Hampshire, 1900: With the sudden death of her father, the life of 15-year-old Harriet Benson changes forever. Forced from her home, Harriet is sent into service to provide for the family. Arriving at the grand Dalton House, she meets the owners' crippled son Joseph, with whom friendship soon blossoms. When circumstances force Joseph to leave the family home, Harriet is happy to accompany him. But Harriet is unprepared for her inheritance of Greyladies, a supposedly haunted house in the country.
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During WWI Greyladies is requisitioned by the government as a POW internment centre. Harriet is now a widow, as she has always known she would be with such a frail husband as Joseph, but now has a son and daughter to care for. The three of them go to live with Joseph’s family when Greyladies is requisitioned. Harriet is worried that all her careful renovations will be destroyed and her search for other Latimer women has to be abandoned temporarily because of the war.
Olivia Hanbury is widowed in the middle of WWI and reluctantly goes back to live with her parents. In the village the Vicar's wife is trying to set up a women's institute. Olivia helps her, and for the first time since her husband's death she feels useful. However, her family decide the Vicar's wife is giving her foolish ideas, so they forbid her to help any more. Instead Olivia runs away to become one of the paid organisers who is helping set up local women's institutes in Wiltshire.