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Lady Charlotte Guest (Hardback)

The Exceptional Life of a Female Industrialist

British History P&S History Women of History Biographies Wales 19th Century

By Victoria Owens
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Trailblazing Women
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526768810
Published: 30th September 2020

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£25.00


Award winner

Winner of the creative non-fiction category of the Wales Book of the Year Award 2021. Find out more about the awards via Literature Wales.

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When impoverished aristocrat Lady Charlotte Bertie married wealthy Welsh ironmaster John Guest of Dowlais in 1833, her relatives looked on with dismay. Yet despite their vast difference of background and age, over their nineteen-year long marriage, husband and wife enjoyed great happiness and much adventure. There would be ten children and while John built up an immense commercial empire, Charlotte championed Welsh culture.

Crucially, she taught herself John's business from the inside. Over the years, she made the keenest observation of iron production, the fluctuations of the trade and the engineering innovations that touched upon its developments. When John died in 1852, she was therefore uniquely well-placed to succeed him as head of the works - a remarkable position for a Victorian woman. Not only did she endeavour to introduce reforms, but also - rather to her dismay - had to weather a potentially destructive strike.

But success came at a price. With her star to all sight in the ascendant, Lady Charlotte suddenly chose to abandon all, leave Wales and marry her sons' tutor. This book traces the ardent, creative years of her first marriage, explores her determination - widowed - to preserve John's legacy, and observes her growing devotion to the scholarly Charles Schreiber.

An elegantly written portrait of a remarkable female Industrialist and patron of Welsh literature.
Read full review here

Nation Cymru

Featured by

The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology

Review by Joceline Bury

A shining example of the biographer's craft - inspiring and revelatory.

Jane Austen’s Regency World, January/February 2021

This book traces with exemplary vigour and commitment the ardent, creative years of Charlotte's first marriage to Sir John Josiah Guest, explores her determination to preserve John's legacy in the Dowlais locality, and then observes her growing devotion to the scholarly Charles Schreiber. The volume is produced to a high standard and contains some lovely illustrations too.

Read the full review here

gwales

A truly amazing and fascinating story - I urge you to read it!

Books Monthly

Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895) was a remarkable woman, who became an industrialist at a time when women were more often confined to the home than allowed a role in business. At age 21 she married ironmaster John Guest and moved with him to South Wales where he ran the Dowlais Ironworks, at that time the largest iron plant in the world. She immersed herself not only in Welsh life, culture and language, but also in the business, carrying it on after her husband’s death. This is a straightforward well-researched biography tracing Lady Charlotte’s life and giving a sympathetic insight into her thoughts and ambitions. Well worth reading to discover a somewhat different aspect of Victorian womanhood.

NetGalley, Mandy Jenkinson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lady Charlotte by Victoria Owens is a very warm and exciting and interesting and learning story! I don't think I have read any of her stories but I will look for more if they are along the lines of her style of writing. You can tell much research went into this story about not only the time period but also the history of the country,Wales. I learned so much not only of the customs of Wales but the time period,which was the Victorian age. You learn of Charlotte's life,her way of thinking and what she believed and why she did some of the things she did in her life. Following Charlotte's story you will see why this is a fantastic story and you will find out who this guest is! Not telling you, then you won't read this well written historical story of a remarkable woman and her life and decisions she made!

NetGalley, Trick Wiley

Lady Charlotte Guest is the kind of woman we need to be celebrating- and highlighting for what 19th century women could do when given the chance. She married iron master John Guest and discovered not only the beauty of Wales but also her innate talent for business. Extremely intelligent, Charlotte had a true gift for languages and learned Welsh after her marriage so that she could help preserve Welsh culture, which included translating and publishing a famous version of the "Mabinogion". The Guests were among the industrialists who looked towards the welfare of their workers, building schools and towns to house them, and Charlotte herself fought long and hard to get clean water to the town to prevent cholera epidemics. Charlotte fought to be treated as an intelligent equal by her husband and her fellow iron masters after taking over the business on her husband's death.

This new book by Victoria Owens is carefully researched and includes wonderful details, doing a brilliant job of following the sources available to create a vivid picture of not only Charlotte herself, but also the industrial world she was a part of developing.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lady Charlotte Guest was a woman who would be supremely interesting to meet and converse with! Born poor in 1812 in Lincolnshire, she was always enterprising and this characteristic lasted throughout her life. Thankfully, her prolific writing works (formally as author and translator and informally in personal journals) survived as they provide outstanding historical facts and her true feelings as a wife, mother, industrialist, friend, mentor and humanitarian. We get more than just a glimpse in this remarkable book.

She married John Guest, an ironmaster and a leading industrialist. An intelligent and engaged woman, she took it upon herself to research iron and manufacturing and then took an active role in furthering the company (including railway) and became John's secretary.

She had ten children and survived an explosion, cholera outbreaks and strike threats. Schools opened for workers' children and she helped educate. She was compassionate and promoted fairness. She helped John in his political career.

Loved the exhaustive research into Lady Charlotte's life. I'm so happy to have learned about her! This book is fascinating, gripping and thorough, so much so that I've been spending my morning reading more about her. The photographs are very interesting, too.

Those interested in the industrial revolution, 19th century British history and/or women in history should include this book in their repertoire.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

An interesting woman! I had never heard of Lady Charlotte Guest before finding this book on Pen & Swords' Netgalley page. I wasn't sure of much besides her, just that she was a woman who married into Welsh aristocracy and, after the death of her husband, managed his business. I thought she was an interesting woman who accomplished a lot. She learned Welsh to translate an important history work. Ran a business. Had ten kids. Quite amazing and I'd definitely read another book on her!

NetGalley, Caidyn Young

Lady Charlotte Guest by Victoria Owens is a very well-written biography of an impressive woman. The daughter of the Earl of Lindsey, Charlotte fell in love with John Guest, senior partner in a Welsh ironworks, when she was twenty-one and they married within three months of first meeting. Charlotte had already learnt Latin, Greek, French and Italian from her brother’s tutor and had taught herself Arabic, Hebrew and Farsi. She proceeded to learn Welsh after her marriage.

John’s nephew asked her to translate a technical book about hot-air blasting from French. Whilst she didn’t enjoy some aspects of the translation, it awoke an interest in the iron industry and she started to act as John’s secretary, thus also gaining a deep understanding of the business too.

As I mentioned above, this is a very well-written book. Rather than starting, as most biographies do, tracing the family from grandparents or earlier and meandering gently until we reach the birth of the main subject, the first chapter starts with Charlotte and John’s arrival in Dowlais after their wedding. The biography doesn’t seek to document every single thing the research has uncovered, regardless of relevance or interest (although there are a couple of paragraphs whose inclusion I would question, but only a couple). It moves along at pace and consistently referring to the couple as Charlotte and John brings us closer to them as real people.

NetGalley, Colin Edwards

About Victoria Owens

Winner of the inaugural 2009 Jane Austen short story competition, Victoria Owens is a published writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her novel 'Drawn to Perfection' was published by Hookline in 2013; Amberley Publishing brought out her study 'James Brindley and the Duke of Bridgewater - Canal Visionaries' in 2015; and her 'Aqueducts and Viaducts of Britain' appeared in March 2019.


Being interested in engineering history, Owens’s investigation of the industrial heritage of South Wales led her to encounter Lady Charlotte in her role as Iron Master of Dowlais, and she was determined to write about her.

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