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A chance visit to Gregynog leads to family connections and inspiration for historical novel described as "Welsh literature at its best"

A chance visit to the beautiful Gregynog Hall in Powys set off a chain of events that has led to the publication of a new historical novel set in mid Wales, People Like Us by Jan Brown.

After moving to mid-Wales in 2017, Jan Brown set out to explore the local area, including a visit to the historic house with Grade 1 listed gardens, Gregynog Hall. The visit became more than she expected and opened an unknown door on to her past. Jan says:
“I had a very strong sense of Déjà vu when I visited Gregynog. Following the visit, I spent time talking to my elderly father and asked him if he had ever taken me there. His answer was a revelation – my great-grandparents had lived and worked there as cook and carter.” 

Intrigued by the newly-found link, Jan began researching her ancestors’ story and spent many hours both at the archives of Gregynog and the National Library of Wales.

“I enjoyed piecing together the trajectory of my great-grandparents lives, in particular that of Margaret, my great-grandmother. Once I had unearthed the bones of the story I was compelled to write People Like Us. The novel is for the most part based on truth and the research I undertook, with a little creative licence to complete the narrative,” said Jan Brown.

The novel has been described by author and broadcaster Phil Carradice as “skilfully and elegantly straddles the thin line between fact and fiction. Ordinary people leading lives of extraordinary significance and worth. The book, like the people at its core, shines with vitality and warmth. The hardships of the time are not glossed over but there is a sense of pride and honour in every word. Welsh literature at its best.”

The story takes place in Montgomeryshire in the years 1800-1940. The central character is Margaret (Jan’s great-grandmother). From a poor background and despite setbacks, she climbs the ladder to work as a cook and later, housekeeper at Gregynog. Marriage and then widowhood see her succumb to the fate of many women at that time, with little or no control over their own lives.

The rumbles of the Suffragette movement were beginning to be heard in Wales, as in the rest of the Great Britain. This was true even in the small towns of mid Wales, where women were working long hours in the wool and flannel mills of Llanidloes and Newtown for less money than their male counterparts and opportunities for betterment were scarce.

“Margaret’s life was hard. Every time she managed to move up a level, circumstances conspired to drag her back down again. Her story is not unique, but her determination is unusual. People Like Us is one woman’s story set against a backdrop of huge social change, and also the story of many women at that time as they fought to gain a small level of power and control over their own lives and futures,” said Jan Brown.