In this remarkable book, Andrew Miller tells the story of his grandparents, the children of Jewish immigrants to the East End, tracing their fortunes from Eastern Europe to their arrival in Regent's Park and the world of Astors and Parker-Bowles.
Henry Freedman and Miriam Claret met on Petticoat Lane in February 1929, when he was twenty-two and she eighteen. He was a barrow boy, she a milliner's apprentice. Henry danced home that night, having fallen entirely in love. Their romance survived the opposition of her remarkable mother Leah, the challenge of proving that Leah - and therefore Miriam - really was Jewish, and the mysterious disappearance of Henry's beloved dog.
Henry and Miriam were raised in East London, but his family had emigrated from the Austrian Empire, hers from Poland, and they were not to end their lives in the East End. What began as forays into the West End led - via Henry's successful underwear business, and a remarkable friendship with his upper class mentor Walter - to a life lived among Astors and Parker-Bowlses. Henry and Miriam eventually arrived in a grand flat on Regent's Park, and a world of Court, club and charity balls - a very English world.
Yet Henry and Miriam were never quite 'one of us' in their new habitat. And as they changed their lives, as evacuation, the Blitz and the humdrum heroisms of the war were followed by victory, so also did London change, and British society as a whole.
Andrew Miller's compelling family history tells, elegaically but without nostalgia, of London's many faces. It is a story of immigration and Anglicisation, of the significance of race and class and language and accent in our country, of how it has been possible for people in this country to change themselves and their lives.
"'Please, please read this delight-filled book. It grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go until I had finished it. It offers more than pleasure; it should open the eyes of those who don't understand the colossal value that immigrants bring to this country.'" -- Claire Rayner
"'Meticulously researched and beautifully written, an inspiring true-life rags to riches story. I hope it does very well. I'm sure it will. Andrew Miller has done a terrific job.'" -- Melanie McGrath, author of Silvertown
"Andrew Miller, in recreating the story of his grandparents' early lives, has vividly drawn a picture of a vanished world, a world of desperate poverty but equally a world of hope. The Earl of Petticoat Lane is a magnificent achievement." -- Judith Flanders
"This is a treasure of a book. Andrew Miller's true story of love, fear, lingerie and social climbing is an unforgettably vivid picture of the old East End both at peace and war. Between the rollicking fun and the nostalgia it can also - like the best Yiddish songs - move you to tears." -- Ann Wroe