A Virtual Walk through the London Borough of Ealing’s Polish Heritage
By Piotr Stolarski, Ealing Local History Centre
The Origins of Ealing’s Polish Community
The well-organised Polish community of Ealing is the largest in Europe outside Poland. Its origins lie in the Polish armed forces personnel who fought under British command after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet forces in 1939. They numbered 195,000 in March 1944 and 165,000 at the end of that year, including about 20,000 personnel in the Polish Air Force and 3,000 in the Polish Navy.
In 1946 various Polish groups arrived in the UK: demobilised soldiers of the Polish II Corps; the Polish II Armoured Division, back from occupation duties in Germany; soldiers of the Polish Home Army; former POWs and inmates of concentration camps; political exiles. After 1948 Poles from India and Africa, and families rescued from deportation in Soviet Russia, arrived. These people could not return to Poland, which was under Soviet occupation, with a large part of Poland’s former territory annexed by the Soviet Union itself. Many of those who settled in London permanently chose to live in West London.
In order to ease the transition from a Polish military environment to British civilian life, a satisfactory means of demobilisation needed to be devised by the British authorities. This took the form of the raising, as a corps of the British Army, of the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC), into which such Poles as wished to stay in the UK were allowed to enlist for the period of their demobilisation. The PRC was formed in 1946 and was disbanded after fulfilling its purpose in 1949.
The Polish Resettlement Act 1947 was the first ever mass immigration legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It offered British citizenship to over 200,000 displaced Polish troops on British soil who had fought against Nazi Germany and opposed the Soviet takeover of their homeland. The Act also supplied a labour force to meet the demands of war-torn Britain.
In 1966, the Ealing Polish community numbered about 4,000 people. This had risen to 6,000 in 1988, to 10,000 by 1996, and to around 20,000 by the year 2000. In the wake of the accession of Poland to the European Union in 2004, which signalled the start of mass migration, the total number of Poles in the London Borough of Ealing in 2015 may be closer to 30,000. In 2008, there were 9,118 Polish electors registered in the borough.
What follows is a virtual tour of some of the main places associated with the Polish community in the borough.
1. Veritas Foundation, Jeddo Road, Acton
The Veritas Foundation was established in 1947 by Monsignor Dr. Stanisław Bełch. Run by lay Catholics to propagate Christian faith and culture among the Polish community in Great Britain, Veritas is based in the St. Stanislaus building off Acton Vale (Jeddo Road). Among other functions, the foundation is a centre of Catholic publishing, producing the Polish Daily (Dziennik Polski) and weekly Sunday Paper (Gazeta Niedzielna) newspapers – both founded in west London in the 1940s.
2. C.A.V. Ltd. factory, Warple Way, Acton
Between 1946-1949 ex-Polish soldiers participated in camps of the Polish Resettlement Corps in the UK, where they were prepared for civilian life, and subsequently demobilised. Many settled in industrial Acton and parts of Ealing, working in factories such as C.A.V. Ltd. (Acton) – producing electric engines. The factory has since been redeveloped into housing and commercial premises.
3. Polish Cafés and Restaurants
Kasia’s café in Acton’s High Street is among the newer Polish cafés which have sprung up since Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004. Other well-known Polish eating establishments include Café Grove (Ealing), Big Bites Café (Hanwell), The Ambrosia, Impuls Restaurant, and XXL Polish restaurant (Greenford), Bronek’s Park Café (Northfields), Yummy Polish Café (Northolt), Chata Po Zbóju (West Ealing), and The Belvedere pub in Acton High Street.
4. Katyń Memorial, Gunnersbury Cemetery
Erected in 1976 and unveiled in 1977, the memorial is the world’s first to commemorate the 22,000 Polish officers and citizens murdered during World War II by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) in April and May 1940. The victims were murdered in the Katyń Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. The Soviet Union, blaming the Nazis, denied all responsibility for the massacres until 1990. The British government only officially recognized the memorial in 1979. Each year during the last Sunday in April, ceremonies commemorate the victims of Katyń and other places of slaughter in the Soviet Union. Gunnersbury Cemetery itself contains the remains of many prominent members of the Polish community in exile (including generals, writers, politicians, and clergy), as does the South Ealing Cemetery.
5. Kolbe House, 18-19 Hanger Lane, Ealing
The original Polish community of the 1940s-1970s tended to comprise older people. With time ways of caring for the older generation outside the family home have become necessary. On 5 June 1962, Kolbe House was formally opened by Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, and consecrated by the Ealing Benedictine fathers. It is named after the Polish Franciscan martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe who willingly perished in place of another man at the Nazi death-camp at Auschwitz in 1941. Similarly, in 1978 Polish Bishop Szczepan Wesoły consecrated the OAP home run by the Polish Sisters of the Most Holy Name of Jesus at 57 Mount Park Road, Ealing. The home was donated by the Polish Pastuszko family.
6. Polish Catholic church, Windsor Road, Ealing
One of 23 Catholic churches or chapels in London hosting Polish Masses (as of 2014), and commonly known as the Ealing Polish church, the Church of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, is a Catholic parish which has been run by the Polish Marian Fathers order since 1965. The actual building was originally the Ealing Broadway Methodist church, designed by Charles Jones and John Tarring in the Gothic style, and opened in 1867. Having become redundant in 1972, the Polish community bought it in 1984, and refurbished it, reopening it as a Catholic church in 1986. Prior to 1986, the Polish Catholic community used Ealing Abbey, and later St. Matthew’s Anglican church, for their services.
In the parish centre next to the church there is a large hall with a stage, used for various kinds of shows and parish activities; the ‘Father Jerzy Popiełuszko’ meeting hall; a library; and a restaurant and coffee shop in the basement.
The epicentre of Ealing’s Polish community, the church celebrates 8 Masses, for as many as 4,500 worshippers, on Sundays. In 1989 Lech Wałęsa the Solidarity leader, attended Mass at the Ealing Polish church, going on to be elected President of Poland in 1990. It has become famous for its large crowds, with worshippers forced to stand outside during some services, in stark contrast to the modest Christian congregations at most of Ealing’s churches these days. The church also has an underground columbarium which contains the remains of deceased members of the Polish community, marked with plaques.
7. Polish Delicatessens
The London Borough of Ealing now boasts around 26 Polish delicatessens, which have mushroomed since Polish EU accession in 2004. Apart from the short-lived Northfields Delicatessen run by Danuta Archutowska in the mid-1950s, the first seems to have been the Parade Delicatessen opposite Ealing Broadway station. Polish delis sell Polish specialities such as meat (sausages, ham, pates, salami, smoked sausages (kiełbasa)), bread (e.g. rye bread), cakes (Polish doughnuts, cheese cake, pastries, and poppyseed cake, for example), Polish dumplings (pierogi), pickles, relishes, soups, tinned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen foods, confectionary, chocolates, candies, drinks (including Polish beer, spirits and fruit juice), dairy products, and newspapers and magazines. As well as being places where you can buy Polish foodstuffs, Polish delis sometimes act as community hubs by displaying community information and classified adverts in their windows.
8. The Tadeusz Kościuszko Polish Saturday School, at St. Benedict’s School, 54 Eaton Rise, Ealing
Teaching Polish language, literature, history, geography, and the Catholic religion to 4-16 year olds, Polish Saturday schools are the essential means of educating the next generation of Poles. In 1960, 150 such schools existed throughout the UK.
Polish Saturday schools in the UK are overseen by the Polish Educational Society (Polska Macierz Szkolna, est. in London in 1953), which co-ordinates and organises GCSE and A-Level examinations, courses for teachers, exam preparation courses for young people, and competition quizzes about Poland.
The origins of the Polish Saturday School in Ealing stretch back to World War II, when a school named after the Polish writer Cyprian Norwid was briefly established in University College Hall in North Ealing in 1940. It soon relocated to Scotland, however, where it became the Juliusz Słowacki School.
Ealing’s main Polish Saturday School (which now has over 500 pupils) was founded in 1950, and is named after Polish freedom fighter Tadeusz Kościuszko. Its various premises have included the Homefield Social Club – Ealing Abbey; St. Gregory’s School; Grange School (near Church Place) from 1960; Ealing Grammar School from 1965; Twyford C of E High School, Acton; and, since 2003, St. Benedict’s School, Ealing. Another Polish school, Nasze Dzieci, operates from Greenford High School.
9. Polish Social Club at Polish Catholic Centre, 1 Courtfield Gardens, Ealing
In 1972 the Polish Social Club (Polski Klub Towarzyski (PKT)) was established at the Polish Catholic Centre (Polski Ośrodek Katolicki (POK)), Courtfield Gardens, Ealing. Both institutions are closely linked to the Polish parish church in Windsor Road, established in 1986. The Courtfield Gardens building is now primarily used for the Divine Mercy Apostolate by the Polish Marian Fathers of Ealing Polish church. Other important Polish social and cultural institutions frequented by Ealing’s Poles include the Polish Hearth Club (Ognisko Polskie, est. 1940 in South Kensington) – a centre of theatrical and literary life – and The Polish Social and Cultural Centre (POSK, Hammersmith, est. 1967) – which includes a gallery, theatre, cinema, café, restaurant, bookshop, library and archive, and the Polish University Abroad (PUNO).
10. Polish War Memorial, Northolt
The Polish War Memorial at Northolt, established in 1948, commemorates the Polish squadrons and 546 air crew who died fighting with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. It was refurbished, expanded, and rededicated in 1996 during a ceremony attended by Princess Anne. The obelisk is engraved with the names of four bomber and ten fighter squadrons, and battle locations. A stone wall displays the names of Polish airmen who perished in 1940-1945. A total of 145 Polish pilots defended British skies in the Battle of Britain. The 14 Polish Squadrons fighting with the RAF during World War II, shot down 769 enemy planes in the West.
Ealing Local History Centre at Ealing Central Library contains further information about the Ealing Polish community, including books, a Polish fact-file folder including chronology and bibliography, and Polish community-related newspaper stories on card index. Anyone wishing to find out more can get in touch with the local history team by phone: 0203-700-1055, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or