Caitlin Davies blends fact and fiction in The Ghost of Lily Painter, an unusual story sparked from the author’s interest in her own house in Holloway, North London. In 2008, Annie Sweet moves into 43 Stanley Road with her husband and daughter. The house is chilly, the dog won’t stop barking, and her husband leaves her. Is there a bad spirit in the house which is bringing bad luck? Annie begins to explore the house’s history and discovers a music hall performer, Lily Painter, lived there briefly at the beginning of the twentieth century. What happened to her? Why does she disappear?
This is a well-researched historical story about turn-of-the-century music hall, the dilemma facing unmarried pregnant women, baby farms and modern-day family history research. It’s a fascinating tangle of three viewpoints across a century: Annie Sweet and her actress daughter Molly, Inspector William George who lived at 43 Stanley Road in 1901; and one of his lodgers, Miss Lily Painter. The baby farms narrative is based on the real lives of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison in 1902. They were baby farmers, women offering a lying-in service where women could deliver their babies then pay for their children to be adopted by ‘ladies’. Many of the babies never made it to their new homes. A terrible true story.
My only disappointment is that the ends are tied together too neatly, with a coincidence easily-spotted rather early in the story.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GHOST OF LILY PAINTER by @CaitlinDavies2 #adoption https://wp.me/paZ3MX-3U via #AdoptionStoriesBlog