If ordering from outside of the UK you may need to pay duty and other handling fees on top of our carriage charges.

On 230th anniversary of Telford’s Appointment, a new novel set against construction of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

From Welsh publisher Y Lolfa this week comes a new historical novel set against the building of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Llangollen. Betrayal follows the story of a brother and sister from an impoverished background in 18th century north Wales. Peggin, abandoned by her family, must try to carve a new life as a housemaid. At the same time, her long-lost brother Joe has worked his way up to help oversee the construction of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct under engineer Thomas Telford.

In 1793 Telford was appointed to design and construct the Ellesmere Canal to link the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham with Chester. The most ambitious part of the project was Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a 307m stone and cast-iron bridge carrying the canal 38m above the River Dee in Llangollen. Constructed from 1795 to 1805, it was an incredible feat of engineering at the time and is now a World Heritage Site and one of Wales’ most celebrated landmarks, visited by around half a million people a year. Author Christine Purkis was amazed upon first seeing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and decided to learn more about its history and designer.

‘Having read all about it at the visitor’s centre, rich with information about the building of the great aqueduct, I knew immediately that I wanted to weave the story of its construction into my next novel,’ Christine says.

Christine Purkis’ previous novel, Jane Evans, a fictionalised account of the real Welsh woman who nursed with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, was Book of the Month for both WHSmiths and Welsh Museums. Her new novel, Betrayal, is set in the Llangollen area, and both Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Plas Newydd, the home of the renowned Ladies of Llangollen, feature heavily.

The Ladies of Llangollen are important figures in LGBTQ+ history. Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Sarah Ponsonby were two upper-class women in what was at the time a scandalous relationship, who fled to Llangollen from Ireland. They were involved in 18th-century literary circles and visitors to Plas Newydd included Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron, as well as military hero (and later Prime Minister) the Duke of Wellington. In Betrayal, they take in and educate Peggin, but she is a difficult character who ends up betraying them.

Author Christine Purkis explains her inspiration: ‘For some time I had wanted to write about Plas Newydd and the remarkable Ladies of Llangollen. Though their story was known and had been written about, I wanted to use the historical context for a fiction focusing on a servant to the Ladies who is reunited with a long-lost brother, who happens to be working for Telford on the aqueduct. The result is my novel Betrayal.’


Christine Purkis took to writing after a serious stroke, eventually graduating from Bath University with an MA in Creative Writing. She is the author of several children’s and young adult novels published by Random House, including PaddlefeetSea Change and The Shuttered Room. Her first novel for adults was Jane Evans (Y Lolfa, 2019). She is based in Bristol.

Betrayal by Christine Purkis (£9.99, Y Lolfa) is published on 28 April. It will be officially launched on 12 May on the John Sebastian Light Ship in Bristol.