Young Dolly Dixon is determined to overcome her background and lead a respectable life. But when her mother runs off, she is forced to leave her office job to look after her unappreciative stepfamily. Her life of drudgery is brightened by her love for market trader Tom Marchant. It is not just his good looks that have won her heart. He is ambitious and longs to escape his youthful involvement with the criminal Rose brothers.
Ellie Tyler dreams of a life beyond that of her drunken, tyrannical father and the dangerous East London gangland. Her only refuge is in her artistic talents, which she hopes will one day help her escape. But when forced to give up her education and endure horrific abuse at the hands of her father, before finally being abandoned by the man she loved, Ellie runs away to a small Essex village. After landing a job at the silk mill, and with the encouragement of Alex, the mill owner, Ellie starts to rebuild her life.
Anna Grayson has been a dutiful daughter her whole life, but her world is transformed when she meets the lively Mitchell sisters, employees in her father's factory, who awaken her interest in the women's suffrage movement. This new world of excitement and freedom comes with risks. No longer protected by her father, Anna is forced to grow up quickly when tragedy strikes at a rally and Lily Mitchell is knocked down by a motorcar and killed.
Forbidden by her father to work on their farm, Celia Raines takes a job at the local printing works. When war comes, Celia hopes to achieve her ambition of being a farmer. But her boss has taken on sensitive work for the Ministry of Information and Celia is forced to stay. Romance blossoms between Celia and Matthew Dangerfield, an RAF friend of her brother, Edgar. Both men are engaged on bombing missions but Edgar is beginning to have doubts.
Although she believes nothing can come of it, ladies' maid Daisy March is eagerly awaiting the return on leave of naval lieutenant Jack Davenport, the brother of her mistress Georgina. She hopes that he will defy his family and declare his love. But before he can do so, she is accused of stealing and summarily dismissed. Daisy takes up nursing, but Georgina is also among the new recruits. When WWI breaks out, they are posted to Malta, where Daisy hopes to be reunited with Jack.
Louise Charlton sees herself as plain and uninteresting beside her vibrant sister Sarah, a talented singer. When she falls in love with young Doctor Andrew Tate she is convinced he is not interested in her. While Sarah sails to America to pursue her musical career, Louise stays at home, duty-bound to care for her selfish manipulative stepmother.
Rebellious society girl Arabella Raynsford is leading a double life as a music hall singer but to escape a possible scandal, she flees to Constantinople to join Florence Nightingale. Arabella’s ambitious mother wants her to marry wealthy Irish landowner Oswald Delaney but she has fallen in love with humble engineer Nat Sloane, a man her parents will never accept as a suitable husband.