on 21 September 2006
Battersea Girl is a great read about a woman who lived to be 100-years-old and stayed in the same area of London all her life. It's a fact based story, tracing the family tree of modern day author and social commentator Martin Knight with the star of the book being Nell, Knight's grandmother. It follows Nell's family as they made their way from Galway in Ireland to set up home in Battersea, South London. Theirs is not a tale of fame and fortune, rather a story of everyday struggle that the majority of those who were born in 19th Century Britain endured. As well as being an enchanting tale with much humour, it is permeated with sadness as the author recounts the poverty, the illnesses and deaths that afflicted his forbearers. Nell was born before the Second Boer War broke out and lived through and survived both World Wars, although her immediate family was affected in one way or another by all three. As well as marking out events that took place within the capital, it delves into the life of those who sought to earn some kind of living from the River Thames and gives a fascinating insight into what it was like to live alongside what was, in previous times, the main artery of London. It is an inspirational work, showing that despite life's knocks, the human spirit can overcome most adversity and is a good indicator of how the working class made the best of their 'lot' and above all, sought to shrug off their troubles by laughing. If anyone wants a reason to trace their own family tree, they should read this book and get their inspiration from it. I liked it so much, I'm now considering moving to Battersea! =
on 29 April 2014
This is the life story of a survivor. It is a lesson to us all who think that life is hard nowadays. The woman who is at the heart of this story set in Battersea faced terrible hardship with stoicism. She just got on with life and could look back after 100 years with great pride.
Her spirit was indomitable and those who knew her were privileged to know a great woman.
I grew up and spent most of my life in Battersea (I am 60 years old now) and saw it change from a VERY tough area (when my family first moved to Battersea in 1950's my Grandmother cried because it had such a bad reputation - she lived in Putney) to one that is so different. This is the story of how it has changed over a much longer (almost unimaginable) timespan.
There is a warning to us living now in this book - the Welfare State that was so hard won is being dismantled and times can be just as hard in the not too distant future. This book tells the story of the lives of ordinary, good people who had to endure grinding poverty, hardship and personal tragedy before the NHS and Housing Benefit and the Welfare State. Do we really want to return to those days?
on 14 February 2011
I bought this book because I live in Battersea and I wanted to learn more about Battersea's past. I didn't expect a book of this quality - often memoirs of the author's own life or of close relatives are trivial and badly written and contain lots of information that is only interesting for, well, a relative!
But "Battersea Girl" contained just the right amount of detail, and even though the author admits that not everything is 100% factual and has been altered to make a better read it all seems very genuine. Even the dialogue as re-imagined by the author is convincing. I wish I could talk to the author about his family and what else he knows that he didn't put in the book.
I am going to go to my local library to check out some books with photos from Battersea's past. Thanks for a very good read!
Martin Knight has shared his family history with us and, although in part fiction, he has written something worthwhile. Recounting the life of his Grandmother, Ellen Bradshaw / Knight / Tregant (1888-1988) the book is essentially cameos of her family rooted in working class Battersea. There are no "poor but happy" clichés here, life was hard, cruel, certainly loving, often tragic and with surprisingly little humour. These people didn't suffer fools gladly being too close to the workhouse to flirt with sentimentality. Damn shame, not fair was the fate of many of the characters. But her boys came good in the end and went clerical (finding white collar jobs, not ecclesiastical vocations). This is a simple story of people, not a social commentary on Victorian, Edwardian or Inter War London. A little more detail on the working life on the river, so important in the families' employment, would not have diluted the narrative while the odd digression added texture (some things we think are modern have been around for a long time, battles over vivisection, little dogs and fighting medical students).
Half way through it occurred to me we could all write a similar book if we researched and recorded our relative's lives. We share Ellen's past even if not from Battersea. How little we know of what people had to endure, how events conspired to pull them down. There was a time - not long past - when people now obsessed with fitted kitchens would have struggled to afford food. In this family one person died from malnutrition, while smoking 60 cigarettes a day! Knight's book reminds us that whatever our problems just consider where we have come from.
This is a story of a strong woman, the fabric that made the home front and largely marginalised in formal history. But Ellen was in the front line, her life is inspiring and that is what you take from the book. More and more of us have researched our forbears but know little more than their names. This is flesh on the skeleton of one man's family history. It could be an excellent school text; I would have benefited more from this than D H Lawrence and Jane Austen. While this is not a " feel good " read, I was angry and sad through most of it, I would have enjoyed meeting almost all of them (especially poor Mags who died in the Blitz). Knight makes you feel you had met them, good informal history writing and a book that I am better for reading.
on 14 November 2009
I wanted to read this book primarily because I am from Battersea and I did find it a very interesting read. In fact, reference was made to various areas I know very well such as the Cornet public house (once the Stanley Arms) and Wadhurst Road, where I lived for six years after leaving home. It was fascinating to read how Battersea has changed over the years and how people lived there as far back as 1850.
The main character in the book is Nell who lived from 1888 to 1988 and lived in Battersea all her life. It chronicles all the changes that she endured in her life, the deaths of her parents and siblings, hard times, recession, wars, and the general hardship that was life in the first half of the twentieth century. It was a hard life and totally alien to me having only been born in 1976. We also read how in the final years of her life Nell struggled to embrace new technology and the changes in the world and generally didn't like how Battersea had become. Indeed it was not the old Battersea in which she was brought up and knew all her life.
Even if you're not from Battersea I think this would still be a very enjoyable book to read. It is a good basic social history. If you were to delve into your own family history you would probably find much the same story. It is a story about ordinary folk doing ordinary things, but it was never boring. Quite the opposite, it kept me interested until the very end.
on 13 February 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was laid up in bed post-op and read it in a day. The book is full of humour, sadness and social history. Regarding Nell, the lady who lived to be 100 and is the main charachter, well she was something else!!! (in the best possible way). If you have an interest in places and times gone by this book is a must!!!