The Low Road

By Katharine Quarmby

The Convictions of Hannah Tyrrell

Feminism | Fiction
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Behind The Low Road virtual masterclass

In a 90-minute, online masterclass, Katharine will share the true story behind the novel, showing archive documents, photos and paintings that led her on her search through Norfolk, London and Australia as she wove the strands of the book together. Plus everything at the Collectable level.
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The Low Road is set in rural England, London and Australia in the early nineteenth century. It is based on a true story I found whilst visiting my parents in the quiet Waveney Valley of a Norfolk woman, Mary Tyrell, who was staked through the heart after death in 1813. She had been questioned repeatedly about a suspected infanticide.

An older daughter, known only by the initials A.T., had survived. I traced her to the Refuge for the Destitute in Hackney. She had met another destitute, Anne Simpkins, there and they forged a friendship that deepened into love. In December 1821 they stole laundry from the Refuge, but were caught, stood trial at the Old Bailey, and were sentenced to transportation. They went first to the Millbank Penitentiary, survived marsh fever and were transferred to the prison hulks before being pardoned in 1824. They then went ‘on the town’ as prostitute. They both disappeared from the records - with just one last archive entry suggesting they were transported. The trail went cold so I decided to novelise their story but base it on a mosaic of the lives of men and women who were exiled in the largest forced migration in British history.

This novel is about uncovering lost histories: the stories of poor women from rural areas, the stories of the imprisoned, the stories of convicts sent to penal colonies, the stories of people who often left no records as a result of illiteracy and hardship. It also contains an important strand of narrative that explores experiences left out of the history books: a same-sex romance that evolves into a marriage of sorts two centuries before this was legally possible.

Pledge to help uncover these lost and hidden histories; bring them to light for a generation for whom this history of transgressive love is more relevant than ever.

ABOUT THE BOOK

  • A high-quality, demy hardback book
  • Approximately 400 pages and 90,000 words
  • The first novel by author and journalist Katharine Quarmby
  • Exclusive pledge levels available!

*Image credits: Design by Mecob. Images © Shutterstock. Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.

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  • Katharine Quarmby avatar

    Katharine Quarmby

    Katharine has written non-fiction, short stories and books for children. This is her first novel. Her non-fiction works include Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People and No Place to Call Home: Inside The Real Lives Of Gypsies And Travellers. Katharine also works as an investigative journalist and editor, with particular interests in disability, the environment, race and ethnicity and the care system.

  • The sound of it in the darkness, a thudding, the fracturing next, then silence before a screaming fills the air till it is quite full. I am held in a grip that defeats me.

    The man on the black horse is quite still. The constable looks at him. He nods. The stake descends again.

    I am screaming again, wet with tears is it or sweat is it and I can feel that I am held and I cannot break free.

    The grip releases as my eyes open and they are on each side of me and their voices are low, reassuring. I look at them in the candlelight and slowly come back to here, to now. He helps me up for a moment, I rest against him. She makes the bed and I lie down on cool cotton. Between the two of them.

    I wasn’t always like this. I think if I tell the truth it will help me, and so, as the light moves across the swept wooden floor, I make a start. The worst comes first. There will be gaps I don’t doubt. I will tell what I can when I can.

    Here I am when it started, as dusk falls at the end of a late spring day. I hear the sound of many footsteps outside the doctor’s house. I stand on my tippy toes and peep out of the attic window and as far as I can see there are people, a great crowd of them, processing slowly down the Thoroughfare. As they come closer I see that John Wypond is at the front.

    Then I see my mama lying on a cart. The sacking that should have covered her nakedness has slipped. The great concourse moves on and my eyes are scarred with this, as if a knife has seared my eyeballs.

    The birds do not sing so that the only sound is the trundling of the wheels, for the people are quite silent, their heads are bowed.

    I tear my sheet from my bed and I run down the backstairs in my linen shift, the one I had won. I keep my head down, join the back of the concourse.

    The light has nearly left the sky when we arrive at Lush Bush, where our parish ends and another begins. Everyone halts, and I bend down, creep between their legs. They are spattered with mud I see, blood on the butcher’s apron, the reek of unwashed people at the end of a day’s work.

    I see a great deep hole, hard by the willow tree. I hear the sound of a horse, trotting, and there is the Reverend Olderhall, on Black Bessie. He pulls on her bit and she walks through the crowd to the centre. To the hole.

    Two men lift my mama from the cart. I see now that she is dead, they spoke true. And then I am whirled upwards and Jem Summers is smiling at me and he hoists me to his shoulders and grips me there so I cannot move. Olderhall nods, once.

    The men tip my mama in the hole and it is then that I scream and try and throw my bed sheet in to shroud her, but I cannot reach her. Summers laughs and then is silent. Although Olderhall does not give a blessing all at once we all kneel and the people remove their hats. Olderhall high above us on Black Bessie, frowning.

    He nods again.

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  • Katharine Quarmby has written 1 private update. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    9th May 2022 Being an Object at the Refuge for the Destitute in Hackney

    Weavers Almshouses and the Refuge for the Destitute, painted by Thomas Shepherd, c1850

    I searched high and low through different archives to try and find a picture of the Refuge for the Destitute in Hackney, where the two main protagonists of The Low Road met in real life in 1820. This, above, is the only picture, and is probably of the Male Refuge, near the Female Refuge, although they…

    10th April 2022 Tracing the hidden lives of the poor in The Low Road

     

    In a few days the family will meet up in Norfolk for Easter - the first time for a couple of years because of Covid. It's a bit of a rolling roster, who ends up meeting at my mother's house, but pretty much every year there's an Easter egg hunt in the garden and a big meal on Easter Sunday. So Happy Easter for those of you who are celebrating - and thank you again for supporting The Low Road…

    25th March 2022 Behind The Low Road

    The river Waveney, full of water lilies and weeds

     

    Thank you all for supporting The Low Road. This story caught my attention seven years ago, when I was visiting my parents in the Waveney Valley, which runs between the border of the East Anglian counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It is a beloved watery landscape for me, with long views over the gentle watermeadows. But as I was to find…

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