nonf_biographyWorthThe Midwife: A True Story Of The East End In The 1950Sunforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary womanthe age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.WorthThe Midwifeis a work of non-fiction, and the events it recounts are true. However, certain names and identifying characteristics of some of the people who appear in its pages have been changed. The views expressed in this book are the author’s.history of ‘Mary’ is also dedicated to the memory of Father Joseph Williamson and Daphne Jonesnurses and midwives, many long since dead, with whom I worked half a century ago Terri Coates, who fired my memories Canon Tony Williamson, President of The Wellclose Trust Elizabeth Fairbairn for her encouragement Pat Schooling, who had courage to go for original publication Naomi Stevens, for all her help with the Cockney dialectHart, Jenny Whitefield, Dolores Cook, Peggy Sayer, Betty Howney, Rita Perry who typed, read and advisedHamlets Local History Library and ArchivesCurator, Island History Trust, E14Archivist, The Museum in Dockland, E14Librarian, Simmons Aerofilms
In January 1998 the Midwives Journal published an article by Terri Coates entitled “Impressions of the Midwife in Literature”. After careful research, Terri was forced to conclude that midwives are virtually non-existent in literature., in heaven’s name? Fictional doctors strut across the pages of books in droves, scattering pearls of wisdom as they pass. Nurses, good and bad, are by no means absent. But midwives? Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine?midwifery is in itself the very stuff of drama and melodrama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust, is born in pain and suffering followed by joy or tragedy and anguish. A midwife attends every birth; she is in the thick of it, she sees it all. Why, then, does she remain a shadowy figure, hidden behind the delivery room door?Coates ended her article with the words: “Maybe there is a midwife somewhere who can do for midwifery what James Herriot did for veterinary practice.”read those words and took up the challenge.Worth
Nonnatus House was situated in the heart of the London Docklands. The practice covered Stepney, Limehouse, Millwall, the Isle of Dogs, Cubitt Town, Poplar, Bow, Mile End and Whitechapel. The area was densely populated and most families had lived there for generations, often not moving more than a street or two away from their birthplace. Family life was lived at close quarters and children were brought up by a widely extended family of aunts, grandparents, cousins and older siblings, all living within a few houses, or at the most, streets of each other. Children would run in and out of each other’s homes all the time and when I lived and worked there, I cannot remember a door ever being locked, except at night.were everywhere, and the streets were their playgrounds. In the 1950s there were no cars in the back streets, because no one had a car, so it was perfectly safe to play there. There was heavy industrial traffic on the main roads, particularly those leading to and from the docks, but the little streets were traffic-free.bomb sites were the adventure playgrounds. They were numerous, a terrible reminder of the war and the intense bombing of the Docklands only ten years before. Great chunks had been cut out of the terraces, each encompassing perhaps two or three streets. The area would be roughly boarded off, partly hiding a wasteland of rubble with bits of building half standing, half fallen. Perhaps a notice stating DANGER - KEEP OUT would be nailed up somewhere, but this was like a red rag to a bull to any lively lad over the age of about six or seven, and every bomb site had secret entries where the boarding was carefully removed, allowing a small body to squeeze through. Officially no one was allowed in, but everyone, including the police, seemed to turn a blind eye.was undoubtedly a rough area. Knifings were common. Street fights were common. Pub fights and brawls were an everyday event. In the small, overcrowded houses, domestic violence was expected. But I never heard of gratuitous violence children or towards the elderly; there was a certain respect for the weak. This was the time of the Kray brothers, gang warfare, vendettas, organised crime and intense rivalry. The police were everywhere, and never walked the beat alone. Yet I never heard of an old lady being knocked down and having her pension stolen, or of a child being abducted and murdered.vast majority of the men living in the area worked in the docks.was high, but wages were low and the hours were long. The men holding the skilled jobs had relatively high pay and regular hours, and their jobs were fiercely guarded. Their skills were usually kept in the family, passed from father to sons or nephews. But for the casual labourers, life must have been hell. There would be no work when there were no boats to unload, and the men would hang around the gates all day, smoking and quarrelling. But when there was a boat to unload, it would mean fourteen, perhaps eighteen hours of relentless manual labour. They would start at five in the morning and end around ten at night. No wonder they fell into the pubs and drank themselves silly at the end of it. Boys started in the docks at the age of fifteen, and they were expected to work as hard as any man. All the men had to be union members and the unions strove to ensure fair rates of pay and fair hours, but they were bedevilled by the closed shop system, which seemed to cause as much trouble and ill feeling between workers as the benefits it accrued. However, without the unions, there is no doubt that the exploitation of workers would have been as bad in 1950 as it had been in 1850.marriage was the norm. There was a high sense of sexual morality, even prudery, amongst the respectable people of the East End. Unmarried partners were virtually unknown, and no girl would ever live with her boyfriend. If she attempted to, there would be hell to pay from her family. What went on in the bomb sites, or behind the dustbin sheds, was not spoken of. If a young girl did become pregnant, the pressure on the young man to marry her was so great that few resisted. Families were large, often very large, and divorce was rare. Intense and violent family rows were common, but husband and wife usually stuck together.women went out to work. The young girls did, of course, but as soon as a young woman settled down it would have been frowned upon. Once the babies started coming, it was impossible: an endless life of child-rearing, cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking would be her lot. I often wondered how these women managed, with a family of up to thirteen or fourteen children in a small house, containing only two or three bedrooms. Some families of that size lived in the tenements, which often consisted of only two rooms and a tiny kitchen., if practised at all, was unreliable. It was left to the women, who had endless discussions about safe periods, slippery elm, gin and ginger, hot water douches and so on, but few attended any birth control clinic and, from what I heard, most men, absolutely refused to wear a sheath., drying and ironing took up the biggest part of a woman’s working day. Washing machines were virtually unknown and tumble driers had not been invented. The drying yards were always festooned with clothes, and we midwives often had to pick our way through a forest of flapping linen to get to our patients. Once in the house or flat, there would be more washing to duck and weave through, in the hall, the stairways, the kitchen, the living room and the bedroom. Launderettes were not introduced until the 1960s, so all washing had to be done by hand at home.the 1950s, most houses had running cold water and a flushing lavatory in the yard outside. Some even had a bathroom. The tenements, however, did not, and the public wash-houses were still very much in use. Grumbling boys were taken there once a week to have a bath by determined mothers. The men, probably under female orders, carried out the same weekly ablution. You would see them going to the bath-house on a Saturday afternoon with a small towel, a piece of soap, and a dour expression, which spoke of a weekly tussle once again waged and lost.houses had a wireless, but I did not see a single TV set during my time in the East End, which may well have contributed to the size of the families. The pubs, the men’s clubs, dances, cinemas, the music halls and dog racing were the main forms of relaxation. For the young people, surprisingly, the church was often the centre of social life, and every church had a series of youth clubs and activities going on every night of the week. All Saints Church in the East India Dock Road, a huge Victorian church, had many hundreds of youngsters in its youth club run by the Rector and no less than seven energetic young curates. They needed all their youth and energy to cope, night after night, with activities for five or six hundred young people.thousands of seamen of all nationalities that came into the docks did not seem to impinge much upon the lives of the people who lived there. “We keeps ourselves to ourselves,” the locals said, which meant no contact. Daughters were carefully protected: there were plenty of brothels to cater for the needs of the seamen. In my work I had to visit two or three of them, and I found them very creepy places to be in.saw prostitutes soliciting in the main roads, but none at all in the little streets, even on the Isle of Dogs, which was the first landing place for the seamen. The experienced professional would never waste her time in such an unpromising area, and if any enthusiastic amateur had been rash enough to attempt it, she would soon have been driven out, probably with violence, by the outraged local residents, men as well as women. The brothels were well known, and always busy. I daresay they were illegal, and raided from time to time by the police, but that did not seem to affect business. Their existence certainly kept the streets clean.has changed irrevocably in the last fifty years. My memories of the Docklands bear no resemblance to what is known today. Family and social life has completely broken down, and three things occurring together, within a decade, ended centuries of tradition - the closure of the docks, slum clearance, and the Pill.clearance started in the late 1950s, while I was still working in the area. No doubt the houses were a bit grotty, but they were people’s homes and much loved. I remember many, many people, old and young, men and women, holding a piece of paper from the Council, informing them that their houses or flats were to be demolished, and that they were to be rehoused. Most were sobbing. They knew no other world, and a move of four miles seemed like going to the ends of the earth. The moves shattered the extended family, and children suffered as a result. The transition also literally killed many old people who could not adapt. What is the point of a spanking new flat with central heating and a bathroom, if you never see your grandchildren, have no one to talk to, and your local, which sold the best beer in London, is now four miles away?Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer going to be tied to the cycle of endless babies; they were going to be themselves. With the Pill came what we now call the sexual revolution. Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month on our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!closure of the docks occurred gradually over about fifteen years, but by about 1980 the merchant ships came and went no more. The men clung to their jobs, the unions tried to defend them, and there were numerous dockers’ strikes during the 1970s, but the writing was on the wall. In fact the strikes, far from protecting jobs, merely accelerated the closures. For the men of the area, the docks were more than a job, even more than a way of life - they were, in fact, life itself - and for these men, the world fell apart. The ports, which for centuries had been the main arteries of England, were no longer needed. And therefore the men were no longer needed. This was the end of the Docklands as I knew them.the Victorian era, social reform had swept through the country. For the first time authors wrote about iniquities that had never before been exposed, and the public conscience was stirred. Among these reforms, the need for good nursing care in hospitals gained the attention of many farsighted and educated women. Nursing and midwifery were in a deplorable state. It was not considered a respectable occupation for any educated woman, and so the illiterate filled the gap. The caricature figures of Sairey Gamp and Betsy Prig - ignorant, filthy, gin-swilling women - created by Charles Dickens, may seem hilarious as we read about them, but would not have been funny if you had been obliged, through poverty, to place your life in their hands.Nightingale is our most famous nurse, and her dynamic organisational skills changed the face of nursing for ever. But she was not alone, and the history of nursing records many groups of dedicated women who devoted their lives to raising the standards of nursing. One such group was the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus,1 They were a religious order of Anglican nuns, devoted to bringing safer childbirth to the poor. They opened houses in the East End of London, and in many of the slum areas of the great industrial cities of Great Britain.the nineteenth century (and earlier, of course) no poor woman could afford to pay the fee required by a doctor for the delivery of her baby. So she was forced to rely on the services of an untrained, self-taught midwife, or “handywoman” as they were often called. Some may have been quite effective practitioners, but others boasted a frightening mortality rate. In the mid-nineteenth century, maternal mortality amongst the poorest classes stood at around 35-40 per cent, and infant mortality was around 60 per cent. Anything like eclampsia, haemorrhage, or mal-presentation, would mean the inevitable death of the mother. Sometimes these handywomen would abandon a patient to agony and death if any abnormality developed during labour. There is no doubt that their working practices were insanitary, to say the least, and thereby spread infection, disease and often death.only was there no training, but there was also no control over the numbers and practice of these handywomen. The Midwives of St Raymund saw that the answer to this social evil lay in the proper training of midwives and control of their work by legislation.was in the struggle for legislation that these feisty nuns and their supporters encountered the fiercest opposition. From about 1870 the battle raged; they were called “an absurdity”, “time wasters”, “a curiosity”, and “an objectionable body of busy-bodies”. They were accused of everything from perversion to greed for unlimited financial gain. But the Nonnatus Nuns would not be put down.thirty years the battle continued, but in 1902 the first Midwives Act was passed and the Royal College of Midwives was born.work of the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus was based upon a foundation of religious discipline. I have no doubt that this was necessary at the time, because the working conditions were so disgusting, and the work so relentless, that only those with a calling from God would wish to undertake it. Florence Nightingale records that when she was in her early twenties she saw a vision of Christ, telling her that her life was required for this work.St Raymund midwives worked in the slums of the London Docklands amongst the poorest of the poor and for about half of the nineteenth century they were the only reliable midwives working there. They laboured tirelessly through epidemics of cholera, typhoid, polio, and tuberculosis. In the early twentieth century, they worked through two world wars. In the 1940s, they remained in London and endured the Blitz with its intensive bombing of the docks. They delivered babies in air-raid shelters, dugouts, church crypts and underground stations. This was the tireless, selfless work to which they had pledged their lives, and they were known, respected and admired throughout the Docklands by the people who lived there. Everyone spoke of them with sincere love.were the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus when I first knew them: an order of nuns, fully professed and bound by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also qualified nurses and midwives, which is how I came to be among them. I did not expect it, but it turned out to be the most important experience of my life.THE MIDWIFEdid I ever start this? I must have been mad! There were dozens of other things I could have been - a model, air hostess, or a ship’s stewardess. The ideas run through my head, all glamorous, highly paid jobs. Only an idiot would choose to be a nurse. And now a midwife ...thirty in the morning! I struggle, half asleep, into my uniform. Only three hours sleep after a seventeen-hour working day. Who would do such a job? It is bitterly cold and raining outside. Nonnatus House itself is cold enough, and the bicycle shed even colder. In the dark I wrench at a bicycle and crack my shin. Through blind force of habit, I fit my delivery bag on to the bicycle, and push it out into the deserted street.the corner, Leyland Street, across the East India Dock Road and then on to the Isle of Dogs. The rain has woken me up and the steady pedalling calms my temper. Why did I ever go into nursing? My thoughts flit back five or six years. Certainly there had been no feeling of vocation, none of the burning desire to heal the sick that nurses are supposed to feel. What was it then? A broken heart certainly, the need to get away, a challenge, the sexy uniform with the cuffs and ruffs, the pinched-in waists and pert little caps. Were they reasons though? I can’t tell. As for the sexy uniform, that’s a laugh, I think as I pedal through the rain in my navy gabardine, with the cap pulled down well over my head. Sexy, indeed.the first swing bridge that closes off the dry docks. All day they teem with noise and life, as the great vessels are loaded and unloaded. Thousands of men: dockers, stevedores, drivers, pilots, sailors, fitters, crane drivers, all toiling ceaselessly. Now the docks are silent, the only sound is the movement of water. The darkness is intense.the tenements where countless thousands sleep, probably four or five to a bed, in their little two-room flats. Two rooms for a family of ten or twelve children. How do they manage it?cycle on, intent on getting to my patient. A couple of policemen wave and call out their greetings; the human contact raises my spirits no end. Nurses and policemen always have a rapport, especially in the East End. It’s interesting, I reflect, that they always go around in pairs for mutual protection. You never see a policeman alone. Yet we nurses and midwives are always alone, on foot or bicycle. We would never be touched. So deep is the respect, even reverence, of the roughest, toughest docker for the district midwives that we can go anywhere alone, day or night, without fear.dark unlit road lies before me. The road around the Isle is continuous, but narrow streets lead off it, criss-crossing each other, each containing thousands of terraced houses. The road has a romantic appeal because the sound of the moving river is always present.I turn off the West Ferry Road into the side streets. I can see my patient’s house at once - the only house with a light on.seems there is a deputation of women waiting inside to greet me. The patient’s mother, her grandmother (or were they two grandmothers?), two or three aunts, sisters, best friends, a neighbour. Well thank God Mrs Jenkins isn’t here this time, I think.somewhere in the background of this powerful sisterhood is a solitary male, the origin of all the commotion. I always feel sorry for the men in this situation. They seemed so marginalised.noise and the chatter of the women engulfs me like a blanket.
“How about a nice cup o’ tea? That’ll warm the cockles, eh, luvvy?”
“She’s upstairs, where you left ’er. Pains about every five minutes. She’s been asleep since you left, just afore midnight. Then she woke up, about two-ish, pains gettin’ worse, an’ faster, so we reckons as ’ow we ought ’a call the midwife, eh, Mum?”agrees, and bustles forth authoritatively.
“We got the water hot, an’ a load o’ nice clean towels, an’ got the fire goin’, so it’s all nice an’ warm for the new baby.”have never been able to talk much, and in this situation I don’t need to. I give them my coat and hat, but decline their tea, as experience has taught me that, in general, Poplar tea is revolting: strong enough to creosote a fence, stewed for hours, and laced with sticky sweet condensed milk.am glad that I shaved Muriel earlier in the day when the light was good enough to do it without risk of cutting her. I also gave the required enema at the same time. It’s a job I hate, so thankfully it is over; besides which, who would want to give a two-pint soap-and-water enema (especially if there was no lavatory in the house), with all the resultant mess and smell, at two-thirty in the morning?go upstairs to Muriel, a buxom girl of twenty-five who is having her fourth baby. The gaslight sheds a soft warm glow over the room. The fire blazes fiercely, and the heat is almost suffocating. A quick glance tells me that Muriel is nearing the second stage of labour - the sweating, the slight panting, the curious in-turned look that a woman has at this time as she concentrates every ounce of her mental and physical strength on her body, and on the miracle she is about to bring forth. She doesn’t say anything, just squeezes my hand and gives a preoccupied smile. I left her three hours earlier, in the first stage of labour. She had been niggling in false labour all day and was very tired, so I gave chloral hydrate at about 10 p.m., in the hope that she would sleep all night and wake in the morning refreshed. It hasn’t worked. Does labour ever go the way you want it to?have to be sure how far on she is, so prepare to do a vaginal examination. As I scrub up, another pain comes on - you can see it building in strength until it seems her poor body will break apart. It has been estimated that, at the height of labour, each uterine contraction exerts the same pressure as the closing of the doors of an underground tube train. I can well believe it as I watch Muriel’s labour. Her mother and sister are sitting with her. She clings to them in speechless, gasping agony, a breathless moan escaping her throat until it passes, then sinks back exhausted, to gather her strength for the next contraction.put on my gloves and lubricate my hand. I ask Muriel to draw her knees up, as I wanted to examine her. She knows exactly what I am going to do, and why. I put a sterile sheet under her buttocks and slip two fingers into her vagina. The head well down, anterior presentation, only a thin rim of cervix remaining, but waters apparently not yet broken. I listen to the foetal heart, a steady 130. Good. That is all I need to know. I tell her everything is normal, and that she hasn’t far to go now. Then another pain starts, and all words and actions have to be suspended in the enormous intensity of labour.tray has to be set out. The chest of drawers has been cleared in advance to provide a working surface. I lay out my scissors, cord clamps, cord tape, foetal stethoscope, kidney dishes, gauze and cotton swabs, artery forceps. Not a great deal is necessary, in any case it has to be easily portable, both on a bicycle, and up and down the miles of tenement stairs and balconies.bed has been prepared in advance. We supplied a maternity pack, which was collected by the husband a week or two before delivery. It contains maternity pads - “bunnies” we call them - large absorbent sheets, which are disposable, and non-absorbent brown paper. This brown paper looks absurdly old fashioned, but it is entirely effective. It covers the whole bed, all the absorbent pads and sheets can be laid on it and, after delivery, everything can be bundled up into it and burned.cot is ready. A good size washing bowl is available, and gallons of hot water are being boiled downstairs. There is no running hot water in the house and I wonder how they used to manage when there was no water at all. It must have been an all night job, going out to collect it and boiling it up. On what? A range in the kitchen that had to be fuelled all the time, with coal if they could afford it, or driftwood if they couldn’t.I haven’t much time to sit and reflect. Often in a labour you can wait all night, but something tells me this one will not go that way. The increasing power and frequency of the pains, coupled with the fact that it is a fourth baby, indicate the second stage is not far away. The pains are coming every three minutes now. How much more can she bear, how much can any woman bear? Suddenly the sac bursts, and water floods the bed. I like to see it that way; I get a bit apprehensive if the waters break early. After the contraction, the mother and I change the soaking sheets as quickly as we can. Muriel can’t get up at this stage, so we have to roll her. With the next contraction I see the head. Intense concentration is now necessary.animal instinct she begins pushing. If all is well, a multigravida can often push the head out in seconds, but you don’t want it that way. Every good midwife tries to ensure a slow steady delivery of the head.
“I want you on your left side, Muriel, after this contraction. Try not to push now while you are on your back. That’s it, turn over dear, and face the wall. Draw your right leg up towards your chin. Breathe deeply, carry on breathing like that. Just concentrate on breathing deeply. Your sister will help you.” I lean over the low sagging bed. All beds seem to sag in the middle in these parts, I think to myself. Sometimes I have had to deliver a baby on my knees. No time for that now though, another contraction is coming.
“Breathe deeply, push a little; not too hard.” The contraction passes and I listen to the foetal heart again: 140 this time. Still quite normal, but the raised heartbeat shows how much a baby goes through in the ordeal of being born. Another contraction.
“Push just a little Muriel, not too hard, we’ll soon have your baby born.”is beside herself with pain, but a sort of frantic elation comes over a woman during the last few moments of labour, and the pain doesn’t seem to matter. Another contraction. The head is coming fast, too fast.
“Don’t push Muriel, just pant - in, out - quickly, keep panting like that.”am holding the head back, to prevent it bursting out and splitting the perineum.is very important to ease the head out between contractions, and as I hold the head back, I realise I am sweating from the effort required, the concentration, the heat and the intensity of the moment.contraction passes, and I relax a little, listening to the foetal heart again - still normal. Delivery is imminent. I place the heel of my right hand behind the dilated anus, and push forward firmly and steadily until the crown is clear of the vulva.
“With the next contraction, Muriel the head will be born. Now I don’t want you to push at all. Just let the muscles of your stomach do the job. All you have to do is to try to relax, and just pant like mad.”steel myself for the next contraction which comes with surprising speed. Muriel is panting continuously. I ease the perineum around the emerging crown, and the head is born.all breathe a sigh of relief. Muriel is weak with the effort.
“Well done, Muriel, you are doing wonderfully, it won’t be long now. The next pain, and we will know if it’s a boy or a girl.”baby’s face is blue and puckered, covered in mucus and blood. I check the heartbeat. Still normal. I observe the restitution of the head through one eighth of a circle. The presenting shoulder can now be delivered from under the pubic arch.contraction.
“This is it Muriel, you can push now - hard.”ease the presenting shoulder out with a forward and upward sweep. The other shoulder and arm follow, and the baby’s whole body slides out effortlessly.
“It’s another little boy,” cried the mother. “Thanks be to God. Is he healthy, nurse?”was in tears of joy. “Oh, bless him. Here, let me have a look. ‘Ow, ’e’s loverly.”am almost as overwhelmed as Muriel, the relief of a safe delivery is so powerful. I clamp the baby’s cord in two places, and cut between; I hold him by the ankles upside down to ensure no mucus is inhaled.breathes. The baby is now a separate being.wrap him in the towels given to me, and hand him to Muriel, who cradles him, coos over him, kisses him, calls him “beautiful, lovely, an angel”. Quite honestly, a baby covered in blood, still slightly blue, eyes screwed up, in the first few minutes after birth, is not an object of beauty. But the mother never sees him that way. To her, he is all perfection.job is not done, however. The placenta must be delivered, and it must be delivered whole, with no pieces torn off and left behind in the uterus. If there are, the woman will be in serious trouble: infection, ongoing bleeding, perhaps even a massive haemorrhage, which can be fatal. It is perhaps the trickiest part of any delivery, to get the placenta out whole and intact.uterine muscles, having succeeded in the massive task of delivering the baby, often seem to want to take a holiday. Frequently there are no further contractions for ten to fifteen minutes. This is nice for the mother, who only wants to lie back and cuddle her baby, indifferent to what is going on down below, but it can be an anxious time for the midwife. When contractions do start, they are frequently very weak. Successful delivery of the placenta is usually a question of careful timing, judgement and, most of all, experience.say it takes seven years of practice to make a good midwife. I was only in my first year, alone, in the middle of the night, with this trusting woman and her family, and no telephone in the house.God, don’t let me make a mistake, I prayed.clearing the worst of the mess from the bed, I lay Muriel on her back, on warm dry maternity pads, and cover her with a blanket. Her pulse and blood pressure are normal, and the baby lies quietly in her arms. All I have to do was to wait.sit on a chair beside the bed, with my hand on the fundus in order to feel and assess. Sometimes the third stage can take twenty to thirty minutes. I muse over the importance of patience, and the possible disasters that can occur from a desire to hasten things. The fundus feels soft and broad, so the placenta is obviously still attached in the upper uterine segment. There are no contractions for a full ten minutes. The cord protrudes from the vagina, and it is my practice to clamp it just below the vulva, so that I can see when the cord lengthens - a sign of the placenta separating and descending into the lower uterine segment. But nothing is happening. It goes through my mind that reports you hear of taxi drivers or bus conductors safely delivering a baby never mention this. Any bus driver can deliver a baby in an emergency, but who would have the faintest idea of how to manage the third stage? I imagine that most uninformed people would want to pull on the cord, thinking that this would help expel the placenta, but it can lead to sheer disaster.is cooing and kissing her baby while her mother tidies up. The fire crackles. I sit quietly waiting, pondering.aren’t midwives the heroines of society that they should be? Why do they have such a low profile? They ought to be lauded to the skies, by everyone. But they are not. The responsibility they carry is immeasurable. Their skill and knowledge are matchless, yet they are completely taken for granted, and usually overlooked.medical students in the 1950s were trained by midwives. They had classroom lectures from an obstetrician, certainly, but without clinical practice lectures are meaningless. So in all teaching hospitals, medical students were attached to a teacher midwife, and would go out with her in the district to learn the skill of practical midwifery. All GPs had been trained by a midwife. But these facts seemed to be barely known.fundus tightens and rises a little in the abdomen as a contraction grips the muscles. Perhaps this is it, I think. But no. It doesn’t feel right. Too soft after the contraction.wait.reflect upon the incredible advance in midwifery practice over the century; the struggle dedicated women have had to obtain a proper training, and to train others. There has been recognised training for less than fifty years. My mother and all her siblings were delivered by an untrained woman, usually called the “goodwife” or the “handywoman”. No doctor was present, I was told.contraction coming. The fundus rises under my hand and remains hard. At the same time the forceps that I had clamped to the cord move a little. I test them. Yes, another four to six inches of cord comes out easily. The placenta has separated.ask Muriel to hand the baby over to her mother. She knows what I am going to do. I massage the fundus in my hand until it is hard and round and mobile. Then I grasp it firmly, and push downwards and backwards into the pelvis. As I push, the placenta appears at the vulva, and I lift it out with my other hand. The membranes slide out, followed by a gush of fresh blood and some clotted blood.feel weak with relief. It is accomplished. I put the kidney dish on the dresser, to await my inspection, and sit beside Muriel for a further ten minutes massaging the fundus, to ensure that it remains hard and round, which will expel residual blood clots.later years oxytocics would be routinely given after the birth of the baby, causing immediate and vigorous uterine contraction, so that the placenta is expelled within three to five minutes of the baby’s birth. Medical science marches on! But in the 1950s, we had no such aids to delivery.that remains is to clean up. While Mrs Hawkin is washing and changing her daughter, I examine the placenta. It seems complete, and the membranes intact. Then I examine the baby, who appears healthy and normal. I bathe and dress him, in clothes that are ridiculously too big, and reflect upon Muriel’s joy and happiness, her relaxed easy countenance. She looks tired, I think, but no sign of stress or strain. There never is! There must be an in-built system of total forgetfulness in a woman; some chemical or hormone that immediately enters the memory part of the brain after delivery, so that there is absolutely no recall of the agony that has gone before. If this were not so, no woman would ever have a second baby.everything is shipshape, the proud father is permitted to enter. These days, most fathers are with their wives throughout labour, and attend the birth. But this is a recent fashion. Throughout history, as far as I know, it was unheard of. Certainly in the 1950s, everyone would have been profoundly shocked at such an idea. Childbirth was considered to be a woman’s business. Even the presence of doctors (all men until the late nineteenth century) was resisted, and it was not until obstetrics became recognised as a medical science that men attended childbirth.is a little man, probably less than thirty but he looks nearer forty. He sidles into the room looking sheepish and confused. Probably my presence makes him tongue-tied, but I doubt if he has ever had a great command of the English language. He mutters, “All right then, girl?” and gives Muriel a peck on the cheek. He looks even tinier beside his buxom wife, who could give him a good five stone in weight. Her flushed pink, newly washed skin makes him look even more grey, pinched and dried out. All the result of a sixty-hour working week in the docks, I think to myself.he looks at the baby, hums a bit - he is obviously thinking deeply about a suitable epithet - clears his throat, and says, “Gaw, he aint ’alf a bit of all right, then.” And then he leaves.regret that I have not been able to get to know the men of the East End. But it is quite impossible. I belong to the women’s world, to the taboo subject of childbirth. The men are polite and respectful to us midwives, but completely withdrawn from any familiarity, let alone friendship. There is a total divide between what is called men’s work and women’s work. So, like Jane Austen, who in all her writing never recorded a conversation between two men alone, because as a woman she could not know what exclusively male conversation would be like, I cannot record much about the men of Poplar, beyond superficial observation.am about ready to leave. It has been a long day and night, but a profound sense of fulfilment and satisfaction lighten my step and lift my heart. Muriel and baby are both asleep as I creep out of the room. The good people downstairs offer me more tea, which again I decline as gracefully as I can, saying that breakfast will be waiting for me at Nonnatus House. I give instructions to call us if there seems to be any cause for worry, but say that I will be back again around lunch time, and again in the evening.entered the house in the rain and the dark. There had been a fever of excitement and anticipation, and the anxiety of a woman in labour, on the brink of bringing forth new life. I leave a calm, sleeping household, with the new soul in their midst, and step out into morning sunlight.cycled through the dark deserted streets, the silent docks, past the locked gates, the empty ports. Now I cycle through bright early morning, the sun just rising over the river, the gates open or opening, men streaming through the streets, calling to each other; engines beginning to sound, the cranes to move; lorries turning in through the huge gates; the sounds of a ship as it moved. A dockyard is not really a glamorous place, but to a young girl with only three hours sleep on twenty-four hours of work, after the quiet thrill of a safe delivery of a healthy baby, it is intoxicating. I don’t even feel tired.swing bridge is open now, which means that the road is closed. A great ocean-going cargo boat is slowly and majestically entering the waters, her bows and funnels within inches of the houses on either side. I wait, dreamily watching the pilots and navigators guide her to her berth. I would love to know how they do it. Their skill is immense, taking years to learn, and is passed on from father to son, or uncle to nephew so they say. They are the princes of the docklands, and the casual labourers treat them with the deepest respect.takes about fifteen minutes for a boat to go through the bridge. Time to think. Strange how my life has developed, from a childhood disrupted by the war, a passionate love affair when I was only sixteen, and the knowledge three years later that I had to get away. So, for purely pragmatic reasons, my choice was nursing. Do I regret it?sharp piercing sound wakes me from my reverie, and the swing bridge begins to close. The road is open again, and the traffic begins to move. I cycle close to the kerb, as the lorries around me are a bit intimidating. A huge man with muscles like steel pulls off his cap and shouts, “Mornin’ narse.”shout back, “Morning, lovely day,” and cycle on, exulting in my youth, the morning air, the heady excitement of the docks, but above all in the matchless sensation of having delivered a beautiful baby to a joyful mother.did I ever start? Do I regret it? Never, never, never. I wouldn’t swap my job for anything on earth.HOUSEanyone told me, two years earlier, that I would be going to a convent for midwifery training, I would have run a mile. I was not that sort of girl. Convents were for Holy Marys, dreary and plain. Not for me. I had thought that Nonnatus House was a small, privately run hospital, of which there were many hundreds in the country at that time.arrived with bag and baggage on a damp October evening, having known only the West End of London. The bus from Aldgate brought me to a very different London, with narrow unlit streets, bomb sites, and dirty, grey buildings. With difficulty I found Leyland Street and looked for the hospital. It was not there. Perhaps I had the wrong address.stopped a passerby and enquired for the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus. The lady put down her string bag and beamed at me cordially, the missing front teeth adding to the geniality of her features. Her metal hair-curlers gleamed in the darkness. She took a cigarette from her mouth and said something that sounded like, “Yer washa nonnatuns arse, eh dearie?”stared at her, trying to work it out. I had not mentioned “washing” anything, particularly anyone’s arse.
“No. I want the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus.”
“Yeah. Loike wha’ oie sez, duckie. Ve Nonnatuns. Ober dere, dearie. Vat’s veir arse.”patted my arm reassuringly, pointed to a building, stuck the cigarette back in her mouth, and toddled off, her bedroom slippers flapping on the pavement.this point in my narrative it would be expedient to refer the bewildered reader to the supplement on the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect. Pure Cockney is, or was, incomprehensible to an outsider, but the ear grows accustomed to the vowels and consonants, the inflexions and idiom, until after a while, it all becomes perfectly obvious. As I write about the Docklands people, I can hear their voices, but the attempt to reproduce the dialect in writing has proved to be something of a challenge!I digress.looked at the building dubiously; I saw dirty red brick, Victorian arches and turrets, iron railings, no lights, all next to a bomb site. What on earth have I come to? I thought. That’s no hospital.pulled the bell handle, and a deep clanging came from within. A few moments later there were footsteps. The door was opened by a lady in strange clothes - not quite a nurse, but not quite a nun. She was tall and thin, and very, very old. She looked at me steadily for at least a minute without speaking, then leaned forward and took my hand. She looked all around her, drew me into the hallway, and whispered conspiratorially, “The poles are diverging, my dear.”robbed me of speech, but fortunately she had no need of my reply, and continued, with near-breathless excitement, “Yes, and Mars and Venus are in alignment. You know what that means, of course?”shook my head.
“Oh, my dear, the static forces, the convergence of the fluid with the solid, the descent of the hexagon as it passes through the ether. This is a unique time to be alive. So exciting. The little angels clap their wings.”laughed, clapped her bony hands, and did a little skip.
“But come in, come in, my dear. You must have some tea, and some cake. The cake is very good. Do you like cake?”nodded.
“So do I. We shall have some together, my dear, and you must give me your opinion on the theory that the depths in space are forever being pulled by the process of gravitation into heavenly bodies.”turned and walked swiftly down a stone passage, her white veil floating behind her. I was in some doubt about whether to follow, because I thought I must surely have come to the wrong address, but she seemed to expect me to be right behind her, and talked all the while, asking questions to which she clearly did not expect an answer.entered a very large Victorian-looking kitchen with a stone floor, stone sink, wooden draining boards, tables and cupboards. The room contained an old-fashioned gas-stove with wooden plate-racks above it, a large Ascot water heater over the sink, and lead pipes attached to the walls. A large coke-burner stood in one corner, the flue running up to the ceiling.
“Now for the cake,” said my companion. “Mrs B. made it this morning. I saw her with my own eyes. Where have they put it? You had better look around, dear.”the wrong house is one thing, but poking around in someone else’s kitchen is quite another matter. I spoke for the first time. “Is this Nonnatus House?”old lady raised her hands in a theatrical gesture and in clear, ringing tones cried out, “Not born, yet born in death. Born to greatness. Born to lead and inspire.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling and lowered her voice to a thrilling whisper, “Born to be sanctified!”she mad? I stared at her in dumb stupefaction, then repeated the question, “Yes, but is this Nonnatus House?”
“Oh, my dear, I knew the moment I saw you that you would understand. The cloud rests unbroken. Youth is freely given, the chimes sing of sad indigos, deep vermilions. Let us make what sense of it we can. Put the kettle on, dear. Don’t just stand there.”seemed to be no point in repeating my question, so I filled the kettle. The pipes all around the kitchen rattled and shook with a most alarming noise as I turned on the tap. The old lady poked around, opening cupboards and tins, chatting all the while about cosmic rays and confluent ethers. Suddenly she gave a cry of delight. “The cake! The cake! I knew I would find it.”turned to me and whispered, with a naughty gleam in her eye, “They think they can hide things from Sister Monica Joan, but they are not smart enough, my dear. Plodding or swift, laughter or despair, none can hide, all will be revealed. Get two plates and a knife, and don’t hang around. Where’s the tea?”sat down at the huge wooden table. I poured the tea, and Sister Monica Joan cut two large slices of cake. She crumbled her slice into tiny pieces, and pushed them around her plate with long, bony fingers. She ate with murmurs of ecstatic delight, and winked at me as she gobbled morsels down. The cake was excellent, and a fellowship of conspiracy was entered into as we agreed that another slice would be in order.
“They will never know, my dear. They will think that Fred has had it, or that poor fellow who sits on the doorstep eating his sandwiches.”looked out of the window. “There is a light in the sky. Do you think it is a planet exploding, or an alien landing?”thought it was an aeroplane, but I opted for the exploding planet, then said, “How about some more tea?”
“Just what I was about to suggest, and what about another slice of cake? They won’t be back before seven o’ clock, you know.”chatted on. I could not make head nor tail of what she was on about, but she was enchanting. The more I looked at her, the more I could see fragile beauty in her high cheekbones, her bright eyes, her wrinkled, pale ivory skin, and the perfect balance of her head on her long, slender neck. The constant movement of her expressive hands, with their long fingers like a ballet of ten dancers, was hypnotic. I felt myself falling under a spell.finished the cake with no trouble at all, having agreed that an empty tin would be less conspicuous than a small wedge of cake left on a plate. She winked mischievously, and chuckled. “That tiresome Sister Evangelina will be the first to notice. You should see her, my dear, when she gets cross. Oh, the hideous baggage. Her red face gets even redder, and her nose drips. Yes, it actually drips! I have seen it.” She tossed her head haughtily. “But what can it signify for me? The mystery of the evidence of consciousness is a house in a given time, a function and an event combined, and few are the elite, indeed, who can welcome such a realisation. But hush. What is that? Make haste.”leaped up, scattering cake crumbs all over the table, the floor, and herself, grabbed the tin and hurried with it to the larder. Then she sat down again, assuming an exaggerated expression of innocence.were heard on the stone floor of the hallway, and female voices. Three nuns entered the kitchen, talking about enemas, constipation, and varicose veins. I concluded that I must, against all expectations, be in the right place.of them stopped, and addressed me, “You must be Nurse Lee. We were expecting you. Welcome to Nonnatus House. I am Sister Julienne, the Sister-in-Charge. We will have a little chat together in my office after supper. Have you eaten?”face and the voice were so open and honest, and the question so artless, that I could not reply. I felt the cake sitting heavily in the bottom of my stomach. I managed to murmur “yes, thank you” and surreptitiously brushed a crumb off my skirt.
“Well, you will excuse us if we have a small meal. We usually prepare our own supper because we all come in at different times.”Sisters were bustling about, fetching plates, knives, cheese, biscuits and other things from the larder, and laying them on the kitchen table. A cry came from behind the door, and a red-faced nun emerged carrying the cake tin.
“It’s gone. The tin’s empty. Where is Mrs B.’s cake? She made it only this morning.”must be Sister Evangelina. Her face was getting redder as she glared around.one spoke. The three Sisters looked at each other. Sister Monica Joan sat aloof, beyond all reproach, her eyes closed. The cake was doing something nasty to my intestines, and I knew that the enormity of my crime could not be concealed. My voice was husky as I whispered, “I had a little.”red face and heavy figure advanced toward Sister Monica Joan. “And she’s had the rest of it. Look at her, covered in cake crumbs. It’s disgusting. Oh, the greedy thing! She can’t keep her hands off anything. That cake was for all of us. You ... you ...”Evangelina was shaking with rage as she towered over Sister Monica Joan, who remained absolutely immobile, her eyes closed, as though she had not heard a word. She looked fragile and aristocratic. I could not bear it, and found my voice. “No, you’ve got it wrong. Sister Monica Joan had a slice, and I had the rest.”three nuns stared at me in astonishment. I felt myself blush all over. Had I been a dog caught stealing the Sunday roast, I would have crept under the table with my tail between my legs. To have entered a strange house, and to have consumed the best part of a cake without the knowledge or consent of the lawful owners, was a solecism worthy of severe retribution. I could only mutter, “I’m sorry. I was hungry. I won’t do it again.”Evangelina snorted and banged the tin on the table.Monica Joan, whose eyes were still closed, head turned away, moved for the first time. She took a handkerchief from her pocket and handed it to Sister Evangelina, holding it by a corner with thumb and forefinger, the other fingers arched fastidiously. “Perhaps it is time for a little mopping up, dear,” she said sweetly.boiled even more fiercely. The redness of Sister Evangelina’s features turned to purple, and moisture gathered round her nostrils.
“No thank you, dear. I have one of my own,” she spat out through clenched teeth.Monica Joan gave an affected little jump, brushed her face elegantly with the handkerchief, and murmured, as though to herself, “Methinks ’tis raining. I cannot abide the rain. I will retire. Pray excuse me, Sisters. We will meet at Compline.”smiled graciously at the three Sisters, then turned to me, and gave me the biggest, naughtiest wink I had ever seen in my life. Haughtily, she sailed out of the kitchen.felt myself squirm with embarrassment as the door closed and I was left alone with the three nuns. I just wanted to sink through the floor, or run away. Sister Julienne told me to take my case to the top floor, where I would find a room with my name on the door. I had expected a heavy silence and three pairs of eyes following me as I left the kitchen, but Sister Julienne started talking about an old lady she had just visited, whose cat appeared to be stuck up the chimney. They all laughed, and to my intense relief the atmosphere lightened at once.the hallway, I seriously wondered whether or not to cut and run. The fact that I was in something like a convent, and not a hospital, was ridiculous, and the whole saga of the cake, humiliating. I could have just picked up my case and vanished into the darkness. It was tempting. In fact I might have done so had the front door not opened at that moment and two laughing young girls appeared. Their faces were pink and freshened by the night air, their hair untidy from the wind. A few spots of rain glistened on their long gaberdine raincoats. They were about my age, and looked happy and full of life.
“Hello!” said a deep, slow voice. “You must be Jenny Lee. How nice. You’ll like it here. There are not too many of us. I’m Cynthia, and this is Trixie.”Trixie had already disappeared down the passage towards the kitchen with the words: “I’m famished. See you later.”’s voice was astonishing - soft, low, and slightly husky. She also spoke extremely slowly, and with just a touch of laughter in her tone. In another type of girl, it would have been the cultivated, sexy voice of allure. I had met plenty of that type in four years of nursing, but Cynthia was not one of their number. Her voice was completely natural, and she could speak no other way. My discomfort and uncertainty left me, and we grinned at each other, friends already. I decided I would stay.that evening I was called to Sister Julienne’s office. I went filled with dread, expecting a severe dressing-down about the cake. Having endured four years of tyranny from hospital nursing hierarchies, I expected the worst, and ground my teeth in anticipation.Julienne was small and plump. She must have worked about fifteen or sixteen hours that day, but she looked as fresh as a daisy. Her radiant smile reassured me and dispelled my fears. Her first words were, “We will say nothing more about the cake.”gave a great sigh of relief and sister Julienne burst out laughing, “Strange things happen to us all in the company of Sister Monica Joan. But I assure you, no one will mention it again. Not even Sister Evangelina.”said the last words with special emphasis, and I found myself laughing also. I was completely won over, and glad I had not been so rash as to run away.next words were unexpected. “What is your religion, nurse?”
“Well ... er ... none ... er ... that is, Methodist - I think.”question seemed astonishing, irrelevant, even slightly silly. To ask about my education, my training and experience in nursing, my plans for the future - all that would have been anticipated and acceptable. But religion? What had religion to do with anything?looked very grave, and said gently, “Jesus Christ is our strength and our guidance here. Perhaps you will join us sometimes at Church on a Sunday?”then went on to explain the training I would receive, and the routine of Nonnatus House. I would be under the supervision of a trained midwife for all visits for about three weeks, and then go out alone for ante- and post-natal work. All deliveries would be supervised by another midwife. Classroom lectures were held once a week in the evening, after work. All study would be done in our spare time.sat quietly explaining other details, most of which went over my head. I was not really listening, but wondering about her, and why I felt so comfortable and happy in her company.bell rang. She smiled. “It is time for Compline. I must go. We will meet in the morning. I hope you have a restful night.”impact Sister Julienne made upon me - and, I discovered, most people - was out of all proportion to her words or her appearance. She was not imposing or commanding, nor arresting in any way. She was not even particularly clever. But something radiated from her and, ponder as I might, I could not understand it. It did not occur to me at the time that her radiance had a spiritual dimension, owing nothing to the values of the temporal world.VISITSwas about 6 a.m. when I arrived back at Nonnatus House after Muriel’s delivery, and I was ravenous. A night’s work, and a six to eight mile cycle ride can sharpen a young appetite like nothing else. The house was quiet when I entered. The nuns were in Chapel, and the lay staff not yet up. I was tired, but I knew that I had to clean my delivery bag, wash and sterilise my instruments, complete my notes and leave them on the office desk before I could eat.was laid out in the dining room, and I would take mine first, then go to bed for a few hours. I raided the larder. A pot of tea, boiled eggs, toast, home-made gooseberry jam, cornflakes, home-made yoghurt and scones. Heaven! Nuns always have a lot of home-made food, I had discovered. The preserves came from the many church bazaars and sales that seemed to go on throughout the year. The delicious cakes and biscuits and crunchy bread were made either by the nuns or by the many local women who came in to work at Nonnatus House. Any staff who had missed a meal through being called out had a free run of the larder. I was deeply grateful for this liberality, which was so unlike hospitals, where you had to plead for a bit of food if you had missed a meal for any reason.was a royal feast. I left a note asking to be called at about 11.30 a.m., and persuaded my tired legs to carry me up to my bedroom. I slept like a baby, and when someone roused me with a cup of tea, I couldn’t remember where I was. The tea reminded me. Only the kind Sisters would send a cup of tea up to a nurse who had been working all night. In hospital it would be a bang on the door, and that would be that.I looked at the daybook. Only three calls before lunch. One to Muriel, and two visits to patients in the tenements that I would pass on the way. Four hours of sleep had refreshed me completely, and I got out the bike and cycled off in high spirits in the sunshine.tenements were always grim looking, whatever the weather. They were constructed as a four-sided building with an opening on one side, all the flats faced inwards. The buildings were about six storeys high, and sunlight seldom reached the inner courtyard, which was the social centre for the tenement dwellers. The courtyard contained all the washing lines and as there were literally hundreds of flats in each block, they were never without loads of washing flapping in the wind. The dustbins were also in the courtyard.the times I am writing about, the 1950s, there was a lavatory and running cold water in each flat. Before the introduction of these facilities, the lavatories and water were in the courtyard, and everyone had to go down to use them. Some of the tenements still retained the lavatory sheds, which were now used to house bikes or motor cycles. There did not seem many of them - perhaps three dozen at the most, and I wondered how there could have been enough lavatories for the occupants of about five hundred flats.threaded my way through the washing, and reached the stairway that I wanted. All the stairways were external, made of stone steps, and led up to a balcony, facing inwards, which ran the length of the building, going round all the corners, continuously. Each of the flats led off this balcony. Whereas the inner courtyard was the centre of social life, the balconies were the lanes, teeming with life and gossip. The balconies for the tenement women were equivalent to the streets of the terraced house dwellers. So close was the living space, that I doubt if anyone could get away with anything without all the neighbours knowing. The outside world held very little interest for the East Enders, and so other peoples’ business was the primary topic of conversation - for most it was the only interest, the only amusement or diversion. It is not surprising that savage fighting frequently broke out in the tenements.tenements looked unusually cheerful in the noonday sun when I arrived that day. I picked my way through the litter and dustbins and washing in the courtyard. Small children crowded around. The midwife’s delivery bag was an object of intense interest - they thought we carried the baby in it.found my entry, and climbed the five storeys to the flat I wanted.the flats were more or less the same: two or three rooms leading off each other. A stone sink in one corner of the main room; a gas stove and a cupboard constituting the kitchen. The lavatories, when they were introduced, had to be installed near the water supply, so they were situated in a corner, near to the sink. The installation of lavatories in each flat had been a great leap forward in public hygiene, because it improved the conditions in the courtyard. It also avoided the necessity of chamber pots in every flat which had to be emptied daily, the women carrying them downstairs to the emptying troughs. The ordure in the courtyards used to be disgusting, I was told.tenements of London’s East End were built around the 1850s, mainly to house the dock workers and their families. In their day, they were probably considered to be adequate housing, quite sufficient for any family. They were certainly an improvement on the mud-floor hovels that they replaced, which barely protected a family from the elements. The tenements were brick built with a slate roof. Rain did not penetrate and they were dry inside. I have no doubt that 150 years ago, they were ever considered to be luxurious. A large family of ten to twelve people in two or three rooms would not have been judged as overcrowding. After all, the vast majority of mankind has lived in such conditions throughout history.times change, and by the 1950s the tenements were considered to be slum areas. The rents were a lot cheaper than the terraced houses, and consequently only the poorest families, those least able to cope, entered the tenements. Social law seems to suggest that the poorest families are often the ones that produce the greatest number of children, and the tenements were always teeming with them. Infectious diseases ran through the buildings like wildfire. So did the pests: fleas, body lice, ticks, scabies, crabs, mice, rats, and cockroaches. The pest control men from the council were always busy. The tenements were deemed unfit for human habitation and evacuated in the 1960s, and stood empty for over a decade. They were finally demolished in 1982.was small and stringy, and as tough as old boots. She looked a good deal older than forty years. She had brought up six children. During the war they had been bombed out of a terraced house, but it had not been a direct hit, and the family had survived. The children were then evacuated. Her husband was a dock labourer, and she was a munitions worker. After the bombing, she and her husband had moved into the tenements, which were cheaper to rent. They both lived there throughout the entire Blitz, and miraculously the tenements, which were the most densely populated dwellings, were not hit. Edith did not see her children for five years, but they were reunited in 1945. The family continued to live in the tenements, because of the rent, and because they had become used to the life. How anyone could manage in two rooms with six growing children was always beyond my understanding. But they did, and thought nothing of it.had not been pleased to fall pregnant again, in fact she was furious, but like most women who have a baby late in life, she was besotted with the little thing when he arrived, and cooed over him all the time. The flat was hung with nappies all over the place - there were no disposable nappies in those days - and a pram further reduced the living space in the crowded room.was up and doing. It was her tenth day after delivery. We kept mothers in bed for a long time after delivery in those days - ten to fourteen days known as the “lying-in” period. Medically speaking, this was not good practice, as it is far better for a woman to get moving as soon as possible, thus reducing the risk of complications such as thrombosis. But this was not known back then, and it had been traditional to keep women in bed after a birth. The great advantage was that it gave the woman a proper, and well-earned, rest. Other people had to do all the household chores, and for a brief period, she could lead a life of idleness. She needed to gather her strength, because once she was on her feet again, everything would devolve to her. When you consider the physical effort required to carry all the shopping up those stairs: coal and wood in the winter, paraffin for stoves, or rubbish carried down to the dustbins in the courtyard; if you cons