Stealing Roses

Published by Allison & Busby

It is 1862, and the railway is coming to the bustling seaside town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Eveline Stanhope, is a forthright 19 year-old struggling against the restrictions of her middle-class Victorian life, and for her it means the destruction of much that she holds dear.

Eveline’s mother and sisters are determined to persuade her to marry Charles Sandham, who is heir to a title and a fortune; but Eveline’s disregard of convention, and her pursuit of the new science of photography, make them despair. All is not quite as it seems, however, within the Stanhope family, and as the summer unfolds secrets begin to emerge. The family finances are perilous; her sisters’ marriages are unravelling; old griefs emerge; and Eveline’s attempts to set things right lead her into unexpected danger.

Eveline – a passionate defender of those less fortunate than herself – also finds herself fighting against a terrible injustice, and campaigning for better conditions for the railway workers. The chief railway engineer, Thomas Armitage – that great tall, stern, scowling young man as Eveline’s Mama calls him – seems unmoved by her protests; but Eveline is determined, and soon she will find that the coming of the railway opens new horizons for her in a way she could never have imagined.

Part social commentary, part love story and coming of age drama, Stealing Roses is an insight into the cloying conventions of Victorian life and one free-spirited woman’s attempt to escape them and make her own way in the world.

More about the book . . .

The Cowes to Newport Railway

The Cowes to Newport Railway, on the Isle of Wight, did open on June 16th, 1862. The railway, though, is no longer there. Alas. The old Cowes station was on the site of what is now the Marks & Spencer Food Hall, and at the other end of the line in Newport the station has been replaced by an undertakers’ establishment – there are, at least, plaques on both buildings to remind us of former glories.

You can however still see part of the old railway tunnel leading from Arctic Road towards Mill Hill, and if you walk along the footpath by the River Medina you can see the remains of the footbridge which led across the track. Some Victorian cement kilns have recently been excavated at Dodnor, towards the Newport end of the railway line – the cement mill had its own railway halt. (And although the Cowes to Newport Railway is gone, you can still travel on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway at Havenstreet.)

There is also an apple tree growing alongside the old railway track – perhaps it grew from the apple core that Thomas threw out of the carriage window on the day the Cowes to Newport railway opened.

Cowes then and now

The Cowes of Victorian times was not so very different from its present-day incarnation. Many of the shop-fronts in the High Street are still recognisable in old photographs; engravings and prints from the 1860s show that the seafront, the churches, the Castle (now the Royal Yacht Squadron) and many of the older houses have changed very little.

Many of the settings for the book are still easily recognisable in present-day Cowes – the site of the railway station, the Union Inn, the seafront, the beach where the bathing huts used to stand – and Eveline’s family home is loosely based on Northwood House, home of the annual Isle of Wight Literary Festival.

York Terrace, a row of cottages in York Street, Cowes, were built in 1862 and are the model for the workers’ houses that Thomas caused to be built.

Eveline and photography

Eveline’s essays in photography are based on the techniques of Julia Margaret Cameron, who lived on the Isle of Wight, and is now widely regarded as a pioneer, not least because it was then extremely unusual for a woman to be a photographer. She was a friend of the Tennysons and of many other eminent Victorians, and great-aunt of Virginia Woolf.

There is a splendid museum devoted to Mrs. Cameron on the Island, at Dimbola, her home in Freshwater, and many of her pictures are now in national collections.