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Paper Jack
Alfred Ellis Preece better known as Paper Jack was a character from the Croydon area described by Marion Holyhead (Woodland) in her memories of her early life in Croydon. He was born in Holloway in 1876, married Ellen Miriam Branson in 1917 and was subsequently divorced in 1924. He was killed in a road accident in 1935 at the age of 59. Ellen Miriam Branson was re married in 1926 to Stanley Joseph Docking Berger. Paper Jack is not related to my family but I carried out research into his history after reading my mother's memories and being fascinated by this story.
It was revealed at the Croydon inquest on ‘Paper Jack,” a well-known local character who wore nothing but old newspapers tied round him with string, and slept in the open air or sheds, that he was the well-educated son of a prosperous London business man, he was employed by the War Office during the war In decoding Secret Service documents, and as a surveyor he helped to map a portion of the Brighton Railways
His name was Alfred Ellis Preece, and he was aged 59, though his rugged, grey-bearded face and long flowing hair suggested a greater age. He was knocked down and killed by a motorcar. Arthur John Stuart Preece, a wine merchant’s representative, whose address was ‘written down and handed to the Coroner’, said he believed the deceased to be his brother, whom he had not seen for at least 15 years. He continued: “My brother was trained as a land surveyor. For a long time he had no occupation at all so far as I know. During the war he was decoding telegrams. He was married, but I understand the marriage was annulled. There were no children,
Evening Post, Volume CXIX, Issue 65, 18 March 1935, Page 4
Mum would give Jack some tea
I have recently received a cutting from the Guardian from a friend with the article about Paper Jack. I grew up in Wallington and remember him well. He was a well known character in Wallington in the 1920s and 1930s. Paper Jack would knock on our door and ask mum to make him a jug of tea. He provided his own tea in a screw of paper. My mother would give him a cake to have with his tea. Here is a picture of me and my two brothers with Paper Jack as he drank his tea. I am the oldest boy in the picture. Paper Jack is sitting on the bank opposite our house in Plough Lane. The houses in the lane are part of the high view estate which had just been built in 1929. Croydon Aerdrome was at the end of the road. My father had recently retired from Croydon Police after 25 years.
Submitted by Goeff King, Crowsley Way, Sonning Common, Reading
Addiscombe Heritage - Published Articles
Memories Of Everyone's Favourite Hobo Paper Jack
"At first he wore an old tail coat with trousers of a sort and a very old battered top hat. Gradually this was replaced with an assortment of paper until he became fully clothed in paper. He always left his arms bare, even in winter, and he made footwear from an old car inner tube. This made a very strange noise in the black out, but no one had any fear of him and treated him like a friend, especially the children who loved him and gathered in groups to listen to the story telling.
"He was cultured, gentle and well mannered, with a Christ like appearance in a rough sort of way. He never begged, but local people welcomed him with a jug of tea. I can see him now, sitting in the drive of an old derelict mansion house opposite a family home eating his bread and cheese, which he bought in the village shop. He was never feared and I dread to think what would happen to him in today's world.
"News of his tragic death brought great sadness to all who knew him. There will never be another Paper Jack. We all felt we had lost a friend. My brother was a prisoner of war at the time of Paper Jack's death and my mother posted photos to Germany, which he has to this day."
Mrs E Jones from Berwyn, America, writes: "As a child I lived in The Lodge, Church Road, Beddington. Paper Jack would on occasions be sitting under a tree outside The Lodge (he never came to the door). My mother would take out a jug of tea and some food. He spoke in a soft cultured voice. He was also a visitor to friends of ours who lived in a cottage behind The Plough Inn, their name was Davies.
"I wonder if that cottage is still there? I doubt it. I remember passing Paper Jack at dusk near Guy Road, but never felt afraid at that time. I was probably going to or from music lessons in Bridge Lane.
"Although my memories of Paper Jack are few, your article brought back so many memories and I thank you for those. In 1940 we moved to Cheam Village, West Drive, where I married and thereby hangs another tale.
River Wandle and Waddon Mill: According to readers' memories, the itinerant Jack lived in Wandle Park after his marriage broke down and he moved out of the family home in Biggin Hill.
Picture from Edwardian Croydon Illustrated, Croydon Natural History And Scientific Society (1990)
This Is Hertfordshire

Paper Jack

Paper Jack was a popular tramp who lived in Croydon in the early 1930s. He had been Alfred Ellis Preece, a successful surveyor, but had left his wife, sold his home and gone back to nature. He was a kind and gentle man and a favourite with the local school children. He told them Bible stories and helped them with their home work. Of his life as a tramp he said ""I don't envy anyone in the world. I'm warm because my heart and lungs work as nature intended them to...I'm happy because I believe in God and not in gold, I never get any letters or bills, I never look at a clock, and I sleep when I feel like it, under the stars"". When offered money he would reply ""Sir, I am far richer than you can ever hope to be.""Tragically, he was knocked down and killed when crossing Benson Road, Waddon in 1935. When his body was stripped in the mortuary, nothing but paper wrappings were found. The carving was made by Frederick Nibble, who used to talk to Paper Jack on Duppas Hill as he walked to work.

Museum of Croydon

Alfred Ellis Preece - Paper Jack born 1876 baptized February 9th 1876 to Alfred and Elizabeth Preece (Ellis) living at 65 Sunnyside Road. Married Ellen Mirriam Branson in 1917, Died 30th January 1935. His father, also Alfred, was an appraiser / valuer and moved houses around the Croydon area and at one point to the Isle of Wight.

1881 census
15 Charlotte Rd, Beddington, Croydon
Alfred Preece 33 Auctioneer, Gloucestershire, Clifton
Elizabeth Preece 29, Surrey, Lambeth

Elizabeth E Preece, Daughter, 7, Holloway, Middx

Alfred Preece, Son, 5, Holloway, Middx

Frances A Preece, Daughter, 3, Holloway, Middx

1891 Census
Southlands, Chale, Isle of Wight, Hampshire

Alfred Preece 44 Auctioneer, Gloucestershire, Clifton
Elizabeth Preece 39, Surrey, Lambeth

Elizabeth E Preece, Daughter, 17, Holloway, Middx
Alfred Preece, Son, 15, Holloway, Middx
Frances A Preece, Daughter, 13, Holloway Miiddx
Paul G Preece, Son, 9, Wallington
Mabel C Preece, Daughter, 6, Sutton
Grace D Preece, Daughter, 4, Sutton
Hilda M Preece, Daughter, 1, Wallington

1901 Census
38 Sydenham Road North, Croydon, Surrey
Alfred Preece 54 Auctioneer, Gloucestershire, Clifton
Elizabeth Preece 49, Surrey, Lambeth

Elizabeth E Preece, Daughter, 27, Holloway, Middx
Alfred Preece, Son, 26, Holloway, Middx
Frances A Preece, Daughter, 23, Holloway Miiddx
Mabel C Preece, Daughter, 16, Sutton
Grace D Preece, Daughter, 14, Sutton
Frilda M Preece, Daughter, 11, Wallington (I think this is a transcription error, should read Hilda)
Arthur F S Preece, Son, 8, Margate, Kent

1911 Census
407 Brighton Road, South Croydon, Surrey
Alfred Preece 64 Estate Agent
Alfred Ellis Preece 35 Surveyor
Frances Ann Preece 33
Grace Dorothea Preece 24
Hilda Margaret Preece 21
PREECE Alfred Ellis of no fixed abode Died 30th January 1935 at Croydon General Hospital, London Road, Croydon, Surrey. Administration London 30th July to Arthur John Stewart Preece wine shippers representative. Effects £136 9s 4d