Saturday 14 October 2023

The Low Road by Katharine Quarmby

Hannah Tyrell's childhood was a happy one. She and her mother lived and worked on a farm in the Waveney valley in Norfolk, and despite some villagers looking down on her mother for being unmarried, their lives were settled and content. Then tragedy struck - Hannah's mother is arrested for the suspected murder of her newborn child, and commits suicide, and, the village not wanting to support her, Hannah sent away to a Refuge for the Destitute in London.

The one instance of companionship and love she finds there is deemed 'unnatural' and 'vicious' , and an attempt to run away leads Hannah into further trouble. Moving from one bad situation to a worse, her life cycles downwards until eventfully she's transported to Australia. 

The Low Road is the moving story of a young girl caught up, through no fault of her own, in the early 19th century system of Refuges and Workhouses that took care of the destitute. If you've ever watched the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? which traces family trees, you'll be aware that once part of that system there's very little chance of escape.

It's a gritty, realistic story - both depressingly familiar, and yet unique; focusing on one individual, Hannah, and bringing life and compassion to the 'statistics' of Refuges' drudgery and transportation. An interesting read based on real-life records which brings the injustices of the past vividly to life.

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