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Four Meals For Fourpence - Grace Foakes

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Genre: Biography / Author: Grace Foakes / Edition: Reprint / Paperback / 288 Pages / Book is published 2011-05-12 by Virago

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      06.08.2012 22:46
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      Recommended, an important social history

      This review is of the paperback book "Four Meals for Fourpence" by Grace Foakes, and is sub-titled "A Heartwarming Tale of Family Life in London's Old East End".

      This book is not a new work, but is based on three other volumes of auto-biography by Grace Foakes, "Between High Walls", "My Part of the River" and "My Life with Reuben". I hadn't read any of these, so this book was of interest, but for those who have read one of these books, there will inevitably be some duplication.

      The book is the true story of the author's early life in the East End of London in the early part of the twentieth century. Their story is typical of many people living in the poverty of what was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and in many ways, life for the very poor had improved little since the times of Dickens and his stories of London.

      The book starts with Foakes noting that today the area around Tower Bridge, where she grew up, is now the "romantic river" that many described it as. She notes that, "those who lived alongside it or worked on it found it dirty, busy and smelly". She describes the hard work that the dockers had to put in, the poor working conditions, poor living conditions, lack of money and the giant river rats that ran alongside the river.

      I found the stories of the author's early life living in the East End, actually on Wapping High Street, fascinating, describing how the family lived their lives and the kitchen where "my mother could always be found". It is hard to imagine her mother's life, as she had fourteen children, but only five survived.

      There are also tales of how food was made to last, with the author's father "carving the Sunday joint so thin you could have blown it away". It is certainly a lesson in economy, and how so little money could go a long way. It's certainly a long way from how most families live today, but yet, this was almost the norm at the time for many families in the poor area of London.

      Foakes was born in 1901, but as this book is edited from other volumes, it covers a wider time period, through to her marriage with Reuben and her being given a new home in Dagenham as slum clearance forced thousands out of the area around Wapping and the East End.

      I found the first section of this book the most fascinating, with the author clearly describing the poverty in which she was brought up. The rest of the book is interesting to see how her life developed, but I felt the strong character of how her mother and father brought up the family in such poverty was really powerful and well written.

      Although sadly the author passed away, it is fortunate that her story lives on, and sad to think about just how many stories from similar families will never be told. I found the book engaging and genuine, and the author was likeable and told her story well. I felt the book didn't over-play the high emotion which this book contains, it is a powerful enough story in itself when the author tells the account of when she carried her sick little sister in newspaper to find a hospital that would help her.

      The book was originally published in May 2011 and the ISBN is 9781844087273. The book retails for 7.99 pounds, although at the time of writing is available from Amazon for 5.43 pounds including free UK delivery. Second hand copies are also available from Amazon for around 3 pounds including postage. There is also a Kindle edition for 4.99 pounds, disappointingly close to the price of the actual paperback book itself.

      In summary, I found this a fascinating book, the first section especially showing how tough it was for East End families in the very early part of the twentieth century. The book is well written and held my attention, wanting to know how the author's life developed. I found the later chapters a little less fascinating, but they were still interesting and I'd certainly recommend this book, especially as second hand copies can currently be found cheaply.

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