Since the Croydon Guardian published a story about Paper Jack last month, the news desk has been inundated with telephone calls, letters and emails from those who remember the area's best-known tramp.

However, local history enthusiast Brian Roote has gone one step further and has researched the early history of the popular tramp to see if there were any clues to how and why he shunned conventional living in favour of the great outdoors.

Paper Jack was one of the area's best-loved characters and was famous for being a kindly, well-spoken eccentric - clothed only in a suit made of newspapers, who befriended hundreds of children in Wallington and Croydon.

He was a familiar sight in the area until he was killed by a car in a poorly-lit Benson Road in Croydon, on January 30, 1935. He was aged 59.

Brian, from Caterham, said: "In view of the interest engendered by the recent references to Paper Jack - Alfred Preece - I decided to look into Alfred's history to see if there was any clue to his demise.

"The short answer is no. Alfred was actually born in the Bristol area in 1876. He was christened with the middle name Ellis. This is because his mother's maiden name was Ellis and Victorian families often did this to perpetuate their names.

"His father was Alfred Preece, born in Gloucester in 1847. Paper Jack's grandfather was Thomas Preece, born in Maidenhead in 1806, who was an estate agent."

Paper Jack's father Alfred had become an auctioneer by 1881 and had moved to 15 Charlotte Road, Beddington, where he had set up a business. He had married Elizabeth Ellis and they christened Paper Jack Alfred Ellis Preece.

By 1891, the family had grown and there were now seven children. By 1891, they had moved to a large house called Southlands at Chale on the Isle of Wight, where they had a housekeeper and gardener.

In 1901, the family moved back to Croydon where Alfred - Paper Jack - was a surveyor, aged 26 and still single and his father was still in the property business.

Brian added: "The only marriage I have been able to trace is one to Ellen M Branson in the Godstone registration district, which would have taken in Biggin Hill.

Alfred would have been in his early 40s.

"I have been unable to trace any children from this union but it is possible that Ellen had children from a previous marriage. What caused his descent into abject poverty may never be known and I wonder what his affluent parents and siblings thought of it all? We would now probably term it a mid-life crisis'.

"Following his death, there was an inquest and his funeral took place on 7 February 1935 at Streatham Park Cemetery, amid much family secrecy. There were only two family members at the ceremony. A sad end to an intriguing life."