'Love, Duty & Sacrifice' by Nicola Webb: a true love story that defied convention and class

In 1860 in Annesley, Nottinghamshire, John Patricius (Patrick) Chaworth-Musters is born, heir to a wealthy landowning and mining family. Worlds away, Mary Anne Sharpe is born into a poor family of rural straw plaiters in Bedfordshire in 1863.

Mary Anne joins the Chaworth-Musters household as a junior nursery housemaid in 1881. Less than two years later, aged twenty-three, Patrick gets twenty-year-old Mary Anne pregnant. His parents fail to part them, so send them to live in Norway, unwed, but away from ‘polite society’.

Four years and four children later, Patrick inherits the family’s vast estate early in life. Against all odds, he returns to England with Mary Anne and marries her, thus legitimising their children. She reluctantly takes on the daunting task of lady of the manor, controlling the very servants she’d so recently reported to. She succeeds brilliantly, being hailed as the ‘Grande Dame’ of county society yet feels an imposter for much of her life.

Happily matched, the couple have eleven children but lose three sons, a son-in-law, brother-in-law and a nephew in the Great War. This is a story of love, duty, and sacrifice, which within 100 years, leaves the dynasty shattered and the family’s wealth drained.

Author, Nicola Webb’s journey to Annesley was sparked by reading a few sentences on the Chaworth-Musters family in a book (Up and Down Stairs) by Jeremy Musson, and him sending her an extract of a private family memoir, which prompted Nicola to contact several family members. It soon became clear to her that the seemingly archetypal ‘master and maid’ story of Patrick and Mary Anne, was so much more than that and Nicola felt compelled to bring the pair to life.

The book is the result of five year’s painstaking research, which took her from Nottingham to Norfolk and Norway, as well as the various arenas of the Great War. The research included reading hundreds of original family letters covering several decades, lodged in libraries in Nottingham and Norfolk. Excerpts from these letters are used extensively throughout the book, together with memoirs from family members and extracts from the Thoroton Society (Patrick’s mother Lina was an early member and an active local and family historian).

Whilst the book is based on actual people and occurrences, Nicola has created some short scenes and dialogue surrounding key events, which bring the story to life in a touching way. Most poignant perhaps, are the chapters covering the couple’s six sons and other family members in World War One. Here the words of their boys – ranging in age from only just 18 to 26 – bring the realities of the war to life; from the early jingoistic pride to the degradation of life in the trenches, with periods of boredom punctuated by the horror.

Reviews are starting to come in for the book. Local historian David Amos has mentioned it in his recent talks, saying that it “fills an important gap in the history of Annesley” and Dr Tony Gray, Director of Oxford Writing Mentors says:“The story Nicola has put together is quite remarkable; full of fascinating detail and obviously the fruit of many hours research.”

The book is likely to appeal to anyone interested in local Notts history, the Victorian ‘Downton Abbey’ lifestyle, World War One and family sagas.

Love, Duty & Sacrifice: One Hundred years of a Victorian Nottinghamshire family by Nicola Webb is available in print form (349 pages, £12.99) and Kindle (£3.99) on Amazon by searching for Nicola Webb.


Shortened Bitly link: https://amzn.to/3nJq730