Soap can not cleanse the dirty past: the author shares the story of his grandmother who worked in the slum laundries of the Soapspud Island & # 39; From london.
- Breezy Marsh recalls moments of her grandmother, the life of Annie Austin
- Annie was 12 years old when she started working in the London slums in 1918
- Girls scrub clothes every weekday and half a day on Saturday
- Annie was told that her father had been killed to keep her away from a shocking truth
Helen Brown for daily mail
ALL THE SECRETS OF MY MOTHER
by Beezy Marsh (Pan £ 7.99, 400 pp)
I felt like a mess when my washing machine broke last winter. Just a week of throwing away the soccer kits for children around the bathroom left me with back pain, itchy fingers and a deep mold that darkened the floorboards of the bathroom.
But the short-term trials of 21st-century domestic service are noted by Beezy Marsh's absorbing new book on her grandmother, Annie Austin, one of a thousand women employed in the slum-laundries of London's Soapsud Island in 1918.
Although the Fisher Act of 1918 made it mandatory for children to attend school until the age of 14, Annie (pictured below) was only 12 years old when she started working on the streets with Soot-stained terraces of Acton.
Beezy Marsh discovers the adventures of her grandmother Annie in 1918 while searching for the truth about her father and working in the slum laundries of London's Soapsud Island.
His pregnant mother and his dominant stepfather were already working there and had to support their grandmother and younger brother, weak-chested, George. Before the NHS, a doctor's bills could break a family.
Sweet Lavender, Honeysuckle Villa and Blanchisserie Royale – all laundries had image card names to give their wealthy clients the illusion of clean country air.
But there was no pastoral idyll behind the dripping windows of the maquilas where little girls cleaned dirt from the collars and cuffs of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week, working half a day on Saturdays.
Marsh, a journalist, writes in a novelistic style. It makes you smell the stinking steam of dirty clothes in copper and feels the sting of soap flakes in the open sores of Annie's broken and swollen fingers. And it also makes you feel the pride these women took in the honest and hard graft that kept their families above the bread line.
Annie's mother, Emma, was the main person in charge of washing clothes. He stretched the ten-pound irons to tighten the pleated silk of the finest clothing and "embossed" it. the wave on the edges of the pinafores and the baby hats with a pair of hot tongs.
But Emma was hiding secrets behind her immaculately clean facade. She had told Annie that her father had been killed in the Great War, but if that was the case, then why was her picture hidden in the bottom of her button box?
ALL THE SECRETS OF MY MOTHER by Beezy Marsh (Pan £ 7.99, 400 pp)
His search for truth revealed a history of gambling, debt, betrayal and murder.
As Marsh discovered: "The choices made by one generation were sometimes considered too shocking for the next."
Annie's adventures find her visiting clandestine abortionist hideouts, Eastern European immigrant homes and Covent Garden pubs, where comedian Arthur Askey props up the bar, receiving each pint with the brand name "ay thanw yaw". # 39;
There are also nice details of Annie's adventure with the handsome actor who takes her out to fetch champagne at the Cafe de Paris in a borrowed fox fur jacket and his slow-burning romance with the man from Geordie's union, Harry. When Harry kneels by the Thames and offers her a ring of pearls and sapphires, Annie thinks it's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen in her life.