Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen


Jane Austen (1775 - 1817)

It is now 192 years since Jane Austen’s death in 1817, and yet she is more popular than ever. Complex characters, intricate plots and brilliant dialog are just a few of the reasons why her fans are legion.  Her novels continue to delight because they portray communities that are microcosms of the larger world she inhabited.  Everything in society that is good and bad, serious and silly, important and trivial can be found in Pride and Prejudice’s village of Meryton, and all the highs and lows of courtship and love are embodied in Sense and Sensibility’s Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.  Although Jane Austen’s novels are set in a pre-industrial England where factories and time clocks didn’t exist, she connects to our complicated modern world because her characters are our families, friends and neighbors or at least we would like them to be.  For a look at Austen's era, please click on the Georgian/Regency tab on this website.


Chatsworth is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. It was only one of several homes owned by the Cavendish family, which included Hardwick Hall, Chiswick House and Bolton Abbey. At the time that Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Pride and Prejudice, William Cavendish, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, and his wife, Georgiana Spencer, would have been in residence.  The house is chock full of great art, including works by Gainsborough, Rembrandt, and Veronese.  There are some who think that Chatsworth may have been the model for Pemberley. That is unlikely because Jane Austen never visited Derbyshire, so she never actually saw Chatsworth.  However, it does make for a very nice filming location, including the most recent film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, where it did serve as Pemberley.

London After a Bombing Raid

Although the British government did a good job of clearing lots of destroyed buildings, empty lots would be a common sight for years to come.  Despite their victory over Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, rationing remained in force for meat, cheese, sugar, tea and sweets.  In the five years following the end of the war, the British had to endure further hardships:  bread was rationed; the size of meat rations was cut; and queues for basic foodstuffs, such as potatoes and oranges, were the norm.  A common sight was prams filled to overflowing with coal secured from emergency coal dumps.  Because of the massive bombing during the Blitz and the destruction caused by V-1 and V-2 rockets, tens of thousands of housing units had been destoryed.  Providing housing for so many people would present a problem for the local councils for a decade.

Berlins - Ruin of Kaiserhof Hotel

Shortly after the end of World War II, my father's sister, Mim, went to work for the State Department in Berlin (and took the photo at left).   As in the novel, Berliners were told to get out of their apartments because the buildings were needed by the Army of Occupation to house their employees, including my aunt. To modern ears, that may sound harsh, but Minooka/Scranton paid a high price in lives lost in WWII.  Among those killed were Patrick Faherty, my father's first cousin, who died when his ship was sunk in the Atlantic.  My Uncle Tom Lydon was injured when his ship, the USS Pompoon, was torpedoed near Venezuela and was taken to a hospital at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and my Uncle Joe Lydon landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day.  Although Mim's four brothers opposed her going to Berlin, fortune shined on her because that is where she met her husband, Ted.

Minooka Goes to War

In 1940, with Europe again at war, demand for war materiel for Great Britain opened once shuttered plants.  New factories for airplanes, tanks, and ordance were being built, and shipyards reopened.  The Depression was over.  In 1941, with America's entry into the war, the need for clerk typists exploded.  For a yearly salary of $1,440, women looking for clerical jobs descended on Washington from urban and rural areas across the country.  One of those ladies was my mother, Hannah Mahady Lydon.  The character of Maggie Joyce in Pemberley Remembered was modeled on my mother and her sisters-in-law who all moved to Washington during the war.  She was followed by dozens of women from her hometown of Minooka, PA, a coal mining town that had been particularly hard hit during the Depression.  My father, one of Roosevelt's "Whiz Kids" (young men and women who ran departments despite their youth because of their high scores on the Civil Service exams), worked in the U.S. Printing Office.  As soon as the war began, a housing shortage existed in the District.  My parents' apartment on M Street near Dupont Circle became a place to stay for friends and relatives until other accommodations could be found.

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 Flying Fortress - Ten man crew:  Pilot, Copilot, Navigator, Bombardier, Radio Operator, Left and Right Waist Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner, Top Turret Gunner/Flight Engineer and Tail Gunner.  Position with the highest fatalities was Waist Gunner.  Rob McAllister, Maggie's love interest in the novel, was a navigator who sat behind the bombardier in the Plexiglas "nose" of the plane below the pilots' positions.  In the novel, flak (exploding ordnance) hit the Plexiglas of the "Mama Mia" killing the bombardier, Pat Monaghan, and wounding Rob McAllister.  In 1943, crew members flying for the 8th Air Force based in England had to complete 25 missions before they could transfer to a non-combat role, but due to a lack of fighter support, casualty rates were very high.  The average number of missions flown before its airmen were killed or taken prisoner was 14.  With the arrival of the P-51 Mustang fighters, casualties dropped dramatically, and missions were increased to 30 and then 35.  By the time of the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Allies ruled the skies.

Hollywood Goes to War:  Pinups Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth; Patriotic Movies; Tyrone Power joins the Marines, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable join the Air Corps and Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, etc. getting read for a bond rally

Nurse's Aides during WWI

Beth Crowell was a Volunteer Aide Detachment (the equivalent of a nurse's aide) in the First World War and was assigned to a hospital which had previously been a casino in the resort town of LeToquet.  As an aide, Beth would have done everything from scrubbing floors to changing bandages.  They were known as "The Roses of No Man's Land."  The hospital was funded and headed by the Duchess of Westminster (Constance Cornwallis-West), who was married to one of the wealthiest men in England, Hugh "Bendor" Grosvenor.    The 2nd Duke of Westminster developed a prototype with Rolls Royce for an armored car, and he led a charge against the Turkish camp of Bir Asiso in the Middle East with these armored vehicles.

Ambulance Drive - WWI

Jack Crowell was a mechanic and ambulance driver during the First World War.   On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 20,000 British soldiers were killed.  Jack was driving an ambulance on that day, July 1, 1916, when his only brother, Tom, was killed.  The wounded were taken to a clearing station behind the lines, but because of the numbers of wounded, many men died while waiting for treatment.  After the war, Jack was assigned to a Graves Consolidation Unit which recovered the remains of soldiers hastily buried in graves scattered throughout Belgium and France and reburied in large British cemeteries.  Over the years, money was raised to build memorials in France and Belgium, some of which were monumental in size, such as those at Thievpal and Menin Gate.  Also, nearly every village and town in Great Britain erected a memorial to those killed in The Great War because there wasn't a town in the whole of the country who hadn't lost someone in World War I.

Antrhacite Coal Breaker

In the novel, Maggie Joyce lived in the shadow of a breaker similar to the one pictured here. The breaker was where the contents of the coal cars were dumped into revolving cylinders that crushed and screened the coal.  It was then channeled into a series of chutes and fed to the breaker boys who would be sitting on narrow planks over the coal moving beneath their feet. This process passed through a series of boys, each picking out slate and other impurities. Discipline was enforced by foremen who used leather switches on supposed slackers. In the early years, boys as young as eight were sent to the breaker. From there, they might graduate to become a door boy (a boy who controlled the air flow by opening and closing a door), a spragger (a boy who threw a heavy stick into the spokes of the wheel of a moving mine car to slow it down), or a mule driver.  Every occupation had its hazards, and maimed boys were a common sight in the coalfields.  Two of my great grandfathers, Thomas Lydon and John Mahady, were killed in the mines.  Their sons, Michael Lydon and Bill Mahady, my grandfathers, were breaker boys and mule drivers.

Minooka Gothic - Circa 1900

This picture was taken by an itinerant photographer who traveled up and down the line taking pictures of mining towns and its inhabitants.  Pictured is Michael and Mary Kerrigan Lydon and their two sons, John and Michael. The father was a miner, and his sons worked at the breaker. On this day, the older boy had run home and was able to wash up before the photographer arrived at the house. The young John ("Sharkey") is still covered with the grime from a hard day's work picking slate. This one picture manages to show the hardships faced by families in Minooka and in every coal patch town in eastern Pennsylvania.  But more hard times were coming.  Decline in orders for anthracite coal began with the end of World War I in 1918, and when the miners went on strike in 1928, many operators decided to shutter their mining operations.  By the time the Great Depression began in 1929, most miners were working only part-time, and because of a lack of employment, their children were leaving town looking for work wherever they could find it.  My father worked as a surveyor in western Maryland, and my mother found a job in Baltimore working for a manufacturer of radios. (Photo provided by Dr. Joseph F. Lydon)

Bootleg Coal during the Depression

"In 1930, [during the Great Depression], coal bootlegging probably doubled. It kept the stores open, the people from moving out. The boot-leggers started to work their holes and haul down their loot in the daytime. When the coal companies had some of them arrested, the poor boards promptly effected their release if they proved they had dug the coal for their own use. Then, too, local courts were strongly disinclined to sentence these offenders; and when they sent them to jail, the wardens soon turned them loose.  Here and there the companies blew up the bootleggers’ holes, but for every hole they blew up, three or four new ones appeared.  Town and county officials cautioned company representatives that unless they allowed the jobless to operate their holes, their taxes would have to be increased to pay for more relief.  Thus the companies were forced or induced to ‘tolerate’ the bootleggers, and bootlegging came into the full light of day. " 12/22/34, The Nation by Louis Adamic

Pictured is my mother, Hannah Mahady, and her sister, Helen, standing in front of their father's truck.  My grandfather paid Polish miners to load the truck with bootleg coal.  Before the repeal of Prohibition, he would drive the trucks to speakeasies in New York.  Afterwards, he supplied these now legitimate liquor establishments with coal because the owners had become used to the cheaper prices of bootleg coal.

"Arm of the Divil"

In the novel, one reason why Maggie did not want to return to Minooka was because of her brother, Patrick.  Patrick is actually a composite character of my father's brother, M.J. Lydon, who a neighbor referred to as "the arm of the divil," and another boy, Sharkey Lydon (a shirttail relation).  With a few other miscreants, they staged a strike at the high school, and when The Scranton Times sent out a reporter, M.J. gave his name as Harold Joyce, a Latin teacher at the school.  As in the book, M.J. did put a match to the candle drippings on a friend's altar boy cassock, and Sharkey Lydon and his brother, Joe, did enjoy lighting up Relief powdered milk because of its "explosive qualities."

An Irish Rebel

Pictured is my father's grandfather, Michael Anthony Faherty, who emigrated from Ireland with 13 other family members in 1883.  At that time, Ireland was ruled by the British Government, and sectarian violence was on the rise as a result of the Land League, which sought the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres owned by absentee landlords to native Irishmen.  Michael Faherty was a suspected agitator and was "encouraged" to move to the United States.  He was a miner for 40+ years which is evidenced by his expansive chest, a sign of emphysema, a common disease among miners.  A crusty, cranky, old man, he shared the house with his wife, unmarried son, son-in-law, daughter and their six children.  No wonder he was cranky.   Shown is my father's sister, Miriam.