Book review: The Wedding Girls by Kate Thompson

The Wedding Girls by Kate Thompson
The Wedding Girls by Kate Thompson

If a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress…

The humour, hardships and close community spirit of London’s East End spring to vivid life in a gritty and compelling saga set amidst the busy, bustling shopping streets of Bethnal Green in 1936 as the nation teeters on the brink of war.

Journalist Kate Thompson, author Secrets of the Sewing Bee and Secrets of the Singer Girls, transports us into the lives of three young women who are learning their trades in the bridal dress and photography businesses in a beautifully written and nostalgic tale of family, friendship, secrets and strife.

The Wedding Girls, a warm and wise rollercoaster tale, is based on Thompson’s own research as she recreates the spirit and character of the East End whilst delivering a page-turning romance and a fascinating slice of pre-war life.

Kitty Moloney, Winnie Docker and Stella Smee, affectionately known as the Wedding Girls, are inseparable friends. All brought up not five minutes from bustling Green Street in Bethnal Green, where they now work, they are as different as oranges and apples.

They spend their days transforming women into beautiful brides… tomboy Stella and troubled Winnie work in Herbie Taylor’s photography studio and their best friend and hopeless romantic Kitty works next door as an apprentice to wedding dressmaker Gladys Tingle.

It’s 1936 and the streets of the East End are grimy and unforgiving, but this corner of the neighbourhood seems to harbour high hopes as young couples save hard to get married, buy that fairytale wedding dress and capture their perfect moment in time with beautiful photographs.

Kitty works tirelessly to create magical bridal gowns but with each stitch she starts to wonder if she will ever get a chance to wear a white dress. Stella and Winnie sprinkle a dusting of Hollywood glamour over happy newlyweds but secretly dream of escaping the East End.

But the clouds of war are brewing on the horizon and danger looms in the shape of fascist leader Oswald Mosley’s brutal, goose-stepping Blackshirts. Can the spirit of community, family and respect which has always been strong on Green Street stand the ultimate test, and will the Wedding Girls find their happy ever afters before it’s too late?

The Wedding Girls is an exciting blend of real history and fiction as Thompson, who based her story on the testaments of people who lived through this era, portrays the dark shadow cast by the Blackshirts, and the East End’s notorious Battle of Cable Street.

Brimming with life, love, laughter and the harsh realities of pre-war London, The Wedding Girls is an entertaining and yet thought-provoking story featuring a cast of engaging characters and offering an eye-opening glimpse into a turbulent period of English history.

Romance with a gritty heart…

(Pan, paperback, £6.99)