Home/Fiction, Norwich, Waveney/The Devil’s Dye – Jeni Neill
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The Devil’s Dye – Jeni Neill


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1566 and the De Hems family relocate their weaving business to Norwich.  This exciting novel brings the world of the sixteenth century ‘Strangers’ to life.


It is the year 1566.  The Spanish have occupied Belgium and Holland and are persecuting protestant families.  Norwich is economically depressed and the Mayor and Corporation invite 30 named incomers, 24 Dutch and six Walloons, to help revitalise its cloth industry. Each can bring up to ten people with him.  This group of immigrants became known as The Strangers.

The De Hems are a successful weaving family from Amsterdam who set up business in Norwich.  Jowan de Hem is young and lively and full of human complexities.  He has chosen dyeing as his specialty and his overwhelming desire is to obtain indigo, the rare blue dye that at the time was not available in western Europe.  He marries innocent Eliza and settles in Bungay, establishing his dyeing business and gradually becoming accepted by the local community. But Jowan has not given up his quest for the ‘devil’s dye’, which takes him to Italy and challenges his relationship with Eliza.  A final twist takes us to 1577 and a link to the Suffolk legend of Black Shuck, the giant black dog.

Balancing poignancy with humour, this warm tale is beautiful in its simplicity and memorable in its many layers. It brings history to life and new possibilities to the Black Shuck legends of East Anglia, as the story unfolds and reaches its intense climax. As Jowan struggles to contain his self-destructive desires, the focus of the story becomes as much Eliza’s, as their love and loss, hope and tragedy create the final twist in the tale. The Devil’s Dye is an intriguing story and will capture the imagination of readers who enjoy historical and contemporary fiction alike.

“This exciting story really brings alive the world of the sixteenth century Strangers”
Frank Meeres, historian and author of The Welcome Stranger


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