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Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London [Hardcover]

Jennifer Worth
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (363 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
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Book Description

26 Jun 2008
In this follow up to CALL THE MIDWIFE, Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the docklands area of East London in the 1950s tells more stories about the fascinating people she encountered. There's the story of Jane who cleaned and generally helped out at Nonnatus House - she was taken to the workhouse as a baby and was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat. Peggy and Frank's parents both died within 6 months of each other and the children were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse. The Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa, comes to visit the Nonnatus nuns and Sister Julienne acts as matchmaker. And Sister Monica Joan, the eccentric ninety-year-old nun, is accused of shoplifting some small items from the local market. She is let off with a warning, but then Jennifer finds stolen jewels from Hatten Garden in the nun's room. The case is taken to court and Sister Monica Joan becomes a cause celebre. These stories give a fascinating insight into the lives of the poor in 1950s London, of the shadow of the workhouse that always hung over their lives but also of the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties.

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Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London + Farewell To The East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives (Call The Midwife) + In the Midst of Life
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New Ed edition (26 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297853260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297853268
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (363 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 364,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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More About the Author

Jennifer Worth was a nurse, midwife, ward sister and night sister from 1953 until 1973, working mainly in London. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 she left nursing in order to study music intensively, teaching piano and singing for about twenty-five years. All Jennifer's books have been bestsellers and Call the Midwife is now a major BBC TV adaptation.

Product Description


Worth is a vivid writer with a talent for the sting in the tail... a highly readable book - and a must for social planners. (EVENING STANDARD)

Jennifer Worth has a gift for storytelling and a keen eye for the evocative (BBC WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?)

These are powerful stories delivered with sweet charm and controlled outrage. (TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)

Healthcare workers could learn a great deal from reading this book... compassionate, non-judgemental... tears rolled down my cheeks reading the final chapters. (NURSING STANDARD)


'Jennifer Worth has a gift for storytelling and a keen eye for the evocative'

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
This item has not been released yet and is not eligible to be reviewed. Reviews shown are from other formats of this item.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
148 of 149 people found the following review helpful
I was born in the East End in the 1950's, and still live there. However, Jennifer's account has brought to life the tales my parents and grandparents told me about how much a struggle life was for so many people, barely a bus ride from where I was living. Jennifer's portrayal of Mr. Collet's demise in an 'old folk's home', in the 60's, which was little better than the workhouses of 30 years previously starkly reminds us that man's inhumanity to man can come in many different forms, no matter how affluent / civilised / reformed our societies pretend to be. This book should be read by anyone who works in public office, if only to remind them that the attitudes and conditions of the recent past have not gone away; they're still out there and will come back if we allow them to.
Jennifer's comparison of modern East London tower blocks and housing estates taking the place of the old tenements tells us that rather than improving conditions, society has simply torn down the old and replaced them with tacky copies. Jennifer Worth should have gone into politics, for judging from her excellent books, this is one person who would have made a real difference. Next time I travel through Poplar, Limehouse and Stepney, I will now do so with a new interest.
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91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If you enjoyed Call the Midwife, you will definately enjoy this book, although the content is not midwifery related. There are three parts to the book, each containing stories of people who the author had known through her work.
Her descriptions of the hardship and poverty of early 1900's London, along with personal tragedy and sacrifice will make you weep, and feel thankful to be living in the 21st Century.
- Frank and Peggy, brother and sister, separated from their parents by death and then from each other by the workhouse... courage, hope, joy, and a real tear-jerker ending.
- Joe Collett - this story is a testament to the truly caring and generous spirit of the author - she goes above and beyond the call of duty in my opinion to befriend an old man - and hears a tale of army life and family courage spanning three wars, with more than a touch of tragedy along the way.
Beautifully written, I could not put it down.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both heart-warming and heart-breaking at once 12 Oct 2008
By Dr. Rich Boden VINE VOICE
Matthew Parris states in the blurb on the back of the book that reading this made him cry on a crowded train. It managed to make me burst into floods of tears in the middle of Schipol Airport at 6am - not many books manage to make me cry anywhere - let alone in public. It's a wonderfully evocative read, based on Worth's life working as midwife in 1950s London. The fascinatingly detailed descriptions of the housing, the patients, the costermongers and the nuns make the book quite un-put-down-able I found. The story of Sister Monica Joan is poignant yet makes you smile with every other line, whereas the story of Joe is heartbreaking from the off. I can't wait for the next instalment of Worth's memoirs!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I read this book in 24 hours- I just could not put it down. I had high expectations, having "enjoyed" Call the Midwife. I say "enjoyed" because I also found it horrifying and I cried over the stories of Mary and Mrs Jenkins.

This book doesn't disappoint, and the stories of Jane, Peggy and Frank are just as compelling. It's written in the same style as Call the Midwife so you can really get your teeth into a character's story in each chapter.

The stories are not as bleak as CTM's- Jane finds love in later life which finally helps to restore the sparkle she lost when she was badly beaten and humiliated in the workhouse. Peggy and Frank have each other, and Joseph Collett doesn't see his own situation as bleak, and is appreciative of the filthy tenement rooms that he's been given. His story is fascinating and I think the friendship between him and Jennifer is beautifully portrayed, especially the incident in the final pages of the book.

The only gripe I have is that I thought a lot of pages were wasted on the trial of Sister Monica Joan, which I didn't find as fascinating as the author I'm afraid. But it's a small gripe, and all adds to the characters of the nuns of Nonnatus House.

Jennifer Worth is very fair in her description of workhouses. They served a purpose, even though they were ill thought out and socially destructive to those who were ripped apart from their family members. Descriptions of life in the workhouse are well written and the most grisly details are in general spared us although clearly implied- the sexual abuse that was alluded to in Frank's story for example.

I want more! I can't wait for the third book. Jennifer Worth must have thousands of stories in her head of the people she met- I want to hear them all.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't put it down 30 Jan 2009
Couldn't wait for the arrival of this paperback after reading Call the Midwife. Got it yesterday and it's living up to all expectations. I forced myself to shut off the light way after midnight but can't wait to get back into it. Three chapters in and it's compelling albeit brutal. Jennifer Worth is such a good storyteller and as a fellow midwife I recommend this book as essential reading - even if you're not a lover of social history. Thanks Jennifer.
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