HANNAH MASSEY Proud and canny, ignorant and intensely ambitious, Hannah Massey is a born ruler. Her kingdom may be only a working-class household in County Durham, but within its walls her iron will governs a predominantly male family and her word is unchallengeable law. Now, in late middle age, her ambition is still not satisfied. She wants to see her brood living in the house where she was in service as a young girl. The apple of Hannah's eye is her pretty younger daughter, Rosie, who has just returned home after a spell in London. Rosie had gone south, so Hannah thought, to escape the passionate pursuit of a young man she had known for most of her life. Her return is shrouded in mystery and evasions, and when the truth does come out, Hannah's world is torn apart. THE FIFTEEN STREETS Life in the Fifteen Streets was tough - a continual struggle for survival. Some families gave up and descended into a dismal state of grinding poverty. Others, like the O'Briens - and especially John O'Brien - fought grimly for a world they were only rarely allowed to glimpse. John O'Brien caught his 'glimpse' on the day he met Mary Llewellyn.
Mary, with her slim body and soft brown hair; Mary, who lived well, had beautiful clothes - who worked because she wanted to, not because she had to...When John O'Brien fell in love with Mary Llewellyn, he knew there was a gulf between them that nothing could bridge - it was the gulf of the Fifteen Streets.