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New Era Estate Is Saved

December 20, 2014
by the gentle author

After months of uncertainty and in response to widespread public protest, yesterday a deal was done to transfer ownership of the New Era Estate in Hoxton from the disreputable Westbrook Partners, property developers who had been threatening rent hikes and mass evictions, to the Dolphin Sq Charitable Foundation which is committed to providing social housing. As we approach the season of goodwill, it is the best possible news in the East End and my friend Kitty Jennings, whose home in the New Era Estate is now secured, has plenty to celebrate this Christmas.

Kitty, Amelia (Doll Doll), Jimmy, Gracie & Patricia Jennings, Gifford St, Hoxton c.1930

One Sunday afternoon last summer, I walked over to Columbia Rd Market to get a bunch of flowers for Kathleen – widely known as Kitty – Jennings, who has lived in Hoxton since 1924. I found her in her immaculately tidy flat in the New Era Estate near the canal where for many years she lived with her beloved sister Doll Doll, whose ashes now occupy pride of place in a corner of the sitting room.

Once Barbara Jezewska, who grew up in Spitalfields and was Kitty’s neighbour in this building for seventeen years, had made the introductions, we settled down in the afternoon sun to enjoy beigels with salmon and cream cheese while Kitty regaled us with her memories of old Hoxton.

“Thank God we were lucky, we had a father who had a good job, so we always had a good table. There was not a lot of work when I was a kid, but we always got by. We were lucky that we always had good clothes and never got knocked about.

My father, Jim, he was a Fish Porter at Billingsgate Market and he had to work seven days. He was born in the Vinegar Grounds in Hoxton, where they only had one shared tap in the garden for all the cottages, and he was a friendly man who would help anyone. He left for work at four in the morning each day and came back in the early afternoon. We lived on fish. I’m a fish-mullah, I like plaice, jellied eels, Dover sole and middle skate. My poor old mum used to fry fish night and day, she was always at the gas stove.

I was born in Gifford St, Hoxton. There were five of us, four girls and one boy, and we lived in a little three bedroom house. My mother Grace, her life was cooking, washing and housework. She didn’t know anything else.

When my sister Amelia was born, she was so small they laid her in a drawer and we called her ‘Doll Doll.’ They put her in the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital when she had rheumatic fever and she didn’t go to school because of that. She was happy-go-lucky, she was my Doll Doll.

One day, when she was at school, there was an air raid and all the children hid under the tables. They saw a man’s legs walk in and Doll Doll cried out, ‘That’s my dad!’ and her friend asked, ‘How do you recognise him?’ and Doll Doll said, ‘Because he has such shiny shoes.’ He took Doll Doll and said to the teacher, ‘My daughter’s not coming to school any more.’

I was dressmaking from when I left school at fourteen. My first job was at C&A in Shepherdess Walk but I didn’t like it, so I told my mum and left. I left school at Easter and the war came in August. After that, I didn’t go to work at all for five years. Then I went to work in Bishopsgate sewing soldiers’ trousers, I didn’t like that much either so I stayed at home.

Doll Doll and I, we used to love going to Hoxton Hall for concerts every Saturday. It cost threepence a ticket and there was a man called Harry Walker who’d sling you out if you didn’t behave. Afterwards, we’d go to a stall outside run by my uncle and he’d give us sixpence, and we’d go and buy pie and mash and go home afterwards – and that was our Saturday night. We used to go there in the week too and do gym and see plays.

On Friday nights, we’d go to the mission at Coster’s Hall and they’d give you a jug of cocoa and a biscuit, and the next week you’d get a jug of soup. It didn’t cost anything. We used to go there when we were hungry. In the school holidays, we went down to Tower Hill Beach and we’d cut through the market and see my dad, and he’d give us a few bob to buy ice cream.

Me and Doll Doll, we stayed at home with my mum and dad. The other three got married but I didn’t want to. I couldn’t find anybody that I liked, so I stayed at home with mummy and daddy, and I was quite happy with them. When they got old we cared for them at home, without any extra help, until they died. We had understanding guvnors and, Doll Doll and I took alternate weeks off work to care for them.

Doll Doll and I moved into the New Era Estate more than thirty years ago. In those days, it was only women and once, when my neighbour thought her boiler was going to explode, we called the fire brigade. Doll Doll leaned over the balcony and called, ‘Coo-ee, young man! Up here!’

We never went outside Hoxton much when we were young, but – when we grew up – Doll Doll and I went to Florida and Las Vegas. I finally settled down and I didn’t wander no more. I worked as a dressmaker at Blaines in Petticoat Lane for thirty-five years, until it closed forty years ago and I was made redundant.”

Doll Doll, Kitty and their mother Grace

Kitty in her flat in Hoxton

Doll Doll

Kitty places fresh flowers next to Doll Doll’s ashes each week

Kitty at a holiday chalet in Guernsey, 1960

Kitty Jennings with her friend and neighbour of sixteen years, Barbara Jezewska

You may also like to read about

Barbara Jezewska, Teacher

Remembering AS Jasper’s ‘A Hoxton Childhood’

James McBarron of Hoxton

Thomas Fairchild, Gardener of Hoxton

James Parkinson, Physician of Hoxton

18 Responses leave one →
  1. December 20, 2014


  2. December 20, 2014

    Fantastic, shows what a great campaign and fight can achieve.

  3. December 20, 2014

    Wonderful news! I got the mail from the petition yesterday. How good to have scored a victory over their greed and grasping hands. A very fitting result for the festive season! Valerie

  4. Robert permalink
    December 20, 2014

    How enchanting and just before Xmas too. I feel good that a threat to local housing with social rents has now been averted. A small victory against greedy property speculators who will turn this city into one gentrified luxury housing estate.

  5. Robin permalink
    December 20, 2014

    I think that Russell Brand deserves an honorable mention in this success story. He has been out there with the residents almost daily,and through his celebrity has created media interest on both sides of the pond. I admit, he can be a bothersome ranter,but he is doing so much to help the residents of New Era stay as it is, it’s only proper to credit him for “being there” literally and figuratively for these folks.
    Happy Christmas!!

  6. December 20, 2014

    Good news. I’m very happy for Kitty Jennings.

  7. Peter Holford permalink
    December 20, 2014

    This is good news. Just in time for Christmas. Now we hope for a good result from the Billingsgate site.

  8. Barbara permalink
    December 20, 2014

    I’m over the moon ! Congratulations to all those who campaigned so bravely to save these homes from greedy developers. New Era estate is a genuine community of hard working people and they have shown their spirit and determination in fighting off this immoral operation. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate !

  9. Chris Swan permalink
    December 20, 2014

    This is the best news ever. Congratulations to all those who campaigned hard to make this happen. It just proves the power of positive thinking. Merry Christmas one and all! x

  10. Patricia Taylor permalink
    December 20, 2014

    So happy at this result for the residents of New Era estate.
    Let’s hope it is rolled out across London wherever people’s
    homes are threatened. What a Christmas present for
    them all!!

  11. December 20, 2014

    Congratulations and a merry Christmas time!

    Love & Peace

  12. Gary Arber permalink
    December 20, 2014

    This victory indicates the importance of the Gentle Author’s blog.
    Besides providing us with a very interesting daily item it has now added yet another victory to its increasing result list.
    Keep it up G A and a happy Christmas to you.

  13. December 20, 2014

    well done all x

  14. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    December 21, 2014

    I can tell you my daughter and I were cheering when we heard the news -well done to everyone who protested !

  15. jeannette permalink
    December 21, 2014

  16. December 21, 2014

    Brilliant. Solidarity forever.

  17. Valerie Paynter permalink
    December 21, 2014

    Russell Brand brought their plight into the glare of the spotlight and without that I wonder if this victory could have been achieved. What a Christmas gift! I’m really, really chuffed for all those who live at New Era. I can barely believe this is happening.

  18. December 23, 2014

    Great news! What a great Christmas present for everyone at New Era estate. Let’s hope this is the start of more social housing being saved. Housing that people can afford has reached a crisis point in London. I do hope this marks a turning point.

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