Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

A quick rundown… The second book from the author of Call the Midwife, this focuses on lives affected by the workhouse in 1950s Poplar.

Strengths: Learned more about the workhouse system and Sister Monica Joan.

Weaknesses: Not a great deal about the midwives.

Why I read it: I really enjoyed Call the Midwife (both the TV show and book)

Pages: 259 (ebook)

Published: 2005

Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Setting: London

Rating: 8 out of 10

Like a lot of other people, I really enjoy the TV series Call the Midwife. I also enjoyed the first book by Jennifer Worth – strangely enough, called Call the Midwife. After the second season of the show ended, I was eager for more tales of Jenny, Cynthia, Chummy, Trixie and the nuns.

The book is somewhat different to what I expected – I was looking for more nursing tales, but instead, this book focuses on several people that Jennifer met while she was in Poplar. There are still some good times with the other midwives, but this book belongs to Frank and Peggy, Jane, Sister Monica Joan and Joe Collett. The majority of these stories have also been played out on the show. This didn’t dent my enthusiasm; in fact it was rather nice to have the stories in both written and visual form.

Sister Monica Joan is a comical character in the book and I thoroughly enjoyed Jenny’s story of how she was caught shoplifting and what the nuns did for her. Joe’s story, full of hardship and life in the tenements, was a tearjerker. But the story of Frank, Peggy and Jane was truly heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever read an account of the workhouse so bare, brutal and shocking.

Despite the hardships of these people, the book is a sound read as Jennifer brings to life 1950s London. I only wish there had been a bit more of ‘midwife’ action – births, camaraderie and friendships. However, I do have the television show for that!

I will be continuing to read Jennifer’s next book, Farewell to the East End, for another dose of all things Poplar.


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