Ring Of Truth – Episode 01

SPITALFIELDS, East London, September, 1826.

Not a bird sang as dawn crept over the East End, its feeble light struggling to splinter the gloom of a vast warren of cramped streets and crumbling houses.

In a narrow, dark alley that had the cheek to call itself Rose Court, Cassie Miller had one eye on the tin clock that stood on Aunt Annie’s dresser. While she watched the clock, she wound a rag around her fist and lifted the pot of steaming water from its hook over the hearth.

She had got a decent fire burning already in the grate, and on the table, beside a washtub into which she poured the boiled water, stood a mug of tea.

The mug was chipped and the tea as weak as dishwater since she’d only yesterday’s tealeaves to make it with.

But it was hot, and once Aunt Annie was done scouring them collars and grabbed herself half a minute to drink it, it would go down a treat.

“Time you were gone, my girl.”

Annie Ordish straightened from a second washtub to peer at her niece through the fog of steam that filled their tiny cellar home.

“You’ll not be there on time, else.”

“I can spare a few minutes yet.”

Cassie emptied the remaining water from the pail into the cooking pot and then hung it back on the hook to boil for the next wash.

“And these pails want refilling.”

“Yes, and I’ve two hands of my own to do it with!” Annie exclaimed.

But her protests, half-hearted as they were, given what a grand help the girl was to her, went unheeded.

She resumed her scrubbing as Cassie carried their two pails out to the narrow court and the pump that stood at the end of it.

It was Monday, wash day in Rose Court, which meant that them that had no work to go to would be up and at their tubs soon enough.

But for Annie Ordish, who got paid by the bundle, every day was wash day.

It was ten minutes to five, and she’d been up and scrubbing a good hour already.

Rose Court, of all places, where a miasma of damp and smoke and old clothes, of unwashed folk and the rancid water that seeped into the gutter and stagnated there, soured every breath.

But the care, diligence and hard work of Annie Ordish spoke for itself. She’d a dozen regular customers, women who, like Annie herself, knew and appreciated the worth of a good scrubbing, and each one of them trusted her to see to it.

The good name of Annie Ordish was known in Spitalfields. In her younger days she’d been a laundry maid in a big house on the south side of the river, where she’d risen through the ranks to be in charge of the laundry.

When the housekeeper took ill with her legs, it was Annie they’d wanted to step into her shoes.

Had Cassandra Miller, her recently widowed sister, not slipped away in childbirth, leaving the baby upon the mercy of her only living relative, Annie would be there still, south of the river.

It was a part of London as foreign to Cassie as if a vast ocean, and not the river Thames, flowed between Annie’s past and her present.

Had Cassie not existed, her aunt would be running that house where she’d been happy, comfortable and respected. That grand Georgian townhouse with elegant bay windows and porches framed by ornate columns, and intricately patterned railings bordering the front steps.

Not that Cassie had seen such splendour up close! But when she delivered laundry to Emma Brody, her aunt’s oldest and most loyal customer who ran a lodging house over on Thames Street, sometimes, if she’d a moment to spare, she walked down to the edge of the river.

Here, at low tide, she could stand so close to the water it all but seeped over her boots. She would watch the goings on across the other side, feeling a little like a lost child with her nose pressed up against the window.

Her aunt had given up everything for her. She had been turned out from the job she’d taken such a pride in, and had been left with little saved wages in her pocket – Annie herself had always been a thrifty soul, but it seemed Cassie’s late mother had turned to her sister for help on several occasions.

Annie had been forced to move to the east of the river, where she’d found a tiny cramped cellar to rent in the deceptively-named Rose Court.

There, she’d fallen back upon the one thing she knew how to do well enough to earn a decent wage.

“Been scrubbing my whole life,” she’d reasoned.

This was when little Cassie, named after her late mother and already sharp as a tack, had enquired of her aunt if she was tired yet of scrubbing other folk’s rags.

A little wiser now at eighteen, Cassie knew what her aunt had done for her, and all about the life she’d sacrificed to care for the baby she’d had thrust upon her.

In all but birth Aunt Annie was her mother, and the least Cassie could do was see the pails filled before she set off for her own job at Ma Starling’s cookshop in Chiswell Street.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!