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So Long, Kitty Jennings

May 15, 2021
by the gentle author

Kitty Jennings died at the fine age of ninety-six years old, last Monday 10th May 2021

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

One Sunday afternoon, I walked over to Columbia Rd Market to get a bunch of flowers for Kathleen – widely known as Kitty – Jennings, who had lived in Hoxton since she was born there in 1924. I found Kitty in a neat block of private flats near the canal which for many years she shared with her beloved sister Doll Doll, whose ashes occupied 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 biegels 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 these private flats 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.”

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’

Thomas Fairchild, Gardener of Hoxton

James Parkinson, Physician of Hoxton

9 Responses leave one →
  1. May 15, 2021


    Love & Peace

  2. Jon permalink
    May 15, 2021

    What a great life story. RIP Kitty

  3. Barbara permalink
    May 15, 2021

    You truly were a kind , gentle soul . I will miss you .
    RIP , Kitty. All my love .

  4. Kelly Holman permalink
    May 15, 2021

    It was a privilege to read Kitty’s life story this morning. She sounded content and so grateful for all the small blessings that came her way through life. It gave me pause for thought.

    She looks stunning in the doorway of the chalet in Guernsey- her own made dress I am guessing. Rest in Peace.

  5. May 15, 2021

    RIP Kitty, hopefully now reunited with all of your loving family.

  6. May 16, 2021

    I love these life stories, such fascinating social history. I hope Kitty felt she had had a good life. RIP

  7. Cherub permalink
    May 16, 2021

    It sounds like Kitty and her sister Doll Doll led a fine and busy life, I’m grateful to have read about it. The picture of them sunbathing with their mum reminds me of my mum, one of her older sisters and my gran in our back garden back in the early 70s – they’d be slathered in Ambre Solaire with big hats and dark glasses on trying to look like glamorous Hollywood stars from the 50s!

  8. Pamela Traves permalink
    May 17, 2021

    God Bless Dear Kitty Jennings. Her Lovely Pictures show a Very Lovely Lady. Thank You.??????

  9. Diane permalink
    May 25, 2021

    What a lovely lady. As others have said she seemed very content and you can’t ask for more in life. Rest in Peace

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