1871 MATILDA TOWNS

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Matilda Towns, (Mison as was), married a couple of years back to William Towns, farmer of Polstead, Suffolk. So proud she was to have married a man with his own farm to work! La! But instead, she finds herself among the dark and dingy tenements of Shoreditch and today, a Monday in 1871, selling coffee from a cart in the vegetable market.

So hard for a country girl, come, out of desperation, to the city with her man and step children…this, or the parish workhouse. Always work to be found in London, they’d said. What do they know? She has to sell what’s in her cans. “Cuffee, cuffee,” she calls desperately from her pitch “Penny a cup, nice hot milk, fresh from the country! Only a penny a cup!”

Three scallywags come bowling along, out to cause mischief. Whooping and tussling, they knock the cart, sending the hot brown liquid spraying over her starched white apron and onto the filthy floor of Spitalfields Market. A woman sidles up as she tries to salvage her profits for the day. “We already got ar own coffee, righ’! You’re not wanted rand ‘ere!”

MAUREEN WOOD

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