The journey to Forest Gate - (1) Danuta Gradosielska

Saturday, 18 November 2017

This is the first article in an occasional series about how significant members of various immigrant groups first found their way to Forest Gate, and made an impact here, for both the newcomers and the host community.

Forest Gate has been significantly defined by various waves of immigration and major figures within those communities have played a huge part in shaping the local district and its culture.

Often the early pioneers of the incoming communities have remarkable stories to tell of their journey to Forest Gate. The determination and single-mindedness that brought them here has frequently been maintained as they helped their compatriot incomers establish their roots and contribute to the local community.

Danuta, proudly in uniform, at a
recent Remembrance Day ceremony
The now-92 year-old Danuta Gradosielska was a leading light in the immediate post WW2 wave of Polish immigration to Forest Gate. This is her story.

She was born Danuta Maczka on 21 March 1925 in Wolyn, Poland, in a large settlement given to and shared with ex-WW1 Polish soldiers. About 130 soldiers were awarded plots of land and encouraged to develop their own settlement  and make a living for their families there.

Danuta, bottom right, c 1930,
with her parents and siblings
Danuta says: "Life was very difficult and primitive in the first years, but the settlers worked hard together and the settlement developed and prospered."
The family built its own house - with help from friends in the settlement - and kept a range of farm animals and grew crops, like sugar and tobacco.

By 1937 the Gradosielska family of two adults and four children had prospered well enough to move into a new, large brick-built house (see photo). Later - during WW2 - this was to become the only building in the community that was not destroyed in the conflict - and still survives today (see below).

Danuta's house in Wolyn - still standing today -
as it was in 1985, during her visit there
Danuta learned the community-building skills that she and her husband deployed in Forest Gate in this Wolyn district. The settlers there built a community centre and a huge catholic church, a school, a post office and various buildings for the co-op farmers,  youth and other social organisations - so the inhabitants could enjoy a full life.

When war broke out in September 1939, the Germans attacked Poland from the west and 17 days later the Soviet Union moved in from the east, supposedly to help the Poles defend themselves. Danuta remembers Russian tanks passing through their settlement (osada) on the first day of Soviet mobilisation.

The Russian invasion came as a shock. There was no communication with the local community, and the Russian police took over the administration of the district. Wolyn was soon annexed into the Soviet republic of the Ukraine - where it remains today.

The police held families in the community at gun point, while they search all properties and took what they wanted "for re-distribution".

Danuta was now aged 14 and her school was taken over by the Russians, who also stripped the area of religious icons and symbols.

The family was ordered out of their home the following month, with only the most limited of possessions. The house was commandeered by the Russians. They were then forced to rent accommodation in near-by Tuczn.

In February 1940 they were deported to Siberia, 72 people in an over-crowded freight railway - with no window or seats - in what would generally be described now as a cattle truck. The journey  took almost three weeks. They encountered temperatures of -40 C, when they arrived, and were packed into a barrack room with almost 200 other deportees.

The men were set to work as lumberjacks in the forest and women were expected to undertake ancillary jobs. Soon after Danuta's 15th birthday, the family was decanted into a smaller, much better, hut with only 16 occupants. They shared bunk beds, no longer having to sleep on the floor.

As a 15-year old, Danuta was sent to the back-breaking work of clearing snow from railway lines, in massively sub-zero temperatures, for poor rates of pay. The family moved work camp once more, into  slightly better accommodation, with a small plot of land on which they grew much-needed vegetables, for their own consumption.

When the Soviet/German war began in June 1941, the deportees were give "an amnesty", but were unable to leave Siberia for three months, and given minimal food rations and provisions during that time. Danuta then began a six-week journey to freedom in Uzbekistan.

As a 16-year old, she lied about her age and joined the newly-forming Polish Army - lead by General Anders.  She was initially deployed on guard duties, but was to spend much of the next four years on the move, as part of the army's transport company - delivering supplies, food and ammunition to Polish troops, in different theatres of war, mostly during the Italian Campaign.

Danuta's war time journey
- then onwards to Britain
At her first major stop - Teheran, she contracted a bad case of typhoid and was out of action, and near death's door for almost four months.  On recovery, she was on the move again, with the Transport company, to Baghdad, then Palestine and Cairo.

Danuta in Teheran, 1942,
recovering from typhoid
By May 1944 she was participating in the Italian campaign, aged 18, supplying food and ammunition to the allies.  She stayed in the country for over two years. Three months after the conclusion of the war, she married Lt Jerzy Gradosielska whom she had met in the final days of the conflict, in Italy.

Danuta in Jerusalem in 1945
Two  years later she was in Wales as a refugee at a re-settlement camp, where she learned English, and completed her war-interrupted education. Once again she experience community building in practice, as the Polish refugees  set to work building a chapel and other social institutions in the camp in which she lived with her husband.

The newly-weds, Danuta and Jerzy
Elizabeth (who has transcribed and edited Danuta's story - upon which this post is based) was the Gradosielska's  first child, born in Wrexham in 1948. A year later the family moved to London. Their first house was in Dames Road, Forest Gate, which had few amenities when they moved in.  They set about refurbishing and modernising the house, until a decade later when the expanding family moved to near-by Spowston Road, where Danuta still lives today.

Danuta's house in Spowston Road today
In that decade Danuta improved her English and understanding of local culture via the BBC radio's Home Service. She and her husband Jerzy combined these newly acquired skills and combined them with the community-building experiences they had encountered at earlier periods of their lives.  And so, they began to help establish sustainable Polish organisations for their fellow country folk, in Forest Gate (see here for an article on the first Polish community in Forest Gate).

The couple helped to establish a Saturday-morning Polish school, at St Anthony's church, to teach the language and help preserve and promote the culture for the ex-pats in East London. Danuta helped organise a large number of other community-supporting activities and was even a member of the Polish Government-in-exile for a number of years.

She worked for the British Refugee Council in helping the second wave of Polish immigrants to settle into East London in the 1990's and for over a decade was employed as a translator/interpreter by Newham Council.

Danuta with ex-Polish Prime Minister
and now President of the European Union,
Donald Tusk (far right), and Prince Harry,
immediately behind her at a remembrance
ceremony in Monte Cassino, Italy in 2012
In her "spare time", Danuta has brought up six children in England and had an opportunity to visit the former family home - still in the Ukraine. She has represented the Polish women's auxiliary armed forces in delegations to Poland, Italy and Iran and featured in an Italian exhibition about the role of women drivers in WW2.

Danuta's visit, as part of a delegation to
Tehran in 2012, recalling her time
there as part of the Polish army
Aged 92, Danuta continues to live in Sprowston Road. She has been a member of the Conservative Party for many years, having stood - unsuccessfully - as a candidate for the council on four occasions. Her husband Jerzy died in 1989, but she continues to be comforted by her large family of six children, 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Danuta's has, indeed, been a full and varied life. Her contribution towards "capacity building" within the local Polish community is legendary - much learned from her earlier experiences in her home settlement and in the various "deportee" and "refugee" camps within which she has lived.

Danuta, surrounded by her large family,
in 2009
Her role has been invaluable within the local Polish community, which has helped many of its members with both assimilation into UK society and preserving and celebrating their own Polish national culture.  There are other significant characters, like Danuta, from other migrant communities in Forest Gate, whose stories we will endeavour to record in future posts.

Footnote: This article is a summary based on a great autobiography, prepared by Danuta's daughter, Elzunia Gradosielska Olsson, to celebrate Danuta's 90th birthday, to whom we are most grateful for its content, including photographs.

23 Earlham Grove - an insight into the local housing crisis

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

This article is by Peter Williams who did empty property work for Newham Council in the mid 1980s, bringing private homes back into use, often through threatening Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). It provides fascinating insight into one small part of the housing crisis this country, and Newham in particular is facing - and the huge hurdles to be overcome in bringing neglected, but basically sound, empty housing back into use.

Much of the information above is drawn from public sources such as London Fire Brigade reports, the Newham planning website, Newham's landlord licensing public register,  High Court law reports, the Land Registry,  Newham FOI disclosure log 2015 and council committee reports. Neighbours also assisted. The photos were taken by the author as part of the monitoring of the building work.

One of the mysteries of the housing crisis is why people who own houses in expensive areas leave them empty for years and years.

There are many different reasons no doubt: disputes within families over inheritance, people developing mental health conditions. Some speculators who know that even if a house is derelict and deteriorating it is still making money is a buoyant market,  some landlords fear what their tenants might do to a property. Some properties in a larger portfolio just seem to get lost and forgotten about among them.

This article tells the story of one such house in Forest Gate, 23 Earlham Grove.

Those who have lived in the area for years may remember a house painted blue in very poor condition with an old car in the front garden rotting away over years and years. The house was occupied by an elderly Afro Caribbean man called Mr Pearson for many years. 

When he died the authorities discovered that he hadn't paid an electricity bill since 1971 and had wired his house to the grid via the street lamp outside! He was a loner and kept himself to himself, not answering the door for anyone. He died alone in the mid 2000s and the house then lay empty for years.

On 20th December 2011 there was a serious fire attended by four fire engines and around 20 firefighters. The ground floor, as well as the staircase leading to the first floor, were completely gutted by the fire. The first floor and the roof were also badly damaged. There were no reports of any injuries. The Fire Brigade was called at 03.47 a.m.  and the fire was probably stared by a set of squatters the sleeping rough in the property.

23 Earlham Grove November 2013.
The damage caused to the roof by the
fire two years before is obvious, and the
fire brigade had it partially boarded up.
However the front is completely unfenced
and the front garden is full of rubbish.
The council eventually cleared some of this.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Newham Council had one of largest programmes in the country of pursuing  CPOs against empty private sector homes. In the 2000's Newham won some funding from Ken Livingstone’s GLA to begin a systematic programme of tackling private sector empty homes.

A dedicated Empty Property officer was employed and eventually about 100 separate properties were subject to CPO action. The council used powers in s17 of the 1985 Housing Act to seek to acquire a house that could be returned to residential use and meet local housing need.

Contrary to public myth, vacancy levels are far higher in private sector properties than in public sector. It is estimated in total there are 60,000 dwellings vacant in London and 600,000 in England.

The council is able to use various databases such as the Land Registry (which is a public document) to identify absent owners and in the case of 23 Earlham the owner was located and contacted. However, he seemed very reluctant to do anything and said he did not have the money to refurbish it.

The council pursued the CPO further and a public local inquiry was held on 8 January 2014 before of a government inspector. He was convinced by the council’s case and approved the CPO. Still little happened at the property until eventually the owner agreed, after much hassling by the council, to start work.

In mid 2014 contractors appeared on site and there was a skip outside, as shown below:

June 2014 note skip when
rubbish was being cleared away.
The council monitored the activity, but the work proceeded terribly slowly, with the builder disappearing for long periods. The council continued with the CPO proceedings and eventually the owner made a promise that he would finish the work.

In September 2014 there was a planning application: “for reinstatement of fire damaged dwelling and conversion into 2 x 3-bedroom apartments and a proposed light-well to the front to provide a separate entrance into flat A”.

The applicant was a Mr T Peart, a company director of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. The following drawing is taken from the planning documents which are online and public:

October 2014 no work in progress just
fenced presumably waiting for planning approval
Work went on slowly during 2015 and all work was eventually completed in spring 2016.

Occupants finally moved in later in 2016 and the council had achieved its objective. It had not had to take the property into public ownership but the owner had done the work but only after considerable pressure exerted through the CPO process over several years. There was one fewer derelict property blighting the borough.

Mid 2017. The property now has a licence
as a private rented dwelling licencee
Mr Terry Peart. In Newham every private
landlord must have a licence to operate
and there is a public register online.
It transpires that this is not the first Forest Gate property owned by Mr Peart that the council has made a CPO against. There was another one in the early 2000's but in that case the CPO went through to completion, the council acquiring the house and it ended up sold to a not for profit housing association who refurbished it. 

At the public enquiry Mr Peart admitted he was using the proceeds from the forced sale to the council of this first property to fund works to Earlham Grove.

With shifting priorities and cuts to public expenditure since 2010 there is no longer a programme in Newham to tackle empty private sector homes. The very last Newham CPO property on Capel Road remains partly derelict and scaffolded with, again, the owners being very slow to carry out work - having made a start. Presumably pressure will have to be continually exerted on the owner as at Earlham Grove, or else the CPO completed and the property purchased by the council.

Tres Bon (2) - St Bon's illustrious alumni

Monday, 30 October 2017

This is the second of two posts, celebrating St Bonaventure's school 140th anniversary.  The first, here, looks at the first 75 years of the school's history.

This article features some of the school's prominent former pupils.  We are entirely dependent on the school's website for the list of names (see here), although have supplemented these by other details, and in a number of cases, photos from other sources.

The list is selective, but impressive - a testimony to the fine work done by the school.


Peter Bakare
B 1989. British Olympian. Represented Team GB in Men's Volleyball team in London 2012.

John Chiedozie
b 1960. Footballer. Born in Nigeria. Played for Leyton Orient and signed for a massive £600k for then English First Division team Notts County. Played 110 times and scored 15 goals. Moved to Spurs in 1984, where he spent 4 years, played 53 times and scored 12 goals. Replaced in the team by Chris Waddle.

Patrick Diai
B 1990. Twice university boxing champion - 2010 and 2012. Graduated in Electronic and Computing engineering from Brunel University.

Jermain Defoe
B 1982. Footballer. Started with Charlton; later played for West Ham, Spurs, Portsmouth, Toronto and Sunderland. Currently with Bournemouth. Played 57 times for England, for whom he has scored 20 goals. Currently well known for befriending terminally ill and recently deceased Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery.

Anthony Edgar
B 1990. Footballer. Cousin of Jermain Defoe. Spent youth at West Ham and has played for Dagenham and Redbridge, Yeovil, Bournemouth and Barnet.

Clayton Fortune
B 1982. Footballer. Played for Spurs, Bristol City, Port Vale and Leyton Orient.

Chris Hughton
B 1958. Footballer/Manager. Full back with Spurs, winning FA Cup twice and Uefa Cup once. International career with Irish Republic with 53 caps. Latterly manager, with spells with Newcastle, Birmingham, and Norwich.  Currently Manage of Brighton HA.

Terry Lawless
B 1933, d 2009. Boxing trainer and manager. Based at Royal Oak in Canning Town and responsible for careers of Frank Bruno, Charlie Magri, Jim Watt, Joe Clazaghe and Gary Mason.

Martin Ling
B 1966. Football player and manager. Played for, among others, Brighton and Leyton Orient. Has managed Leyton Orient, Torquay and Swindon Town.

Andre Thomas
B 1989. Until very recently, assistant manager at Clapton FC.


Lance Agyepong - 'Gracious K'
B 1988. Local Grime artist, best known for 'Migraine Skank'. Cousin of Dizzee Rascal.

Charles Babalola
B 1990. Actor. Graduated from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Best known for appearances in The Legend of Tarzan (2016), State Zero (2015), and Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015).

Junior Busia
B 1993. Music producer. Known as Jay Vade.

Nana-Kofi Busia
B 1989. Music producer. Known as Dr Kane. With younger brother, junior (above) - they form the Dr Vades.

Ted Childs OBE
B 1934. TV and film producer. Between 1970's and 1990's responsible for a host of hit TV programmes, including: The Sweeny, Minder, Sharpe, Soldier, Soldier, Inspector Morse, Lewis and Kavanagh QC.

Kwasi Danquah
B 1986. Musician. Better known as Tinchy Stryder.

Darren Hart
Theatre, TV and film actor. A regular on CBeebies and at local theatres, Hackney Empire and Theatre Royal Stratford.

John Junkin
B 1930, d 2006. Actor, playwright, comedian. Started career with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in Stratford. TV regular from 1960's - 1990's.

Denis King
B 1939. Musician and composer. Part of 50's favourites, The King Brothers. Latterly responsible for many iconic TV theme tunes. Double Ivor Novello winning composer, for themes for Black Beauty and Privates on Parade.

Gregor Mapfumo
B 1988. Songwriter/performer. Known as Terry Trill.

Stephen Mulhern
B 1977. Magician, performer, presenter. Youngest person to be admitted to Magic Circle. Now TV performer and presenter on shows such as Catchphrase and Britain's Got More Talent.

Glen Murphy MBE
B 1957. Actor and charity worker. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's was a regular on many British TV shows and films, including - most famously - London's Burning. Awarded MBE in 2010 for charity work.

Steve-John Shepherd
B 1973. Actor. A wide range of TV and film roles. Best known for his part in East Enders.

Johnathan Woodhouse
B 1987. Actor, director, producer. Starred in The Lady, in which he played the son of Burmese freedom fighter and current First State Counsellor of the country, Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

Science and industry

Dr Steve Acquah
B 1980. Scientist. Established Geosat (Global Education Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology) with Nobel prize winner Sir Harry Kroto.

Tim Campbell MBE
B 1979. Businessman and entrepreneur. First winner of TV's The Apprentice. Chair of board of St Bon's governors.

Sir Edward Fennessy
B 1912, d 2009. Electronic innovator. Influential figure in development of RADAR, to detect WW2 German bombers. Post war became deputy chair of the GPO, with responsibility for encouraging the development of telephones in the home.

Dr Behrad Gholipour
B 1986. Nanotechnologist. Led a team that created new glass materials that have greatly increased the speed of computers.

Gordon Tucker
B 1968. Solicitor. Founder and managing director of GT Law.

Public service

Sir David Amess
B 1952. Conservative MP for Southend West. Knighted in 2015.

Gareth Bebb
B 1985. BBC news producer.

Voltaire Taiwo De Campos
B 1996. Peace campaigner. Presented Compassion Award by the Dalai Lama.

David Christie
B 1984. Labour councillor for Beckton, LBN.

Sit Peter Fahy
B 1959. Chief Constable Greater Manchester.

Desmond FitzGerald
B1888, d1947. Irish nationalist and father of former Irish PM, Garret FitzGerald. For more on his Forest Gate connection, see here.

Greg Kelly
B 1975. Sinn Fein councillor, Dublin city.

Terry Paul

Newham Councillor - Startford and Newtown.  Mayoral advisor on Housing.