The rise and fall of a family, and the extraordinary, troubling story of their involvement in slavery, narrated against a panoramic backdrop of love, war, politics and commerce.

Like many well-to-do Georgian families, the Atkinsons’ wealth was acquired at a terrible cost, through the labour and lives of enslaved Africans. Drawing on his ancestors’ private correspondence, Richard Atkinson pieces together their unsettling story, from the weather-beaten house in Cumbria where they once lived to the ruins of their sugar estates in Jamaica. On a more local note to Hexham one of the branches of Richard's family ,the Claytons, lived a few miles from Hexham at Chesters (where the Roman fort is) and were highly involved in Newcastle local politics - one of them, John Clayton, was the instigator of the major redevelopment of the town centre in the 1830s, and Clayton Street is named after him.

This extraordinarily original work of detective biography is a vivid tale of a single family, their lives and loves, and is also a uniquely personal account offering an intimate insight into one of the most disturbing chapters in Britain’s colonial past.

Illustrated Talk

‘Enthralling… Full of drama, surprises, twists and turns. There are wars, sudden bankruptcies, doomed love affairs, tragic early deaths and bitter family feuds, all involving a cast of Atkinsons brilliantly brought to life… The surprises continue until the very last page’ Matthew Parker, Literary Review

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Booking Information

  • Priority Booking for Festival Friends opens at 08.00 on Tuesday 19th April. Tickets go on general sale from Thursday 21st April. 
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