The Fitch children are finally safe, after they and their friends were rescued from the grim orphanage Reed House by Minnie and Billy Marshall. Their children’s home Marshall’s is full of love and laughter, and a world away from their terrible ordeal of being sold to Una Reed for five shillings.There are many more children who still need a home, especially in a world where the workhouse is the last option for desperate families, and so Minnie makes it her mission to build Marshall’s into a refuge for all the waifs and strays.
But kind hearts can be taken advantage of, and before long, Marshall’s in under attack. Can Minnie and Billy keep their family together and keep all the children safe, or will they be torn apart again?
The Queen of the Black Country sagas is back with a heart-warming, unputdownable and unforgettable tale of triumph against the odds.
Extract from Minnie’s Orphans Lindsey Hutchinson
Adam Fitch and Billy Marshall stood waiting at the front of Stafford Gaol as they had done once a month for the last five years.
The door in the huge brick-built gatehouse was firmly locked and was flanked either side by a tall concrete wall.
Adam’s eyes glanced over the women leaning against the wall, awaiting a visit to their menfolk inside. Dressed in rags, some had scruffy children clinging to their worn skirts. Others stood alone as if trying to hide from the stigma of being a convict’s spouse. No one spoke. They simply waited patiently for the echoing sound of the key grating in the lock which heralded that their visit time was imminent.
Shuffling from foot to foot, Adam was eager for the wrought iron gates to swing open. He shivered. The spring sunshine gave very little warmth, but Adam realised it was anticipation which was making him shake rather than the cool air.
Lifting his flat cap, he pushed his dark hair back before replacing it. He heard a whisper from a small girl hiding behind her mother.
‘Is he a peaky blinder?’
‘Don’t be so daft!’ the woman scolded, but she eyed Adam warily nevertheless.
‘Won’t be long now, lad, and then we’ll not be coming again, God willing,’ Billy whispered as he laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Adam nodded and glanced around again at the small group of people who were also waiting. Young men with their own flat caps pulled low over watchful eyes, everyone keen to see whoever it was they had come to the prison to visit.
As he attempted to quell his excitement, Adam’s mind ran swiftly over the last few years of his fifteen-year-old life. His natural father, a pugilist, had been killed in the boxing ring. Adam and his sister were sold to Reed’s Orphanage by his stepfather, who died by the hand of his brother James in a freak accident. When Polly was then sold again to a wealthy family, Adam and his friends broke out to rescue her.
Feeling strong fingers squeeze gently at his arm, Adam glanced at the big man at his side. Billy Marshall, champion pugilist, now retired, had taught him how to box and so defend himself if and when the need arose. Billy had married Adam’s mum Minnie four years previously, and they had bought a massive property in Major Street, which was now a children’s home.
Whilst on the run from Reed’s, Adam and his friends had met up with three boys who were living together, thieving and scavenging to survive. Two of them, Echo and Flash, had joined Adam’s ever-expanding family; the third had been apprehended by the police, which was the reason for their visit here today. Adam and Billy were awaiting the release of Digit, who had served five years for theft.
So lost in his thoughts was he that Adam had not heard the warder come to unlock the doors. The squeal of hinges drew his attention and he again glanced at Billy.
‘They will let Digit out today, won’t they?’ he asked in barely more than a whisper.
Billy nodded confidently, and the two watched the small group of people shuffle forward into the yard. Then the huge wooden doors began to close and Adam felt his stomach lurch. Where was Digit? Had something happened since they had last seen him? Was he ill – had he died? Adam pushed the thought aside as he stared at the huge wooden doors, willing them to open.
‘Bloody hell, Digit – come on!’ Adam muttered.
‘Patience, lad – all in good time,’ Billy said.
Suddenly the door opened, and a young man stepped out into the yard. Toby Hanley, aka Digit, stood for a moment with the sun shining on his thick black hair, which was long and lank and badly in need of a wash. His dark eyes blinked at the bright sunlight, then they searched for the two friends who had promised to be there on his release. His clothes hung on his frame which had once been thickset and muscled but now after five years in gaol, appeared to have lost a little of that mass, although there was still strength beneath the bedraggled appearance.
Lindsey Hutchinson is a bestselling saga author whose novels include The Workhouse Children. She was born and raised in Wednesbury and was always destined to follow in the footsteps of her mother, the multi-million selling Meg Hutchinson.