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Monday 11 March 2024

The Clarks Factory Girls at War by May Ellis


Dear friends. There was a Clark's shoe factory in Plymouth, where I grew up, so I was intrigued to discover this historical fiction novel. It gives some interesting background on the Clarks family, who were Quakers. Woven throughout the book are the factory processes handled by the three women and their families at the centre of the story. 

It's my stop on the blog tour for The Clarks Factory Girls at War by May Ellis.


Publisher's Description

Life-long friends Louisa, Jeannie and Kate are following in the footsteps of their families, working at the Clarks shoe factory.

But when Britain declares war on Germany, the Somerset village of Street is shaken to its core. The Clarks factory is at the heart of life in the village, but the Clark family are Quakers and pacifists. Before long, there are fierce debates amongst the workers and tensions between those who oppose the war, and those who believe the village men should go to fight.

Each of the girls must decide her own position but as brothers and sweethearts leave for France, Louisa is relieved that her sweetheart Mattie, a Quaker, won’t be signing up. But she’ll soon find that they face fierce opposition at home as well as across the Channel.

Will the girls’ friendship be enough to keep them together, as everything around them falls apart?

A heartwarming and gripping new saga series perfect for fans of Elaine Everest and Rosie Clarke.

My Thoughts 

On paper this book is about three friends working at the Clarks factory in Somerset, and their different experiences of romance as Britain goes to war. However there's more to it than this simple proposition. 

We pull back the curtains to a world where women and girls are entirely subservient to men. Kate's father, a drunk, takes all of her wages and can do so until she's 21. He turns his back entirely on his wife when she falls ill, saying she's just being lazy. Men and boys earn a lot more than women. even when doing similar tasks, but housework and child rearing is entirely women's work. We learn that a few female role models exist - two women in the Clarks factory and one in the Clarks family, who's a Suffragette, but women generally had to be unmarried to get on.

Religion seems to dominate in Street. Although the Quaker Clark family, who run the factory, are highly respected, it's a different story for Louisa when she wants to court Mattie, a Quaker.

Meanwhile Douglas's motives for dating Quaker Jeannie are questioned. Is he hoping a change of religion will avoid him being conscripted?

Kate has been stepping out with Ted, after a shaky start. But he has suddenly turned cold and mysterious as he unexpectedly goes to the front, ending things with her first.

The book ends with uncertainty as Britain goes to war. Plenty of loose endings to pick up in the next book, as this is the first in a series. I haven't read any books in this genre before. but it seems there are several, set in different workplaces. 

It's a light, undemanding read that has surprising complexity and learnings. More period details would have satisfied my inner historian.

Purchase Link - https://mybook.to/clarksfactorysocial

About the Author

Alison Knight, writing as May Ellis, lives in Somerset, within sight of Glastonbury Tor. She volunteers at her local library and for the Alfred Gillett Trust (custodians of the Clark’s archives). 

Her first book, a contemporary romance, was published in 2014. Since then she has had five more novels published, including another romance and a YA time travel adventure. Her current series, based on the factory workers at Clark’s Shoes was inspired by her move to the area and her love of social history (and the treasure trove in the archives!).

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Thanks to the author, Rachel Gilbey from Rachel's Random Things and the publisher Boldwood Books for the advance digital copy in return for a book review.


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