The remarkable true story of the women who ruled the East End through war and peace
Today I am delighted to bring you all an extract from The Stepney Doorstep Society by Kate Thompson, just released in paperback with Michael Joseph.
The Stepney Doorstep Society is described as ‘a fresh look at the Second World War through the eyes of five formidable East End women includes amazing real life stories of what it was like to live through the Blitz, the Battle of Cable Street, and the Bethnal Green tube disaster, as well as the lessons they’ve learned from almost a century of experience. ‘
I do hope you enjoy!!
[ About The Book ]
The unsung and remarkable stories of the women who held London’s East End together during not one, but two world wars.
Meet Minksy, Gladys, Beatty, Joan, Girl Walker . . .
While the men were at war, these women ruled the streets of the East End. Brought up with firm hand in the steaming slums and teeming tenements, they struggled against poverty to survive, and fought for their community in our country’s darkest hours.
But there was also joy to be found. From Stepney to Bethnal Green, Whitechapel to Shoreditch, the streets were alive with peddlers and market stalls hawking their wares, children skipping across dusty hopscotch pitches, the hiss of a gas lamp or the smell of oxtail stew. You need only walk a few steps for a smile from a neighbour or a strong cup of tea.
From taking over the London Underground, standing up to the Kray twins and crawling out of bombsites, The Stepney Doorstep Society tells the vivid and moving stories of the matriarchs who remain the backbone of the East End to this day.
[ Extract ]
With her platinum- blonde curls and impudent, ice- blue eyes, Marie Walker from Stepney – known to the neighbourhood as Girl Walker – had the face of an angel, but the cheek of the devil. When occasion required it, she could scrap like a bare- knuckle boxer. Her cousins, George ‘The Stepney Steamroller’ and Billy ‘The Blonde Bomber’ Walker, would go on to carve out quite a name for themselves as prize boxers, and when it came to Girl Walker, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.
‘I’m gonna give you a right hiding,’ vowed the diminutive six- year- old, raising her fists to the older girl. What Girl Walker lacked in size, she made up for in attitude. ‘You’re giving me the needle,’ she sneered. ‘Now sod off to your side of the tunnel.’
She was referring to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, which linked the south of the River Thames with the north. Girl Walker and her mob were used to defending their little patch of Stepney from a group of invaders who came through it from Bermondsey looking for trouble.
‘Rozzers!’ yelled a distant voice and Girl Walker took to her toes. Skinny legs pumping, she ran through the maze of Stepney streets, until finally, confident she had shaken them off , she came to rest.
Perched on a sandbag, heart punching proudly in her chest, she surveyed her kingdom. York Square, sandwiched between Commercial Road to the south and Salmon Lane in the north, was a small patch of green in a seething, soot- caked neighbourhood. It was also the beating heart of her East End. It had been drummed into Girl Walker for as long as she could remember that Stepney was her place; its people, her people. Her DNA flowed through every ancient cobbled street, square and alley. Auntie Winnie was at number 3 York Square, Auntie Ivy Margaret at number 5. In fact, every turning within a mile radius contained an auntie, by blood or otherwise.
A whole tribe of Walkers could be summoned up with a wink. The knowledge that she was the eighth generation of this tribe to be born in the East End Maternity Home and christened at ancient St Dunstan’s Church in Stepney gave Girl Walker a sense of pride and belonging that was hard to put into words. But she knew she would fight to the death to defend it.
Lately, though, there had been an unsettled feeling over Stepney, the air cloaked with tension. Her three older sisters – Laura, Winnie and Alice – had chats that tailed off whenever she came into the room. One word seemed to dominate every conversation. War. Girl Walker didn’t know, couldn’t possibly know, what changes war would bring, or when those changes came, how swift and savage they might be. As the youngest girl, she knew better than to ask.
Sighing, she kicked angrily at a stone before heading for home. Flamborough Street, off York Square, was much like any other respectable East End terrace. The fronts went straight out on to the pavement, soot- blackened from decades of heavy industry. Carts made from old orange boxes, skates and home-made toys were strewn helter-skelter across the cobbles.
The street served as an extra room and Girl Walker, like every other East End nipper, would often leave the house first thing in the morning with a jam sandwich and a bottle of lemon sherbet, not to return until bedtime. Stray too far, or be saucy to a neighbour, and you’d get a clout round the ear, but this all added to the sense of security that Girl Walker wore around her like a soft blanket. She knew her place, and her place knew her.
The Stepney Doorstep Society is now available to purchase
[ Bio ]
Kate Thompson is an award-winning journalist, ghost-writer and novelist who has published nine fiction and non-fiction titles.
She worked at Pick Me Up magazine for six years and was subsequently named as IPC’s ‘True Life Writer of the Year’ in 2006. Since then, Kate has worked on national newspapers, including the Daily Express and Daily Mail.
Her debut novel, Secrets of the Singer Girls, became a Sunday Times bestseller in 2015.
Twitter ~ @katethompson380