In 1887, twenty-one-year-old Ernest Burton leaves his parents' home in a village near Nottingham, to work as a journeyman blacksmith in the coalfields of South Wales. Boldly, recklessly, Ernest stands up to his superiors and seduces young girls. Realising that everyone must settle down sometime, he returns to his childhood village and marries his sweetheart, eventually becoming a master blacksmith. A tyrannical father of eight, he instils in his sons and daughters a mixture of fear and hatred of him. But Ernest also has an effortless charm and magnetic attraction, and a softer, more tender heart than anyone would ever know. And when an unforeseen tragedy destroys what he holds most dear, this soft side threatens to overwhelm him..