The Family From One End Street

familyMy husband and I take turns reading aloud to our kids (now ages 9 and 7) in the evenings. One of us will choose a book and read through it chapter by chapter, while the other does the dishes; when that book is finished, the other parent gets to choose a book, and the first parent does the dishes for a while. I just finished The Hobbit — it had been years since I’d read it myself — and now it’s Dave’s turn.

Dave didn’t read much when he was a kid. No one really guided his reading or showed him things he might like. So — in a reversal of our usual roles — he is usually the one to choose recently-published books and series (like Tony DiTerlizzi’s Wondla books and Lemony Snicket), whereas I am usually the one to choose classics: Oz and The Hundred Dresses and the Little House and The Wind in the Willows and Narnia.

Sometimes, though, I get to do something that feels both new and old. A couple of years ago, when I reviewed The Wild Angel by E.C. Spykman (read it!), biblioglobal recommended The Family From One End Street (1939) by Eve Garnett. I’d never heard of it, but I love good family stories, so I put it on my list.

The Ruggles family live at No. 1 One End Street in Otwell-on-the-Ouse. Their mother is a Washerwoman and their father is a Dustman, and there are seven children.

The neighbours pitied Jo and Rosie for having such a large family, and called it “Victorian”; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all-growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby, so that really it was only two sets, girl and boy, summer and winter, Mrs. Ruggles had to buy, except Boots.

The book is a wonderful, crammed-full, meandering affair, exactly like the prose you just read. Each chapter follows the adventure of one of the children (if adventure it can really be called; it’s more like day-in-the-life, but life is very full in a large family at One End Street.) Lily Rose tries to help her mother with the ironing, but the iron is too hot, and the artificial-silk petticoat shrinks to doll’s size. The calamity is enormous: how will they pay to replace it? But in this, as in every other chapter, disaster is averted, and Lily Rose goes home with nothing worse than her mother’s scolding and a slice of cake. And so it goes: Kate takes a scholarship but loses her school hat, and demonstrates intelligence and resourcefulness getting another; the twins James and John have day-long adventures for a secret society; the whole family has a Day Out to London. Every moment is both suspenseful and gloriously ordinary.

I have a colleague who is writing an article about the representation of poverty in children’s books. This is a perfect example. This family is living on the very edge of respectability, keeping everyone fed and clothed. Sixpences matter dreadfully. When Kate gets her scholarship, and it pays for tuition but not the uniform, it’s clear she won’t be able to go to school at all, because she’s required to have things like a tennis-racket and shoe bags. But there’s no misery here. Frustration, sometimes; longing for a trip to see family, certainly; sharp reminders of necessity, in almost every chapter. Mr. Ruggles has dreams of finding as much as five pounds in the trash he picks up! But the tone of this book overall is from a child’s point of view: there’s much more interest in adventure and exploration than in the ordinary world of getting enough to eat. Garnett’s skill is that we see a little of both in this book.

There’s at least one more book about the Ruggles that I’ll pursue finding. Does anyone know anything else about Eve Garnett?

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Classics, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Family From One End Street

  1. I haven’t heard of her, but I love this post!

  2. realthog says:

    There’s at least one more book about the Ruggles that I’ll pursue finding. Does anyone know anything else about Eve Garnett?

    I published one of the sequels, and thus actually met her for tea in her home in, I think, Hastings. At the time she was a very major children’s author at least in the UK. I could have sworn it was Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn: a One End Street story but, if Wikipedia’s right, I’m misremembering; it must have been Lost and Found: four stories.

    She was of the old school, very reserved and courteous, and wonderfully welcoming to a brash young ignoramus editor who can’t have been much more than a quarter of her age.

  3. Ocean Bream says:

    I love love loved this book and this post does it so much beautiful justice.

  4. Deb says:

    I’m not familiar with this book or author, but I came here to say I love your family’s reading style. When our children were young, I was for a number of years a stay-at-home mom, so my husband had night reading duty. Over the years, he read them everything from the great classics to children’s favorites to non-fiction. During their childhoods, he read the entire Harry Potter series; when he got to the last one, our oldest daughter (who had long before announced herself waaaay too old to have a bedtime story) went into her sisters’ room every night to hear the story. Too old indeed!

    • Jenny says:

      I have a fond idea that my children will never be too old to be read to. I’m hoping to continue the tradition through high school and into their college breaks!

  5. biblioglobal says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed The Family from One End Street! I haven’t read any of E.C. Spykman books yet, but I definitely intend to. I also enjoyed the “Further Adventures…” sequel, but I don’t think I ever came across Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn. I’ll have to see if I can track that one down.

    • Jenny says:

      Ah, the magic of interlibrary loan! I’m looking forward to reading more of these. And thank you so much for the recommendation; this was lovely.

  6. Sarah says:

    You’ve brought back some fond memories as I remember the family from One End Street and their further adventures from my childhood. My favourite was by far Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn though as this focused on Kate and I suppose I probably identified with her character more than the others. Definitely worth seeking out!

  7. Gail Mercer says:

    As a child this was my favourite book as an artist now I not only love the book but the illustrations as well. I am a textile artist and am making dolls in the style of the characters but would love to obtain some clothes patterns of this era. I have started to make my own designs but if you can help me in any way it would be much appreciated Gail Mercer

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