n 1870s Yorkshire Annie Quaintain, heavily in debt on her husband's death, takes her children Martha and George to join the masses heading for Culverdale and the shanty town of Jericho, home to the men and women building a railway viaduct. Encouraged by foreman Ralph Coates and befriended by the motherly Lace Polly Annie opens a lodging house, her first tenants being newly-arrived navvy Johnny Jackson and his friend Skinny. Martha argues with Alma Capstick, flighty daughter of Jericho's grocers whilst Johnny falls foul of vengeful co-worker Red, who is ordered to leave Culverdale. George witnesses an act of sabotage by Red which kills team leader Jack Laggan, but Red himself is killed as he pursues the boy and Johnny, on the basis that Red has apparently left Jericho, swears Annie to secrecy as they dispose of the body. The viaduct's investor Charles Blackwood feels guilty over Jack's death and realizes that it could be the end of its building. He is bailed out financially by an heiress, Isabella Lambton. who is lined up for marriage with him but he has a secret of his own.

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