Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.
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In the early modern period Ming Street was a byway called Back Lane, on the south side of Pennyfields. In 1802 it was cut at its west end by Commercial (West India Dock) Road. It became known as King Street c1820. (fn. 1) King Street passed north of the Blue Posts public house until 1827–8, when it was rerouted to the south to make a direct crossing to Garford Street, allowing locals to avoid paying tolls on Commercial Road. The old branch, which survived until 1963–4, became King Street West, and King Street itself was renamed Ming Street in 1938, presumably in acknowledgement of the Chinese community. (fn. 2)
The north side of the street was developed in the early nineteenth century. By 1810 there were two small courts of cottages, five in Union Court (later Ulmar Place) and eight in Prospect Place, and ten years later there were also several two-storey houses along the street. Another small court of three cottages, Eagle Place, was built in the 1830s. With such piecemeal growth, the street frontage was more or less fully built up by mid-century. Nearby to the east there was a builder's workshop and yard, occupied by Carden & Hack from c1840 to c1868. This appears subsequently to have become a depot for Pickford & Company. In the second half of the century houses along the north side of King Street were rebuilt, extended and converted as workshops and warehouses, many with maritime links. There were ship-brass-founders, ship-joiners, ship-chandlers, ropemakers, sailmakers, riggers and a shell merchant. Early in the twentieth century the courts were cleared and commercial use of the north side of the street spread. (fn. 3)
The site of Nos 12–13 King Street, previously a shipchandler's workshop, was redeveloped in 1914–15 as a small cinema, the Ideal Picture Palace. The architects were Andrews & Peascod, and the builder J. Bussey of Stratford. The cinema was a single-storey hall seating 860 on a site 58ft 6in. by 83ft. It was used for variety acts and was extended in 1928–9. The Ideal Picture Palace was closed after bomb damage in 1940, and in the 1950s was used as a garage. (fn. 4) Another large garage was built at Nos 3–6 Ming Street in 1939 for P. X. Limited. The north side of Ming Street was cleared in the mid1960s for the erection of public housing. (fn. 5)
The south side of Ming Street has never been substantially developed, except at its eastern end. A large site adjoining Hanbury Place was used by the Pennyfieldsbased builders, Thomas Morris, John Howkins, William Barker and William Constable, as a 'garden' from 1808 until their bankruptcy in 1818. It was perhaps a yard convenient for work carried out by them at the West India Docks. (fn. 6) This site passed to another local firm of builders, James Gates and William Horne, and was acquired on lease in 1820 for the erection of a gas works for lighting Poplar, an early venture of its kind. John and George Barlow, London iron merchants, commenced work speculatively, then in 1821 formed the Poplar Gas Light Company, one of a number of gas companies which they promoted. (fn. 7) The company acquired the freehold in 1836. The Barlows erected a gasometer with a tank and columns of cast-iron, as stipulated by the West India Dock Company, which was nervous of a fire risk so close to its warehouses. The gas works, which were T-shaped, were built 'upon a most liberal scale' at a cost of nearly £16,000. (fn. 8). Newby Place and Bow Lane were lit in 1822, All Saints' churchyard in 1823, Robin Hood Lane in 1824 and the East India Dock Road in 1826. (fn. 9) The company erected a second works at Millwall in 1841, serving the Isle of Dogs.
Greatly increased demand, largely from shipbuilding and manufacturing in Blackwall and Orchard Place, proved too much for the King Street works to meet. In 1846, despite proposals for expanding the works and laying larger mains, the company lost its contract to supply the parish with gas. The contract was awarded to the Commercial Gas Company, based in Stepney, which took over the Poplar Gas Light Company in 1850. One night in May that year, as an experiment, Poplar had its first gas from the Stepney works. Mains were soon laid from Stepney to serve the Garford Street area and improve the Poplar supply, and in 1852 the King Street works were closed and largely dismantled. Robert Warton, a Finchley surveyor, bought the ground to build houses on, but nothing came of his scheme, for which he blamed the high price of building materials. (fn. 10) The site was subsequently let to John Finney, engineer and millwright, who redeveloped it as the Poplar Iron Works in 1853–4.
The buildings, some perhaps survivors from the gas works, were arranged around three sides of a large yard, entered from the street by a carriageway in a broad twostorey house, with workshops and stable ranges behind. The site (No. 27 King Street) ceased to be an ironfoundry c1900. The buildings were altered in 1918 for F. McNeill & Company, felt-roofing manufacturers, here until the late 1930s. In 1947 the premises became Ajax Works for Grosvenor Utilities Limited, plastic moulders, and B. B. Kent Limited, vitreous enamellers and roadsign makers. The buildings were again altered and north-lit workshops and warehouses were added at the south end of the site. In 1972 the site was acquired by the Greater London Council from its freeholder, at great expense, and all the buildings were cleared in 1973. (fn. 11)
A branch post office (No. 28 King Street) was erected just to the west of the Poplar Iron Works in 1869–70. This was a brick building with a classical stone façade. Pilasters framed tall windows over which there was a key pattern frieze and an open balustraded parapet. The entrance had a heavily moulded projecting hood. The building was extended in 1887, but ceased to be used as a post office from about 1915. It passed through a variety of uses, the last of which, in the 1960s, was as premises for the West India Dock Sack & Bag Company. (fn. 12)
Hanbury Place and Hanbury Buildings
This was a small court with its entrance between Poplar High Street and King Street. Latterly, it accommodated a private block of artisans' dwellings that became a notorious and wellpublicized slum. No architectural significance attaches to the area, but the multiplicity of property interests in this sordid spot deserves chronicling.
Until 1880 the site of the court was part of the manor of Poplar. In 1809 it was held as copyhold by Thomas Morris, one of the principals of a building firm, Howkins & Company, situated nearby in Pennyfields. (fn. 13) In 1808 Morris had acquired a larger piece of copyhold garden ground adjacent westward from a Charles Hanbury, and Morris's application of the vendor's name to Hanbury Court suggests that this larger site too had previously been Hanbury's. Morris made the court in 1809–10 and built a terrace on its eastern side which consisted of six very small houses, Nos 1–6 Hanbury Place, with frontages of less than 13ft. They were first occupied early in 1810. At the same time Morris sold the houses and court to an auctioneer at Ratcliff, John Sherrott, whose heirs sold them in 1812 to a coal merchant in Whitechapel for £650. In 1818 Morris's firm became bankrupt and in 1820 the garden ground west of Hanbury Place became the site of the Poplar Gas Light Company's works (see above). (fn. 14) It seems unlikely that the loss of 'amenity' following the arrival of the gas works would have reduced the value of a property such as Hanbury Place, but when the coal merchant sold the court and its houses to a grocer at Shoreditch in 1822 it was at the greatly reduced price of £310. (fn. 15) In 1835 James Gates, the builder who, with his partner William Horne, had formerly held the garden ground to the west, (fn. 16) bought Hanbury Place, again at a greatly sunken price, for £200. (fn. 17)
In 1841 two of the six little houses were in divided occupation and there were lodgers in another: the occupants averaged five to a house, although one house contained nine. The ten male adults comprised three 'mariners', two watermen, a caulker and four labourers. (fn. 18) The 1861 census shows greatly increased overcrowding. The four occupied houses averaged eight or nine occupants each. The ten males over 14 years of age comprised five labourers, a horsekeeper, a gardener, a 'shell polisher', a shop-boy and a shipwright: one of the women worked, as a charwoman. (fn. 19)
When Gates died, his heirs and trustees, who included the curate of All Saints', Poplar, sold the houses in 1870 to Queen Anne's Bounty, which promptly sold them, for £210, to the architect Banister Fletcher, an authority on the technical, surveying, side of the business. (fn. 20) In 1871 he published a book of practical suggestions for the improvement of the houses of the 'industrial classes', based on his own experience of designing such buildings. Included among his examples were some showing the adaptation of tiny terrace houses of 12ft frontage as flats, 'yielding an improved rental'. (fn. 21) If Fletcher redeveloped the site here it was not on the radical lines suggested in his book. He probably improved the houses, (fn. 22) and then sold them in 1877 to a cab proprietor in Whitechapel for £500. (fn. 23)
The cab proprietor enfranchised the houses from manorial tenure for £210 in 1880, (fn. 24) and immediately sold them to an undertaker in Shoreditch for £1,110. The price shows that, even allowing for the enfranchisement and some improvement, the potential of the site was now thought to be rising: a local building society had advanced £800 of the purchase money on mortgage. (fn. 25) The demand for bottom-of-the-market weekly tenancies was evidently great, for the 1881 census found the houses still overcrowded, averaging nine inhabitants each, and with eleven at No. 6. The work of the 18 males over 13 years of age seems (like that in 1841) more river-related than in 1861: ten were dock-, ship-, or stevedore's labourers or 'ship workers' and one a lighterman: two were labourers, two were shoe blacks, and there was a blacksmith, an errand boy and an 'agent'. More women worked — a laundress, two servants, two matchbox-makers, a fancy-box-maker and a worker in a lead factory. Another change was that four of the nine 'heads' of families were Irish. (fn. 26)
In 1884 the undertaker sold the houses for £1,000 to an architect and surveyor in the City, Joseph Clever. Probably he too envisaged development: he came to an abortive arrangement for an 80-year lease to a 'land agent' at New Cross, but in fact made the lease, for a premium of £450, to a City solicitor, W. H. Pettiver (who also paid £100 to the land agent). Clever then sold out, conveying the freehold to Pettiver for £1,080 in January 1885, (fn. 27) and it was he, ostensibly at least, who took the lead in recasting the site to take greater advantage of the letting potential.
By April 1885 Pettiver had engaged an architect, Thomas Lawrie, then of Southampton Street, who 12 or 13 years earlier had designed a few houses in Kensington but was not otherwise prominent. (fn. 28) He applied in that month to the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) to replace the houses with a block of artisans' dwellings consisting of five storeys, each containing 14 rooms. (fn. 29) The application was turned down, but in July Lawrie was inviting tenders for a closely similar project. The successful builder was W. H. Holland of Pembroke Square, Kensington, who tendered at £3,048, and the quantity surveyor was H. P. Foster. (fn. 30) Work began in the autumn and was completed in 1887. (fn. 31)
Hanbury Buildings had little of Kensington about it. Grimly plain, it rose some 48ft (fn. 32) and extended down the east side of the narrow court with a short return range at the southern end (Plate 18b). The west side of the court was closed by a wall separating it from the ironworks. (fn. 33) The fall of the land and the proximity of the eastern boundary meant that the ground-floor flats were 'situate in a deep well'. (fn. 34) The carcase of the block was of brick with wooden floors, and the staircase, passages, landings and roof were of concrete. (fn. 35) In the main range the upper floors opened to iron-railed galleries, the topmost gallery roofed (at least by 1939) with corrugated iron. (fn. 36) Each floor had seven two-roomed flats, said to be of uniform type, with the rooms leading out of each other. No water was laid to the flats, only to one cold tap in a common wash-place on each floor, and on each floor the three waterclosets were also common to the seven flats. (fn. 37)
In March 1886 Pettiver mortgaged the freehold for £1,200 to a solicitor's widow in Balham, and granted an 80-year lease at £70 per annum to a surveyor, Henry Lucas. He in turn mortgaged this for £2,000 to an estate agent in the Haymarket, Robert Coulson. Pettiver, Lawrie, Lucas and Coulson - lawyer, architect, surveyor, and estate agent - were closely connected: Pettiver and Lucas were neighbours at Anerley and by 1887 Pettiver, Lawrie and Coulson shared the same business address in the Haymarket. (fn. 38) The surveyor Lucas had a real involvement, Pettiver granting him his long lease in consideration of his outlay on the building. (fn. 39) In 1889 Lucas made absolute his mortgage of this leasehold interest to Coulson (for £12 in addition to the £2,000 Coulson had lent him). (fn. 40)
After March 1886 the freehold ownership thus gave only a title to £70 per annum until 1965 and a reversionary interest thereafter (which never in fact came to fruition). By 1890 the title of the solicitor's widow in Balham had evidently become absolute and she sold it for £1,700 to officers at the Custom House, (fn. 41) for their benevolent or pension fund, and this fund retained it until the demolition of Hanbury Place in the 1950s.
On his death in 1890 Coulson left the leasehold interest to a well-connected retired clergyman living in Paddington, the Reverend Chisnall Hamerton, and from the latter's widow it passed to her solicitor in trust for her married daughter and daughter-in-law. This leasehold interest terminated in 1942 when the remaining 23-year term was sold back to the freeholders for £50. (fn. 42) It can never have been a very valuable possession: from 1893 to 1914 it yielded £45 per annum after the ground rent was paid, as in the former year the Hamertons had made a 21-year sub-lease at £115 per annum (incorporating all the usual provisions for triennial painting of the exterior and the prohibition of trading in the building). (fn. 43) This lease was to a Bow firm of builders-cum-estate agents called Taylor, whose interest in the property continued after the First World War. (fn. 44) Even this was probably not the most immediate stage of ownership above the actual tenants. From at least 1900 to 1930 the name of the 'owners' recorded by the valuation officer, usually in association with Taylors, was Warradein - presumably the tobacconists of that name occupying the shabby little shop by the mouth of Hanbury Place at No. 2 Poplar High Street. (fn. 45) Beneath all were the weekly tenants. In about 1915 the gross annual rental derived from them was some £365 less rates, minimal 'upkeep', any costs of rent collection and whatever rent the head lessees exacted after the expiry of the sub-lease at £115 per annum in 1914. At that time the Inland Revenue's valuation officer found Hanbury Buildings, despite the formal provisions in the lease of 1893, a 'very poor class of property'. (fn. 46) It already had a bad name with the local clergy, the vicar of St Stephen's, East India Dock Road, thinking it 'a perfect Hole . . . I should like to put a cannon ball through it'. (fn. 47)
The weekly rents were increased in the 1920s from 5s 9d to 6s 6d and would have yielded some £592 gross yearly to the immediate 'owner' if all the flats were tenanted. (fn. 48) About 1932, yet another estate agent came on the scene when Alexander Maclow, who ran a one-man business in the City, bought a sub-leasehold tenure for an unknown sum. (fn. 49) By 1936 complaints at the state of the Buildings, where 153 people lived, were being voiced by local clergy, publicly and to the Housing Committee of the London County Council. (fn. 50) The Council's Medical Officer of Health found much needing to be done and thought some of the dark ground-floor rooms should be closed. The sanitary arrangements were a possible danger to health, and the occupants were overcrowded. He noticed that 'superficial dilapidation' was 'very evident at first sight', but thought the carcase, internal walls, ceilings and floors 'substantially sound'. He recommended against demolition and clearance, probably deterred by the requirement to prove each separate dwelling uninhabitable and the difficulty of rehousing from tightly built sites such as this. (fn. 51) Poplar Borough Council invited Maclow to carry out repairs, (fn. 52) but with no apparent result, and in the following year closed some of the bugridden rooms as unfit for human habitation, extending its condemnation, unlike the LCC's Medical Officer of Health, to the upper floors. (fn. 53)
In 1936 the Poplar Tenants' Defence League had been established, with clerical backing, to awaken the tenants of such blocks to their rights under the law. Early in 1939 the occupants of Hanbury Buildings, prompted by a 'social worker', instigated one of the 'rent strikes' which drew attention to discontent at housing conditions in the East End. (fn. 54) An architect's report to the League gave a less favourable view of the building's fabric than had the LCC's Medical Officer of Health. It condemned the construction of the concrete roof, which bore directly on steel joists open to the rooms below, as inimical to heat insulation and conducive to cracking, and found the brick carcase penetrable by damp, causing some floors to collapse. (fn. 55)
The tenants demanded a reduction of the weekly rents, which in some cases had been increased to 9s a week. (fn. 56) They also demanded measures to cure the pervasive damp and to stop the overflow of drainage, and the provision in each flat of a tap, sink, food cupboard and new fireplace where needed (some had collapsed). The waterclosets, separated by corrugated-iron sheets, were 'disgustingly insanitary', not so much 'from want of scrubbing but really because things have got so worn that all the cleaning in the world would do no good'. The social worker had photographs taken of the Buildings that secured a commission (though abortive) from Picture Post.. (fn. 57) The London County Council and Poplar Borough Council were both approached by the League. The former's Medical Officer of Health now recommended action under Clearance Area legislation, prompted partly by recent interpretations of the Housing Act of 1936 facilitating action by local authorities in such instances. In June 1939 the LCC and Poplar Borough Council conferred together, led by two future members of the post-war Labour Cabinet - Lewis Silkin, then chairman of the LCC Housing Committee, and Charles Key, Deputy Mayor of Poplar and headmaster of Dingle Lane School adjoining Hanbury Buildings. The Borough was unable to provide the necessary rehousing from its overstrained resources, and the LCC Housing Committee said that the LCC would probably undertake the clearance and rehousing itself. (fn. 58) Nothing, however, could be done before war broke out in September.
In November Maclow brought an action against his tenants in Bow County Court. Although he showed he had in fact at some time spent £600 or more on the building, the Court, clearly sympathetic to the tenants, found that he had overcharged for rent beyond the sums withheld, and also found against him for costs. (fn. 59)
Hanbury Buildings were demolished between 1950 and 1955. Their site was bought for £310 from the Custom Annuity and Benevolent Fund Incorporated by the London County Council in 1955 and taken into the Will Crooks housing estate in Dingle Lane. (fn. 60)
Danish Church (demolished)
The small Danish church, also on the south side of King Street, was built in 1873. It provided seamen with a place for Lutheran worship, yet despite its foreign orientation, its genesis was very local, being built by Atherton & Latta to designs by John Warrington Morris. (fn. 61) The church was 'reconstructed' in 1906 by David Thomas of Finsbury Street, builder. (fn. 62) After damage during the Second World War, the church was redecorated 'in bright colours' by the architectural firm (of Danish origin) Caröe & Partners, and rededicated in 1948. (fn. 63) It was replaced in 1959 by a church in Commercial Road (fn. 64) and demolished in or soon after 1971. (fn. 65)
The main body of the church, in stock and polychromatic brick laid in Flemish bond, was a simple rectangle under a slated roof bearing a jaunty little bellturret in four materials at the apex of its gable-end facing the street (Plate 18c). At that end a porch on the east and a large vestry on the west presented their own gableends to the street, with a lean-to narthex between them, all being slate-roofed. The simple, crudely detailed, early Gothic forms were reminiscent of a small country railway station. (fn. 66)
The interior was very plain, with plastered walls and braced wooden rafters rising from corbels to support the steeply pitched ceiling. (fn. 67) At the south end a two-centred, straight-sided arch opened to a shallow sanctuary. Within and on either side of this were four wooden figures of Moses, St John the Baptist, St Peter and St Paul, some 4–5ft high, from the Danish Church in Wellclose Square. At least two, and perhaps all four, of these were carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1696–7. (fn. 68) (These figures are now at the Danish church at St Katharine's, Regent's Park.) (fn. 69) The oil painting over the altar had been the altarpiece at Wellclose Square. (fn. 70)
The west end of the south side of King Street remained vacant land in the hands of the East and West India Dock Company until 1882, when it was compulsorily acquired by the Midland Railway Company and made a coal depot with sidings and an office just north of the fire station on West India Dock Road (see below). The area remained a coal-yard until it was taken for the Poplar Link Road. (fn. 71)