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Coin Street Chronicles: Memoirs of an Evacuee from London's Old South Bank [Paperback]

Gwen Southgate
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Nov 2011

In January 1929, in a grimy, working-class neighborhood on the south bank of the Thames, Eileen Gwynneth Yvonne Redfern was born. From her inauspicious beginning as the unwelcome third occupant of Old Ma Tanner's one-room apartment on Coin Street to an eighteen-year-old on the brink of university life, author Gwen Southgate weaves a fascinating story of a vanished time and a way of life on London's old south bank.

In this memoir, telling tales of the 1930s and 1940s, Gwen provides a glimpse into a broader tapestry portraying the sweep of life in Britain as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Among its many colorful and lively characters are the big-hearted, chain-smoking Aunt-mum; yarn-spinning, practical joker Grampa Benson; and Gwen's feisty, much-married mother. After a wartime evacuation from London opens wider horizons, Gwen shares how she managed to survive in a world where the mere stealing of a spoonful of rice pudding could lead to dire consequences and even the enjoyment of a Sunday walk was condemned as sinful.

Coin Street Chronicles paints a vivid and captivating portrait of Britain and her people before, during, and after World War II.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse Star (3 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936236818
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936236817
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,073,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Gwen Southgate retired from childhood many years ago. Since then, she tended the needs of a husband, four children, ten grandchildren, innumerable pets, and droves of high school students. She now lives with her husband near Princeton, New Jersey, where she enjoys doing many things she never had time to do.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review full of fascinating detail 21 April 2011
I read this book, a few pages at a time, on the bus to work. Every day I get off at the Elephant and Castle and walk down Great Guildford Street to Southwark Street. I pass the junction with Lavington Street, where Gwen Southgate, according to her fascinating memoir of life in Waterloo, regularly went to the public swimming baths in the Thirties.

There is no sign of the baths now. Gwen's world has almost completely disappeared, done for by the Luftwaffe and post-war slum clearance. The remnants of streets that she lived in and played in have become bijou dwellings, occupied by, mostly, well-off singles who want an easy walk into the City. That Coin Street Community Builders have managed to preserve something of the working-class nature of the area is a massive achievement. Waterloo is nothing if not premium development land. But here, brought to life in this gem of a book, are the grimy working-class communities of Aquinas Street, Coin Street, Commercial Road.

There is beautifully rich detail, not only of the trajectory of Gwen's early life and the members of her family - which is interesting enough - but in the pictures of life as a child in London in the Thirties and Forties. Gwen Redfern, as she was then, was brought up in extreme poverty. It's a kind of poverty we have largely forgotten. It means damp, cramped shared houses, with no electricity, no bathrooms, no indoor toilet. It means moving often, always trying to cut living costs. It means frequent unemployment and dole. It means going to the hospital by bus when you have a serious injury because you can't take a taxi. It means bad teeth and pain.

Sometimes it means early death. Gwen's father, a gentle, builder's labourer and First World War veteran, was in poor health and often out of work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coin Street Chronicles 2 Nov 2011
By GerryF
I bought this book because I was interested in the author's war-time experiences as an evacuee in the Reigate area. Having looked at the pages that were of particular interest to me, I then read the whole book and can truly say that I couldn't put it down. It gives such a vivid account of the author's childhood that I could picture myself there. Highly recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional on every level 28 April 2011
By Anette
I enjoyed Coin Street Chronicles enormously and wholeheartedly agree with all the previous reviews that highly recommend it, most of them posted on amazon.com. The moment I started reading I was totally captivated. Gwen's vivid portrayal of growing up in the "drab yet oddly colorful" impoverished south bank in London's Waterloo area during the 1930s and 1940s, and her Cockney dialect impersonations of the people around her are so engaging that I could not put the book down.
Gwen's honesty about herself and self-questioning while trying to make sense of experiences and her reactions to them makes it an immensely insightful and at the same time wonderfully humorous read that recommends itself particularly to young audiences trying to make sense of their own world. The fact that 70-80 years lie between Gwen's youth and theirs makes it no less relevant, for family relationships are relived in a similar fashion within every generation.
I am particularly heartened that Gwen's mother, May Redfern, who struggled against extraordinary odds and sacrificed much to help Gwen achieve an education and professional prospects far beyond her circumstances, was able to enjoy much happiness in later life, and that Gwen, who at times had misunderstood and resented her mother's decisions, through writing this book came to deeply appreciate her for being "no ordinary woman".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't wait to read this one 25 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I saw the author recently in London give a fascinating insight into her childhood around Coin Street. She read from a couple of chapters of the book and really knows how to write in a fluid, engaging style. I'm really looking forward to reading the whole book.
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