Cover Image: The Stepney Doorstep Society

The Stepney Doorstep Society

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Member Reviews

This was fantastic, very informative and just what I needed at the moment. The writing took me into the time and I like that there was a lot of description throughout, I can definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a good interesting Historical read.
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The old cliché: ‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’, perfectly describes the indomitable matriarchs of the East End – our capital’s historic (some would say infamous) heart of wider East London, north of the River Thames. 

These women ruled the old slum areas of the city, coming into their own during the First and Second World Wars when the men were sent away to fight. From Stepney to Shoreditch, they were the go-to ‘aunties’ who dispensed advice, held communities together and kept spirits up with pots of strong tea. 

“Poverty breeds resourcefulness”, says author, Kate Thompson, and this was unquestionably true of Beatty, Hettie, Babs, Girl Walker, Dr Joan, Old Boots, Mrs Dudgeon and all the other “redoubtable working women” who lived through times of immense hardship but never forgot the meaning of familial love.

The slums were England’s version of a modern-day favela or shanty town – squalid, overcrowded sections of the city inhabited by people living in extreme poverty. Slum is thought to be an East End slang-word meaning ‘room’, which in 1845 evolved to ‘back slum’, meaning ‘back alley’ or ‘street of poor people’. It is often used as a derogatory term and has negative connotations, especially when employed by town planners or wealthy land-grabbers to delegitimize urban areas in the hope of repurposing them for money-making ventures.

Every street in every East End borough had a head female. Long before the welfare state came into being these women acted as defenders and enforcers who observed a strict code of honour which, according to Thompson, “included brute force, love, hope, humour, imagination, solidarity and resilience.” They were its chief protectors, matriarchal minders if you like.

By the time the author met, befriended and recorded their remarkable stories, many of these women were nonagenarians, even centenarians, though age had not dampened their grit and ebullience. Their recollections of forcefully requisitioning the London Underground during the Blitz, crawling from beneath bricks and rubble after nights of heavy bombardment, driving the British blackshirts (Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists) from Whitechapel during the Battle of Cable Street and standing up to the Kray-twins are, quite frankly, hair-raising, but they were equally doughty when it came to feeding large broods of children, standing in as mid-wives and holding down two or three jobs to keep the wolf from the door.

'The Stepney Doorstep Society' is a melange of invariably inspiring and often surprisingly joyful tales; an unvarnished social history of the individuals who held the local populace together during Britain’s darkest hours. Eminently readable, it is an important record of the unsung but hopefully never to be forgotten beaproned guardians of old working-class London.
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I was looking forward to reading this as part of my family is from Stepney.  The stories included are interesting, but the main drawback of this is the rather fractured narrative.  I would have preferred it to take each story through, although I appreciate that it is a format that may keep the reader engaged for longer.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book – clearly, the author loves her subject and researched in depth. The book is based on the women of the East End during the war years – it is a thorough view of how these women coped during what was a living nightmare, their thoughts and actions, they were the glue that kept life together during that difficult time.

The author has recreated their lives using interviews from women of the East End who lived through the experience of not only WWII but also poverty and hardship.
A valuable read on many levels – including women in history, the true cost of war on the lives of the ordinary people and the resilience of the human spirit against all odds. 

I did have some issues with my kindle version, words/letters were missing but it did not diminish the quality of the work.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher Penguin for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.
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The cover of this book suggests that it belongs in the popular “novel about women/families set in the early 20th century” genre, however this is not fiction but fact - it’s an incredibly well written and impeccably researched glimpse into social history and the lives of ordinary East Enders told through the real stories of the women.

It give a us an excellent, real, at times very hard hitting look into the lives each led - the extreme poverty, wartime, the community pulling together, the backstreet abortionist, the realities of birth & death ... We also hear about real events through the eyes of those who lived through it, from the first doodlebug attacks during the Blitz to the Bethnal Green tube disaster where over 170 people were crushed trying to escape an air raid. 

I was fascinated by this book & the characters we met
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This was a great book which helped understand the hardship of times gone by in the East End.  These ladies were the backbone of their streets and they would do anything for their families and others despite very little help.

Their stories were so interesting.  A must-read
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This book is a real treasure. Although difficult to read at times, due to the traumatic details of the lives of the women written about, it was also a fascinating insight into the lives of women during the Second World War in the East end of London. The bravery, humour, and pragmatism of these women shines through on every page. Many of the details written about are things we would not normally think about, but which profoundly affected the lives of the women of the East end. Things like how to feed seven children on one piece of scrag end of meat, or how the Eastenders stayed safe ( or not) in the air raids. 
I had to take a break several times during the reading of this book because the traumatic details overcame me, but I also found myself laughing out loud at some of the antics of the women and children. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in wartime Britain, but also to anyone who likes to read about the day to day life of the strong matriarchs of Britain past.
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This is a fascinating and interesting read. This is a really well researched book about the strength of women and their roles at home during the Second World War. It is really well written and is an insightful read.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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This is an incredibly well-researched book, focusing on some amazing women all with different stories to tell. Alongside this scattered throughout are old-fashioned remedies, pearls of wisdom and recipes from a bygone era. There are inspirational stories and stories of heartbreak based on real-life interviews which the author conducted with the women in their later lives. It is a very poignant read, full of sadness and loss but then alongside it are moments of humour and vitality, It brings home the hardships of wartime Britain and the resourcefulness and fortitude of the women who lived through it. For me, it also highlighted something which is sadly being lost nowadays and that is a sense of community and a willingness to live ‘collectively not individually’. We can learn a lot from these women, they have a story to tell and it’s one we should all listen to, and take lessons from.
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I really enjoyed this book, in fact it quite transported me. Very well researched and really felt like I got an insight into life in the east end
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I really enjoyed the woman's tales in this fascinating insight into life in the East End of London during the war year's. A well researched and factual book.
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A fascinating insight into life in wartime Britain. A huge amount of research must have gone into this book and I for one definitely appreciate it. For anyone who has more than a passing interest in wartime Britain, I'd highly recommend this book for a look at how real people coped and thrived.
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What a very knowledgeable book to help you understand the old days of the East end and meet some of the amazing characters. and hear the stories from  Girl Walker, Beattie, Minksy Joan & Glady's.

   Some of these ladies and others were the Matriarchs of the east end of London in their crossover pinnies and strong arms from hard manual work they feed & keep their children in almost impossible ways. They live in poverty and fight daily to keep their dignity and cleanliness.
These ladies each tell their story of their daily struggle to survive and some of the high jinx they get up to.

This book made me laugh and cry but above all, it helped me to understand. The lives they led, the fight for survival and the sheer strength of these wonderful characters.
Thank you NetGalley xx
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Nearly finished this - it is SUCH a great book. So many inspiring and strong women from the past - the truth in the stories is so heart breaking - this is a book all generations should read and take note from.

thanks for the opportunity to read. Absolutely loving it :)

full review to come on blog
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What a thoroughly enjoyable book to anyone interested in life in wartime Britain.  The Stepney Doorstop Society is a fascinating read is based on first hand accounts from women of the East End and a great insight to their hard lives.  
An excellent read that makes you appreciate the life we have now.  Highly recommended.
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This is a memoir that takes a fascinating peek into the lives of London’s East End women, both during peacetime and throughout the dark days of the Second World War.

Join the unsung women who not only held things together during some of the darkest days in Great Britain’s history, but who fought numerous battles of their own on the home front, in an effort to improve their communities. Poverty was no stranger to these gutsy women, but their ingenuity knew no bounds!

There are the usual stories of women in the community who were the ones to go to if you were in any kind of trouble - the child minder, the abortionist, the midwife, the one who would lay out the dead, or act as counsellor in family feuds. There are also some moving stories, not least the Bethnal Green tube disaster in 1943, where over 170 civilians were crushed to death trying to escape an air raid. Everybody in the community knew someone who was killed in that tragedy, but it wasn’t spoken about afterwards for fear it would lower morale, particularly to a community already suffering the worst that the blitz could throw at them. They just got straight back on with their daily lives. It does make you wonder though, how many of them suffered from flashbacks and mental health issues resulting from the inability to speak about it.

I think we have much to learn from these resourceful women - they had little in the way of material possessions but they were happy, making the best of what life had thrown at them, they were definitely made of strong stuff!

From the street markets and the pedlars plying their wares, to the children playing hop scotch in the street, to the aroma of oxtail stew, if you enjoy social history, you’ll love this one.
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This is a meticulously researched and simply told story of the matriarchs who lives in the East End during the wars. 
I was particularly interested as my family is from the East End and I worked as a social worker visiting the Stepney Jewish day centre, but this book told me much I didn’t know.
Thompson centres it around the strong characters who lived there including Minksy who worked as a singer and seamstress In the rag trade.
Her accessible account brings home the horror of the air raids and Anderson shelters, and the tragedy of the disaster at Bethnal Green tube station.
It also brings home the grinding poverty of the East End of London as well as the incredible community spirit and resourcefulness  of the women who lived there.
This is  something of a nostalgic look at a time which - although hard - had the social cohesion so lacking in today’s property development, selfish  society.
The author writes as a social historian so you have to be interested in this era and place but it is beautifully evocative.
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