Malcolm Neesam – Leading Harrogate Historian and Writer:
“A gripping tale and well-crafted novel…
Despite Harrogate’s colourful and incident-packed history, there have been few successful attempts to use the town as a setting for a work of fiction. A.A. Thomson’s 1935 story The Exquisite Burden has hitherto been an outstanding exception to this, but now it has been joined by Ian Townsend’s gripping tale Precarious Fortunes.
This novel uses the historical reality of visits to Harrogate by the extraordinary Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in England after Queen Victoria, and a party of Russians whose presence could spell great danger for the country. The author’s skilful incorporation of real Harrogate people and places adds to the richness and interest of the text. This well-crafted novel develops with gratifying logic, which after several riveting cliff-hanger climaxes resolves itself in satisfying conclusion”
BBC Radio Leeds interview with presenter, Andrew Edwards:
“A fascinating story…thorough and entertaining” (Presenter, Andrew Edwards)
February edition of Books Monthly – Editor, Paul Norman:
“Set in 1838, Precarious Fortunes brilliantly exposes life in Europe’s leading spa town of Harrogate, where many conventions of the period were being audaciously replaced by a more liberal and risqué attitude. Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts, a young heiress reputed to be the richest woman in England, is heading for Harrogate to seek respite from the unwelcome attention of dishonourable suiters and scroungers in London. At the same time, a captain in the 11th Light Dragoons is despatched to the northern spa town on a secret government mission. A chance meeting between the captain and Miss Coutts sparks the beginning of an intriguing adventure as the pair weave their way through a perilous web of deception, abduction and extortion. Old scores demand settling and new ones add to the drama as this fast-paced narrative pits ruthless villains and corrupt aristocrats against spirited women and courageous cavalrymen.
Delicious romantic interlude set in Harrogate reminiscent of Jane Austen in my opinion”
“Very easy to get into from page one. An absolute must if you have ever lived in or visited Harrogate”
“Author Ian Townsend has used a mixture of historical and fictional characters, which work well together in this fast-paced story set in nineteenth century Harrogate. I’ll come clean and admit that I’m the kind of reader that gives up on books if I don’t like them. This book kept me engaged and wanting to read on, even at past 2am on a couple of occasions. The story is well thought out, and the plot is good, with a few twists along the way. What I most enjoyed about it was the historical details about my newly adopted hometown. I can now picture a race track on the Stray, the carriages, horses (and the odd sheep or cow), the larger hotels including Cedar Court (which used to be the Queen’s Hotel, which is fairly central to the story), The Granby -now a nursing home, which used to be known as ‘the House of Lords’ because that’s where the aristocracy stayed. A great book to take on holiday to Harrogate (if you can get hold of a copy, that is), or if you live here, or for no particular reason”
“Excellent book very well written. This book captured my imagination of Victorian times in Harrogate. I read this book whilst on holiday and was unable to put it down looking forward to more books from this author”.
“Ian Townsend captures well the flavour of 19th Century Harrogate and paints a picture of high society life in a very readable way, with the author’s sense of humour always present. An entertaining and interesting read”
“Really fun story and reading as someone who lives in Harrogate, it’s really interesting to hear about what it was like in Victorian times. Good book!”
“An exciting story told through excellently written narrative. Ian Townsend leads us on a romping adventure through the upper-class eyes of Victorian England. Great read!”
“A fast moving adventure set in early Victorian era, centred around a heiress and Harrogate Spa. An excellent read””.
Mojomums.co.uk – the popular women’s online lifestyle forum, helping mum’s get back to work, features Ian’s novel in their ‘Book Club’:
(Average: 4.50 out of 5, rated)
Set in 1838, Precarious Fortunes brilliantly exposes life in Europe’s leading spa town of Harrogate, where many conventions of the period were being audaciously replaced by a more liberal and risqué attitude. Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts, a young heiress reputed to be the richest woman in England, is heading for Harrogate to seek respite from the unwelcome attention of dishonourable suitors and scroungers in London. At the same time, a captain in the 11th Light Dragoons is despatched to the northern spa town on a secret government mission. A chance meeting between the captain and Miss Coutts sparks the beginning of an intriguing adventure as the pair weave their way through a perilous web of deception, abduction and extortion.
“What a great idea it was to merge fact and fiction in this story. I really enjoyed it”
“Fascinating to learn how people went to Harrogate not only for the waters but the nightlife as well. Captain Townsend was a great character who served his country well and Miss Angela Burdett – Coutts would surely be always grateful to him”
“The Author Ian Townsend. An excellent first novel from someone who obviously did a lot of research for the story. I hope he has started the next one”
Review by The Yorkshire Post at Precarious Fortune’s launch:
Banking on a debut bestseller
A NEW chapter in the life of former Medical House Chairman Ian Townsend began this week as he launched his first novel, Precarious Fortunes.
It is a work of historical fiction loosely based on the visit to Harrogate in 1838 by the then richest woman in England, Angela Coutts.
Aged just 24, she had recently inherited Coutts Bank and with it an abundance of suitors, which drove her to seek refuge in the town, in very much the same way as Agatha Christie did in 1926.
The story takes the reader deep in to Victorian Harrogate and blends fictional characters with those who really were there at the time.
…The novel is a complete departure from the financial world which has dominated Mr Townsend’s business career, although perhaps unsurprisingly he has managed to construct a story which also involves the sometimes unscrupulous world of Victorian share issues, with speculators seeking to cash in on the railway boom.
Never one to sit still for long, Mr Townsend has now set his sights on turning his novel into a film or TV series, for which he has already formed a TV production company.
The Harrogate Advertiser’s Features Editor, Graham Chalmers gives an eloquent review of the novel prior to it’s launch:
Not many authors begin their novel with a horseman galloping at top speed along the ‘northern turnpike road to Harrogate’…
But Precarious Fortunes is no ordinary book.
Believed to the first fictional book to use the town as the main setting since a story by A.A. Thomson in 1935, this period costume adventure is packed full of real historical detail about 19th Century Harrogate.
Written by businessman turned writer, Ian Townsend, the is gripping novel is loosely based on the much-documented visit to Harrogate in 1838 by the remarkable Angela Burdett Coutts, who, at the age of 24 inherited the Coutts family fortune making her suddenly the richest woman in the whole of England.
He said: “As soon as she inherited this vast fortune, all the would-be suitors turned up. It make Angela have a deep distrust of men. She didn’t go on to get married until she was 67”.
Already praised by leading local historian Malcolm Neesam as a “well-crafted novel”, Ian’s book will launch officially in a lavish affair at the Cedar Court Hotel in Harrogate on Tuesday June 7th.
The book turns fact into fiction, the debut author skilfully conjuring up a web of deception, abduction and extortion involving the young heiress, a captain in the 11th Light Dragoons and a sinister party of Russians.
Ian Townsend’s research was meticulous before setting pen to paper, including many meetings with Malcolm Neesam, the letters of the famous local Victorian artist William Powell Frith, who was a hotel manager in Harrogate the a time, and a few back issues of the Harrogate Advertiser from nearly 150 years ago.
Ian even took to visiting by foot possible locations in North Yorkshire for the setting of Precarious Fortunes and investigating a few real-life mysteries for himself.
He said: “If you go to the Devil’s Arrows Stones near Boroughbridge and walk around in an anti-clockwise direction, you will evoke the devil, supposedly. I also discovered that there were four standing stones near the Pinewoods lying in a straight line. No one has any idea where they are now, so I made up my own legend about them”.
One of the things made clear in Ian’s richly detailed, rip-roaring yarn is just what an important place Harrogate was in the 19th Century. The spa town was a magnet for the aristocracy and royalty of the day and not only from the UK.
Ian said: “Harrogate was regarded as an oasis in what was then the industrial north. It was a hot bed of everything that was going on in the world at that time. Part of the aim of the book is to show how fantastic the town would have been around 1838. There were horse races on the Stray, elegant balls in town and gambling in magnificent surroundings. Harrogate was St. Tropez, Monte Carlo and Cannes all rolled into one. It was Europe’s premier spa town”.
Ultimately, however, Precarious Fortunes is a novel about one woman, and it’s a woman who the author clearly admires and has much sympathy for.
Ian said: “Angela was a visitor to Harrogate and rented houses in the town. The facts are there. She was a good friend of Charles Dickens and was concerned with the social problems of the day. She was known as the ‘Queen of the Poor’. She devoted her life anonymously to good causes and funded churches all over the world. Angela was an incredible woman”.
And some more of Precarious Fortune’s great reviews…
“I have just read your book this week and wanted to let you know that I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an absolutely cracking read, combining a great story with fascinating historical content of the local area. I loved it and can’t wait for the sequel!” SG
“Hi Ian, just back from Italy and finally got round to reading the book, honestly have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, and learnt a few new things about Harrogate along the way! Fantastic” MB
“Hi Ian, my neighbour has just returned Precarious Fortunes with a thank you card, she absolutely loved it and wants the sequel! She says I have to tell you she was enthralled by it!!” AN
“Ian Townsend captures well the flavour of 19th Century Harrogate and paints a picture of high society life in a very readable way, with the author’s sense of humour always present. An entertaining and interesting read” PR
“Excellent book, very well written. This book captured my imagination of Victorian times in Harrogate. I read this book whilst on holiday and was unable to put it down looking forward to more books from this author” SP
“Really fun story and reading as someone who lives in Harrogate, it’s really interesting to hear about what it was like in Victorian times. Good book!” JH
“I really enjoyed the book. I could place myself there which I think makes a good book. I read it slowly as I didn’t want it to end” NR
Bowcliffe Hall Driver’s Club Event – Round up of the evening in January:
“Harrogate Author, Ian Townsend stepped up and proceeded to prove himself a wonderfully entertaining orator.
…Ian said he was inspired by his home in historic Harrogate and had his imagination captured by the story of Angela Coutts.
This interest quickly sparked Ian’s love of storytelling and history and led him to consider writing his debut novel. 18 months later ‘Precarious Fortunes’ became a reality.
By the time she was just 23-years-old, Angela Coutts was the wealthiest woman in the UK and ended up living in Harrogate. Ian explained how he was fascinated by the story of how a woman had ended up with inheritance, and not a man, at a time where it was almost unheard of.
Mingling real-life characters with fictional ones, Precarious Fortunes is a period adventure loosely based on (her) well-documented visit to Harrogate in 1838…and tells the story of her father Thomas Coutts – an exemplary businessman who built up a very successful banking business but had a rather colourful personal life. After 50 years of marriage and three daughters with his first wife, a maidservant he met when she was scrubbing the step of his brother’s house, Thomas swiftly remarried just four days after her death to a 38-year-old actress – at the time he was 80 years old.
Seven years later, Thomas himself died and left all his wealth to his second wife and none to his daughters or first family. His second wife went on to marry a Duke and upon deciding which child to leave the fortune to, chose Angela.
Ian told the audience that after two rejections from publishers, he wouldn’t be deterred and decided to self-publish. He is now planning a sequel and possibly even a prequel of the book, noting that completing the Precarious Fortunes has only made him more determined to get the most out of life and take up new challenges. When asked the hardest thing about writing the novel, Ian said it was actually picking the title!
A huge thanks to all who attended and to Ian for such a wonderfully entertaining evening”
Femalefirst.co.uk – the UK’s largest and most popular online life style magazine:
Angela Burdett Coutts was described by King Edward VII as ‘the most remarkable woman in the kingdom’, summing up the feelings of the entire country at her funeral in January 1907, and yet one hundred years on, she is barely known. This was the prime motivation for businessman turned author Ian Townsend to put pen to paper with his debut novel ‘Precarious Fortunes’.
He came across Miss Coutts whilst researching a property in Harrogate. Apparently, she was the talk of the town in 1838 after seeking respite in Harrogate much as Agatha Christie did in 1926. However, her desire to escape the attention of suitors and beggars was met with an unfortunate incident when she was stalked by an Irish barrister named Richard Dunn. This made the national newspapers as she had to resort to prosecuting her unwanted admirer, making him the first stalker to be prosecuted under English Law. Although this incident is referred to in Ian’s novel he merely used Angela’s visit as a starting point allowing him the opportunity to show his admiration of a lady whose life changed so dramatically by an extraordinary inheritance.
For any lady to inherit a substantial sum was rare in early Victorian England but for a 23-year-old girl to benefit from a bequest making her the richest woman in the country was unheard of.
She inherited her grandfather’s fortune (including the bank he made famous) via his second wife, an actress he married 4 days following the death of his first wife. ‘Precarious Fortunes’ is a fictional adventure loosely based around Angela’s visit to Harrogate in 1838. Unsurprisingly, her new found wealth brought with it an abundance of suitors as well as a staggering number of begging letters. Somewhat saddened and overwhelmed by this insincere attention, she sought refuge in Harrogate, a place she had visited many times with her step grandmother, the actress and 2nd wife of her grandfather.
“As I researched the history of this great family I found myself itching to write” said Ian Townsend.
“I hope my story interests all lovers of period drama as it takes the reader deep into Victorian Harrogate and blends fictional characters with those like Angela Coutts, who really were there at the time”
“Not only did I want to write about Angela Coutts and the challenges she surely faced but also how remarkably vulnerable she was. No better example of this can be seen than the incident of the Irish barrister who burst into her bedroom reciting poetry. Things could have been worse if the intruder had been armed with something more than a book of prose”.
Undeterred she built schools and churches, provided clean water to parts of London, and fishing boats to Ireland following the potato famine, all of which contributed to her becoming known as the “Queen of the Poor”.
As much as she improved the lives of many people, her own suffered. She did not marry until she was 67 and then to a man half her age. Much of her good work went un-noticed as she made a considerable number of gifts and donation anonymously. In total, she gave away £3m during her lifetime. A quite remarkable lady.
KPMG Personal Perspectives Interview:
Thriving on the challenge of change
28 February 2017
Greg Limb, Head of KPMG Private Client, interviews entrepreneur Ian Townsend. Ian who has spent a number of years building up and then selling businesses, explains how the challenge of getting to grips with something new has now led him into new ‘lifestyle’ related ventures.
Investing in businesses
Ian, with his is roots firmly in Harrogate, started out as an accountant and set up his own accountancy practice. Using the experience of running his own business and advising clients he decided he should take a risk and applied his learnings to investing in, developing and ultimately selling a number of different businesses.
Ian’s overriding philosophy is that people are key to success; whether they are part of his own team or running the businesses in which he is investing. After that, he believes you should always have a ‘plan B’, as so often ‘plan A’ doesn’t work out!
One example is an orthopedic manufacturing business, operated from Sheffield, which he co-founded. Ian invested time and energy, growing the business organically. But to expand further, the business needed more backing. With the help of KPMG and various other advisors, the business was floated on AIM in 2000 – a very proud moment! This gave the company the currency with which to make acquisitions and diversify away from its dependency on one particular area.
Five years ago Ian was asked to get involved with a business which helps companies ensure contractors coming onto their site, fully comply with rigorous health and safety legislation. Ian saw the potential of this sector and liked the people. Now with a strong business model and a great team, the company is growing; Ian estimates at around 40% p.a., as the benefits of their systems become widely appreciated.
Non-business ventures of considerable stretch
Recently Ian has been investing some of his time in what he describes as ‘lifestyle’ related activities.
Rising to the challenge of managing, or perhaps more realistically moving with, the unpredictable influence of the weather, Ian and his family have established a vineyard in North Yorkshire. They launched into this project as it presented an incredibly interesting challenge, whilst bringing together not only the whole family but also many of the local residents.
Whilst renovating a property with his wife, they came across some historic artefacts. These were the catalyst for another new venture. Driven by his love of history, Ian has now risen to the challenge of not just writing, but also publishing his first novel Precarious Fortunes. With the storyline set in 1838 and based in his historic home town of Harrogate, Ian has written the gripping tale of Angela Burdett Coutts, who was described by King Edward VII as “the most remarkable woman in the kingdom”.
Ian’s next challenge is to convert the novel into a script and convince a TV company or studio to produce a film/TV version of this 19th century period drama.
Ian has found a theme in his life, to take life’s chances which he espouses at every opportunity. This has led him down some unexpected but very rewarding avenues. He is now looking to see where it takes him next!