The rain was pounding against my window on a Saturday afternoon back in November 2015. I was deliberating whether to stay in my warm cosy flat or go to a book reading at the Idea Store’s Write Idea Festival in Whitechapel. I’m so glad I decided to brave the cold as I met author Kate Thompson and her interviewee Sally discussing the real stories behind Kate’s first novel the Secrets of the Singer Girls. The book is based on a group of women rag trade workers set in Bethnal Green during WWII. Kate brings the women’s stories to life and had me in tears with both laughter and sadness. A year later, Kate asked me to help her research her latest novel, The Allotment Girls. Set in my home of Bow, we enjoyed afternoons pounding the pavements of East London that I didn’t even know existed; climbing locked towers of Bow Quarter that used to be the Bryant & May match factory and standing in the modest room where Gandhi lay his head in Kingsley Hall. I spent hours sifting through cuttings at archive libraries and playing detective walking up and down Roman Road Market trying to find people who had lived in the East End during the Second World War. The best part about working with Kate is all the fascinating people I feel privileged to meet. With the help of Age UK East London, we attended coffee mornings and met women who worked at the iconic factory and even a gentleman who’s mother had been one of the original Match Women strikers from 1888. You can read more about these fascinating individual stories on Kate’s blog. Kate is a journalist and author, as she expertly interviews people, I quickly type their stories verbatim.
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About The Allotment Girls: It is an inspiring and heartwarming novel of wartime hardship, friendship and fortitude from Kate Thompson, author of the Secrets of the Sewing Bee.
During the Second World War, life in the iconic Bryant & May match factory is grimy and tough. Annie, Rose, Pearl and Millie carry on making matches for the British Army, with bombs raining down around them.
Inspired by the Dig for Victory campaign, Annie persuades the owners to start Bryant & May allotment in the factory grounds. With plenty of sweat and toil, the girls eventually carve out a corner of the yard into a green plot full of life and colour.
In the darkest of times, the girls find their allotment a tranquil, happy escape. Using pierced dustbin lids to sieve through the shrapnel and debris, they bring about a powerful change, not just in the factory, but their own lives.
As the war rages on, the garden becomes a place of community, friendship – and deceit. As the garden thrives and grows, so do the girls’ secrets . . .