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So Long, Alfons Jedrzejewski Of Puma Court

March 7, 2015
by the gentle author

I publish this as a tribute to Alfons Jedrzejewski - widely known as Alec – who lived in the Norton Folgate Almshouses for forty-five years and died there last week aged eighty-nine. I used to meet him regularly, coming and going through the gates, and now I shall always think of him when I walk through Puma Court.

Alfons Jedrzejewski (1926-2015)

I met Alfons Jedrzejewski – widely known as Alec – just over two years ago, when he returned to the Norton Folgate Almshouses in Puma Court, off Commercial St, after a ten month sojourn in Shepherds Bush, while the hundred and fifty year old dwellings underwent a renovation. He invited me round for tea in his newly-painted flat where I found him toying with the novelty of the new controls for his heating and hot water. Primarily, Alec was relieved to be back in the place he had lived for the more than forty years. “I prefer to be here,” he confided to me in understatement, rolling his eyes to communicate the alien nature of life in West London, “I feel more happy here.”

Hale and healthy then at eighty-six, Alec was born in 1926 in Tors in Poland. He served in the Polish army during World War II and came to London in May 1946 to start a new life after he discovered that all his relatives in Poland had been killed by Stalin. Just a few snaps and photobooth portraits in a frame upon the wall of Alec’s living room attested to the existence of his family, yet his flat also contained the memory of the last twenty-three years of his marriage to his wife, Halina, who had died nineteen years earlier.

When he first came to London, Alec worked as a house painter until – following Halina’s prudent advice – he took a job on the railway that would give him a pension, working for twenty-one years in the parcels office at Liverpool St Station. “A friend of mine, who worked at Kings Cross and lived at 8 Wilkes St, told me about these flats,” explained Alec, emphasising the importance he placed upon mobility, “you have good transport links here, underground, buses and British Rail.”

This was a significant detail because the unfailing highlight of Alec’s week was a trip to Leytonstone to visit his long-term girlfriend, Maria, and take her the fresh fish that she loved so much, which he bought for her at Asda. Like so many refugees before him, Alec discovered in Spitalfields a safe haven from the brutality of the wider world and lived out his existence peacefully here until the end. After my interview, I met Alec and Maria once or twice, strolling together arm-in-arm in the Bethnal Green Rd like a couple of teenage sweethearts.

For many years I passed the railings of the almshouses daily as I walked through Puma Court, leaving the clamor of Commercial St behind me and entering the peaceful streets of eighteenth century houses beyond. So I was eager to step through the old iron gates at last, when I visited Alec in this appealing backwater in the midst of the city.

Established at first in Blossom St in 1728, the current site for the Norton Folgate Almshouses was purchased in 1851 when the widening of Commercial St – to permit the increasing traffic from the London Docks – required the demolition of the former premises.

This neatly proportioned pair of brick houses in Puma Court, each containing eight rooms on two storeys, were built by architect T. E. Knightley in 1860. The first residents received two shillings and sixpence a month, a ticket for a quartern loaf of bread per week, six hundredweight of coal on 21st December and materials for dinner on Christmas Day. There were fifteen single people and one married couple living there in 1897, they each had one room and the average age was sixty-four. It was a humane endeavour, offering a secure refuge for those who could no longer earn a living and existing in sharp contrast to the poverty which prevailed ein Spitalfields at that time.

Over one hundred and fifty years, the Norton Folgate Almshouses in Puma Court have offered a safe harbour for life – as Alec’s story attests – and these thoughtfully-conceived dwellings continue to serve their purpose into another century, as the need for good quality housing at an affordable price in Spitalfields becomes ever more pressing.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Jan permalink
    March 7, 2015

    He lived through tremendous times. And I think he enjoyed the last part of his life in the company of his friend.
    He used to put a paper through our door every week day. “the Standard”
    He came to my church’s Christmas concert last year.

    We won’t miss the paper much.
    But we will miss him!

    Rest in Peace.

    Jan and john

  2. Barbara permalink
    March 7, 2015

    So pleased he was able to return to his old home in his final years . Nothing can replace that wonderful sense of belonging . How lovely that he had a companion and in your photos looked quite happy with life . Thank you G. A for capturing his story for us.

  3. March 7, 2015

    Like so many of your posts, dear GA, you bring the tales of the subject to life. I discovered these almshouses on one of my meanders around your manor. How many times have these refuges from destitution provided security and comfort for the lucky few – not just here, but throughout our Victorian island.

    It can be the tiniest of details that I latch onto, in your engaging transcripts. From this introduction and tribute to Alec (Alfons), it was the reason for leaving Poland and coming to this pocket of England.

    RIP Mr Jedrzejewski, I think you achieved so much. X

  4. linda salter permalink
    March 7, 2015

    Informative local story which draws us in to what’s historic and.important but on a personal level.

  5. rae donaldson permalink
    March 7, 2015

    A lovely tribute to a man whose smile has just illuminated my morning.

  6. SBW permalink
    March 7, 2015

    Thank you for telling us about Alec and his life and where he lived; I like your description of it as a safe-haven and a refuge, thoughtfully conceived housing and a humane endeavour – surely what we all seek and hope for, but what I fear is less and less possible as each day passes. I worry so much about our beloved London, that in five years time it will be all but unrecognisable to me in spirit and ethos if things continue as they have been for the past five years … apart from pockets of light and intelligence, care and humanity, which we see here each day with the Gentle Author. Of course, just as the Thames ebbs and flows, so our great city London changes, develops, moves forward and back. Rather like the new mosaics we see at Queen Hythe, tiny fragments of colour and light to create a beautiful whole, we must surely each of us, work towards keeping and creating what we know to be a good and great city, that is, one which enables all who toil within it to live and dream in safety and comfort. s

  7. March 7, 2015

    R.I.P., Mr Alfons Jedrzejewski — it’s a very touching life story …!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  8. Annette McCann permalink
    March 7, 2015

    Such an affectionate post. Lovely to read, and beautiful photographs. It’s been such a pleasure to follow your wonderful body of work.

  9. Salvatore permalink
    March 7, 2015

    A true gentlemen…always smiling…he was so happy when he returned to Puma Court…R.I.P. Alec.

  10. March 7, 2015

    Lots of Jones’s in Norton Folgate in 1860

  11. March 7, 2015

    Gentle Author, thank you. By coincidence my Friday London Photo yesterday was of the Norton Folgate Almshouses: http://irontongue.blogspot.com/2015/03/london-friday-photo.html

  12. Jaromir Maćkiewicz permalink
    April 26, 2015

    Hello,
    my name is Jaromir Maćkiewicz, I’m from Poland. My grandmother is probably a sister of Alfons Jędrzejewski, the man, about whom you wrote an article. I’d be grateful if I got more information about this man, we’ve lost contact with him some time ago. Could you please contact me? My email address: jaromir.mackiewicz96@gmail.com or Facebook.

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