County Durham author ‘stunned’ after Hillary Clinton backs mining book

Image source, Margaret Hedley

Image caption,

Hillary Clinton meets Margaret Hedley in South Shields in June 2022

  • Author, Jane Downs
  • Role, BBC News, North East and Cumbria

An author said she was “absolutely stunned” when former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to write the foreword to her latest book.

Margaret Hedley, a genealogist, has chronicled the lives of female ancestors who lived and worked in the mines of County Durham.

She met Mrs Clinton, whose own family has roots in the area, during a visit to South Shields, with the former presidential candidate agreeing to be involved.

Clinton said she hoped Ms. Hedley’s books will inspire historians to document the daily lives “not just of men … but of the women who live quieter but equally important lives alongside them.”

Mrs Hedley, from Wheatley Hill, County Durham, said she wrote the books because when she tried to research the lives of women married to miners in the 19th century she could find no published information.

“I realized the only way I could document their story was to tell it myself, using my great-great-grandmother Hannah Hall as a case study,” she told BBC Radio Newcastle.

Mrs Hedley conducted detailed research using census records, parish registers and family documents to piece together Hannah’s story, weaving together details from newspapers about the lives of people at the time.

Image source, History Press

Image caption,

Margaret Hedley’s third book includes an introduction by the former US presidential candidate, who has family ties to County Durham

Ms Hedley met Mrs Clinton when she came to the North East in June 2022 to give a talk at a school in South Shields.

“We met to discuss her family story and what was going on here that made people want to emigrate at that time,” she said.

‘She was interested in that.

“She was absolutely lovely.

“I asked her to write the foreword, not expecting her to agree… but she did!”

Image source, Margaret Hedley

Image caption,

Hannah Hall and her daughters, 1862

In the foreword, Mrs. Clinton wrote: “I grew up hearing stories of my relatives who immigrated to the United States from a mining community in County Durham in the 19th century.

‘That’s what drew me to Margaret Hedley’s remarkable book trilogy.

“None of the women she describes lived their lives expecting to be recorded in history, but their stories of resilience and survival are essential.”

Image source, Margaret Hedley

Image caption,

Margaret Hedley discusses life in County Durham in the 19th century with Hillary Clinton and former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Ms Hedley, who wrote the Women of the Durham Coalfield series after taking a writing course in her 60s, said the experience of documenting her family’s story late in life had been full of surprises.

“This started as a college project,” she added.

“I was surprised that the publishers were interested so quickly and that there was a demand for two more books… and now this.

‘Someone so important is writing the foreword for a book about Wheatley Hill!’

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