Gwen Southgate, author of “Coin Street Chronicles: London’s Vanished Old South Bank Area,” will give readings from her book Friday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. at Camden Public Library; and Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Rockland Public Library.

The south bank of the River Thames is now a cultural showcase of concert halls, theaters, and art galleries, but before World War II it was a poor, shabby, industrial corner of London. The book covers Southgates’s early childhood in the 1930s, full of colorful Cockney characters; and her World War II experiences as an evacuee, living with strangers in the countryside. Her horizons widened when she and her two younger brothers were evacuated out of the city to be safe from the Blitz.

The memoir ends the day the author heads off to university, exulting in her near-miraculous escape from the limiting nature of working class culture but appalled by the wide gulf that threatens to open up between her and her feisty mother, whose pluck and determination had been largely responsible for that miracle.

Getting a good education, with the help of a lot of people, made it possible for Southgate to escape her childhood neighborhood, and she graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics from London University. She spent five years in an electronics research laboratory before switching to a new career, motherhood, “the one career guaranteed to last a lifetime!” In 1959, she and her husband came with their young children to the United States and settled in Princeton. After getting a master’s degree from Rutgers University, she taught physics, chemistry and other science courses for more than 20 years.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to