Sookie’s not quite sure how old she is, she was abandoned at the Lady Lane Workhouse in Leeds by her mother, and left to fend for herself.  Born into a world of revolution and development, her native Leeds swiftly became home to hundreds of wool mills, and factories belonging to the likes of Benjamin Gott and John Marshall, who needed a large, and cheap workforce.  Sookie was chosen to become a pauper apprentice at Marshall’s Mills in Holbeck, a series of huge flax mills, one with the facade of an Egyptian temple. 

There she worked long hours in return for board, lodgings and a chance to learn to read and write.  Starting as a loom sweeper she darted under the moving machinery cleaning up dust and lint, she worked her way up to fettler and then to mule minder.  When the foreman wasn’t around she was known for humming, or singing whilst working, and when aged 21 she was told her services were no longer required at the mill, she decided to try her hand about becoming a star of the music hall and made her way to London.

The swarming metropolis of London came as a shock to Sookie, but she sought to fulfil her dreams at ‘The Eagle’ music hall, on the corner of Shepherdess Walk and City Road in the East End.  This place was "the father and mother, the dry and wet nurse of the Music Hall". [1]  Inside performers sang songs whilst the audience ate, drank and joined in the singing.  They were often very rowdy and threw things at the stage – such as bottles, old boots and even dead cats.

Try as she might she couldn’t get work, not even as a dresser.  Dismayed she tried various costermonger trades but her heart wasn’t really in it, she even sold herself once or twice out of sheer desperation.  Then she met Arfer, the man of her dreams, tall, handsome, even quite kindly when he was sober.  Sookie became his common law wife, and they had four children, but none survived past their first year.  Nonetheless he taught her how scrape by, they go hop picking in Kent for harvest and have been known to pick the odd pocket too.

Nowadays you’ll find Sookie singing for her supper (or a tot of gin) on the streets, she sells tea too, but be wary – all is not as it seems.


[1] According to John Hollingshead, proprietor of the Gaiety Theatre, London (originally the Strand Music Hall),

Sookie walked or hitched the 200 or so miles from Leeds to London.  Often sleeping rough, she would sometimes venture into the vagrant wards of the local workhouses en route, such as  Southwell, where, in exchange for picking half a pound of oakum, or working a few hours cleaning the wards, doing the washing or tending the workhouse gardens, she would get basic food and a bed for the night.