Researching a two hundred year old mystery
If the truth be told, most people who look into their family roots are not just hoping to discover where their ancestors came from but what they might have got up to. Nobody really believes that they will stumble across a forgotten ‘family pile’ or an unclaimed inheritance, but the prospect of a bit of mystery or gossip and the odd skeleton in the cupboard, does add spice to the search.
My husband and I had always shared a mutual interest in genealogy. For me, an aspiring historical novelist, what we discovered during our family history research was like winning the jackpot.
When we shook our family tree, a convict fell out and I quickly realised that the perfect plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap.
I’d wanted to write a book since I was eight years old and used to scribble down stories in old exercise books. Unfortunately, real life got in the way of literary ambition. Work commitments and raising a family took a large chunk out of my time and I just never got around to writing that bestseller.
In August 2004, when we made our amazing discovery, I was chatting on a genealogy message board with another forum member. He directed us to an online document which suggested that hubby’s four x great-grandfather was a convicted felon, sentenced to transportation to New South Wales, Australia.
We were stunned. Transported? If so, what had James Charlton done?
It took years of painstaking research at The National Archives in Kew and the local libraries in Northumberland to uncover the truth. What started as a hobby quickly became a quest.
James Charlton had been convicted of stealing over £1,157 from Kirkley Hall in 1810. He had allegedly been involved with the biggest heist Northumberland had ever known. The mystery of the burglary at Kirkley Hall had never been properly solved. Even by Regency standards James’ conviction was dodgy and there was a public outcry amongst the influential and literate middle-classes following his imprisonment.
Bit by bit, the story came together. By January 2009, I had enough information to start writing the novel – and then the real hard work began. It was bought by Knox Robinson Publishing and will be published on 8th December 2011.
We are absolutely delighted. Two hundred years after James’ conviction, the real story of the notorious Kirkley Hall robbery will finally be told.
Catching the Eagle
by Karen Charlton
(Based on a true story)
Easter Monday, 1809: Kirkley Hall manor house is mysteriously burgled. When suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton, he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.
When £1,157 rent money is stolen from Kirkley Hall, it is the biggest robbery Northumberland has ever known. The owner sends for Stephen Lavender, a principal officer with the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in London, to investigate the crime. Suspicion soon falls on impoverished farm labourer, Jamie Charlton, and the unpopular steward, Michael Aynsley.
Jamie Charlton is a loving family man but he is hot-tempered and careless. As the case grows against him, it seems that only his young brother, William, can save him from an impending miscarriage of justice.
But William is struggling with demons of his own. Desperate to break free from the tangled web of family ties which bind him to their small community, he is alarmed to find that he is falling in love with Jamie’s wife.
Set beneath the impenetrable gaze of a stray golden eagle whose fate seems to mirror that of Jamie's, Catching the Eagle, the first novel in the Regency Reivers Series, is a fictionalised account of a trial that devastated a family and divided a community.
‘Catching the Eagle’ is available to pre-order from amazon, Knox Robinson Publishing, The Book Depository and selected Waterstones’ branches in the UK.
Road to success pointed north
The Karen Charlton story
Karen Charlton was born in Sheffield and grew up in Leeds. She completed an English degree at Hull University. After a few years of roaming between various jobs in Harrogate, Ripon and Scarborough she finally settled in Teesside.
She completed a post graduate teaching certificate at Durham University. Since then, she has combined a teaching job at Grangefield Secondary School in Stockton, with her writing and raising her own pair of ‘little villains’.
Apart from her interest in genealogy, Karen enjoys reading, the theatre and a weekly trip to the village pub quiz.
Catching the Eagle is based on the true story of her family's notorious ancestor, Jamie Charlton.
Karen Charlton: Redcar, Cleveland