Feather, grew up in the area in which his story is set. He now lives in Shropshire.

John worked as a schoolmaster and is an ordained Anglican priest. For the past 38 years he has been a prison chaplain. He began writing novels as a hobby and has had number of books published. He also writes poetry, editing and publishing a poetry magazine.

In the first episode of the epic Illingworth House tale Sir Luke Illingworth is hurrying home from his mill, expecting the birth of a grandchild.

The Illingworth House novels are available from Spire Publishing in Toronto www.spirepublishing.com and alson from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss_b/202-3722478-2761436?initialSearch=1&url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=illingworth+house

In 1908 Bradford was as solid as the Empire it wove its cloth for. Its coffers were full and its wealth continued to grow, as did the satellite towns about it. Towns like Keighworth.

Smug in their own brand of self-assurance, its mill-masters reaped huge fortunes from their mills. They lived in grandiose mansions some distance out of town and it is one mansion and the family it housed that this story is all about.

Illingworth House stood in ten acres of land on the edge of town, well away from Keighworth and its muck. It was built to vaunt its owner's wealth, and it succeeded. Sir Luke Illingworth had spared nothing when he'd built the house towards the end of Victoria's reign.

It was in the classical style. Great pillars held up a portico with the Illingworth coat of arms carved on the tympanum. The wrought iron gates at the entrance boasted the same arms andopened into a long drive. And the family arms were prominent in other parts of the house: over the mantelpiece in the study, on the cutlery, on the doors of the open carriage before it was replaced by a gleaming Rolls Royce.

But Bradford was where the Illingworths' real business was done that made them their wealth. In the heart of the city their name was inscribed on a brass plate nailed to a solid teak door: "A. Illingworth and Son Ltd, Est. 1836." Amos had founded the firm in a modest way, but it had expanded greatly under his son, Luke, and now its mills straddled the Pennines. The family had gone up in the world, too, after Sir Luke had been made a baronet for services to industry - and the Conservative Party.

He left his office early that day. He'd been on edge since he'd arrived that morning, and for good reason. An heir to the Illingworth dynasty was about to be born and his agitation grew hour by hour till by late afternoon he could stand it no longer. He just had to go home and see how things were.

It hadn't gone unnoticed by his chief clerk, Harry Denton, who'd worked for Sir Luke all his life. He knew the office inside out and most of all he knew his place in it and made sure all below him knew theirs. Though he was very deferential to Sir Luke and his son Abe, those underneath Denton feared him. If he didn't get the work and respect he expected, they were fired.

Denton was pale-faced and willowy. He had a marked stoop and rarely smiled. When he did, it was a thin, sad smile. He was an elder at the Baptist Chapel in a lower middle-crustian suburb of Bradford, a tram ride into town. He'd never been known to miss a day at work or be late, and he'd never been known to miss attending chapel on the Sabbath.

He was a man of habit right down to laying out his clothes, his tidy spats and highly polished boots each night before he went to bed, and putting them on in the same order before he left for work. He carried a silver fob watch in his waistcoat pocket, which he pulled out at intervals whenever he caught junior staff sneaking in a few minutes late. He himself was first in the office and last out, opening and locking up each day.

That day he hovered obsequiously about his boss as Sir Luke cleared his desk and prepared to leave. "I hope all goes well, sir," he said softly, almost as if he was about to begin praying. "My thoughts are very much with you and young Mr Abraham and his wife." He gave his boss such a self-righteous look, his pale face seemed to glow in its own holy light.

"Thank you, Denton. I appreciate that," said Sir Luke, and the clerk's face gleamed brighter.

"I hope, sir, the new baby will be a boy" Denton continued.

"I hope so, too," the mill master replied with feeling. He hadn't worked his socks off to build up the firm for it to have no heir, for his baronetcy to fizzle out before it had got going.

Then he reverted to business. "You'll make sure those letters catch the afternoon post. I particularly want all those invoices to arrive tomorrow."

"Of course, sir," said Denton, inclining his head. "I'll send Tomkins with them now."

Sir Luke asked for his coat and hat, which Denton brought him, helping the old man on with his heavy overcoat and brushing his silk hat before he passed it to him. That done, the old man left the office, nodding at the employees he passed as they touched their forelocks to him.

He walked briskly past the row of portraits in the corridor outside, all directors of Illingworths like himself, starting with his father. Despite his sixty-odd years he walked with a spring, tripping down the broad staircase till he reached the ground floor where the main office was. On his way past, he peeped in briefly to check the clerks and secretaries were hard at it. Then he strode to the door, acknowledging the doorman's salute before taking his cab to the station.

Usually, he caught an evening train to Keighworth, but today he was early. There were no passengers in the first-class carriages, as on normal days; no fellow mill-masters going home to Ilkesworth in the next valley, so he had a compartment to himself. As he gazed through the window he thought about the grandchild about to be born.

He'd had three sons before their mothers died. The eldest was insane, a crazy giant locked up securely on one of Sir Luke's farms on the moors overlooking Keighworth. He paid the farmer and his men well to keep that monster well out of sight. Not for the Illingworths to have him put away in a public asylum, but to have him under their own lock and key well away from the common gaze. Sir Luke rarely saw him. He had hoped against hope he'd die when he was born, but he didn't; so badly malformed it sickened him to look on him. But the boy survived growing stronger each year into a monster. When his mother died, Sir Luke re-married within months, for Illingworths needed an heir.

A decade before, his youngest son had joined the Keighworth Yeomanry against his father's will and gone off and got himself killed in the Boer War. Though he grieved for him, he never forgave him for joining up and leaving the business. Only Abe had remained, loyal and a worker. He was the apple of his father's eye and if all went well, he was about to produce him an heir at long last.

As the train rumbled up Airedale, he watched the rows of dingy terrace houses roll by. They were blackened by decades of soot from the high mill chimneys, which made them blacker than ever.

Gradually they thinned as did the grim canopy of smoke, and countryside began to appear. Sir Luke lifted his eyes to the skyline and idly watched the farms perched there drift by. But his mind was elsewhere, at Illingworth House.

His son Abe had phoned him saying his wife was in labour. It should be all over by the time he arrived home, and he left the train hurriedly. The new-fangled car his son had bought was waiting for him at the station. He didn't like it, but the Rolls gave him status and that was sufficient. The chauffeur opened the door and ushered him in. Sir Luke leaned back into the plush leather, and though he wasn't given much to private prayer outside chapel on the Sabbath, when he left all that to the minister, he prayed silently that the newborn would be a boy.

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