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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All Saints' Church
Following the Improvement Act of 1813, which reformed the civil administration of Poplar and Blackwall (see page 18), the inhabitants considered making the hamlet a separate parish, with its own parish church. Taking the example of St Mary Magdalene, Islington, built between 1812 and 1814, they thought the cost might be £20,000. (fn. 3) Allowances for the expense of obtaining the necessary Act of Parliament, purchasing the ground and building a parsonage added £6,000 to the estimate. (fn. 4) To reduce the outlay, a scheme was devised whereby the East India Company's chapel would be replaced by a new church building on the same site and its chaplain would become the parish's first rector, but the East India Company refused to agree to it. (fn. 5) The East India Dock Company's response was also lukewarm and it felt that there was a need for more 'Places of Public Worship, especially for the Lower Classes who … most required it for Instruction in their religious Duties'. The replacement of the chapel, with 800 sittings, by a church with 2,000 would provide a net gain of only 1,200 places and the size and growth of the hamlet seemed to call for the retention of the chapel and the erection of a new church. (fn. 6)
After consultations with Brasenose College, Oxford, the patron of Stepney parish, Thomas Barneby, the rector of the parish, William Howley, the Bishop of London, the East India and West India Dock Companies and the Corporation's Port of London Committee, it was agreed that the College would be patron of the new parish and receive the great tithes. Samuel Hoole, the East India Company's chaplain, would be appointed as the first rector. The Bill establishing the parish of All Saints was passed on 16 June 1817. (fn. 7)
Shortly after the Act had been obtained, advertisements were placed for the site of a church, which was limited to eight acres. Three possibilities were identified: one was Mrs Wade's land north of the East India Dock Road, the second was on the south side of that road immediately west of Bow Lane and the third was a part of Black Boy Field, further to the west. The West India Dock Company favoured the land owned by Mrs Wade, because of its relative cheapness. The vestry's church committee preferred that to the south of East India Dock Road and adjoining Bow Lane, because it was closer to the majority of the population. The Black Boy Field site seems to have received little support. The question was resolved in favour of the committee's views. (fn. 8)
The site chosen consisted of three parts (fig. 64). The first to be acquired abutted upon Bow Lane to the east and consisted of a field, a barn, and five houses fronting the High Street, including the Old Red Lion, with ten cottages to their rear. It was in the hands of the eight heirs and other beneficiaries of the late George, Melchior and Clement Paillet, respectively a hosier of Bishopsgate Street, a gentleman of Newent, Gloucestershire, and a gentleman of Topsham, Devon. It was bought by the vestry in 1819 and the properties on the High Street were sold two years later. (fn. 9) The second was a small wedge-shaped area of just over half an acre, with a frontage along East India Dock Road. It was acquired for £800 from the brothers James, Charles and George Griffiths – James acting for George, who had been committed to an asylum (see page 175). (fn. 10) The third part was a plot of over two acres which lay to the west of the land sold by the Paillets, extending from the rear of the premises in the High Street to East India Dock Road. It was owned by Ann Newby, a widow, but she died in August 1818 and her estate passed to her brother's surviving children, who were minors. There were, in any case, problems concerning the title, for in 1791 Ann's husband William Newby had bought five of six shares in the land from the children of William Thorns and the final share, that of Thomas Thorns, only 'in case he was then dead'. (fn. 11) Thomas was William's eldest son who had left for the West Indies in 1780 and had not been heard of since. Not only was there no proof that he was dead and had left no heirs, but his movements could not be traced, for the name of the ship in which he had embarked was unknown, as were its owners. The terms of the Act creating the parish did not empower the vestry to acquire a secure title to this land, but the powers of compulsory purchase given to the Church Building Commission, established in 1818, enabled it to do so (fn. 12) and the Commissioners therefore bought the site on behalf of the vestry. A jury awarded the three vendors of the Newby land a total of £3,620. The purchase was not completed until the end of 1820. (fn. 13)
In April 1820 designs were invited for a church to hold at least 1,710 worshippers. (fn. 14) The church committee received 36 designs, from which 20 were selected as worthy of consideration and three were awarded premiums. (fn. 15) This process was not without controversy. It was alleged that the committee had changed the order of the designs after their initial decision, and the fact that Charles Hollis, winner of the competition under the pseudonym 'Felix', had previously been a clerk with one of the leading parishioners raised suspicions of preferential treatment. The West India Dock Company was one of the vestry committee's most vociferous critics, and it went so far as to submit to the bishop a report from John Rennie supporting the design of John Charles Mead, together with a strongly worded complaint. (fn. 16) Despite its efforts, Hollis was confirmed as architect. Also in 1820, his Gothic designs for the parish church at New Windsor were accepted, the building being completed in 1822. (fn. 1)
The invitation for designs specified a maximum outlay of £20,000 for the building. Hollis had apparently achieved this, but there were incidental fees and charges to take into account and by the end of 1820 the estimated total cost had risen to almost £35,000. The West India Dock Company, concerned to keep the costs as low as possible, again intervened and made the vestry limit the figure to £30,000. It is not clear what economies, if any, were achieved, and the decision to finish the building in stone rather than brick was adhered to. (fn. 18)
Early in 1821 the local builder Thomas Morris of Regent Street, Blackwall, was awarded the contract to erect the church on his tender of £17,799 8s 7d. (fn. 19) (fn. 2) The foundation stone was laid on 29 March 1821 and the church was consecrated on 3 July 1823. (fn. 20) The actual cost of the foundations and fabric was £20,651. The bells were cast by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel, the organ was made by Timothy Russell of Grays Inn Terrace and the clock by John Moore of Clerkenwell. These and other fittings cost £2,635 8s 3d, the setting out, railing and planting of the churchyard added £3,795 19s 11d, the building of the rectory cost £3,625 1s 1d and the architect's commission, other fees and miscellaneous items came to £2,573 1s 9d. The total expense was £33,280 11s. A further £8,000 had been borrowed for the purchase of the site, although this cost was somewhat reduced by the sale of superfluous ground. (fn. 21) The expenditure had, therefore, been kept reasonably close to the proposed figure.
The cost of the site and building was to be financed out of the church rate, which was not to exceed 1s in the pound. It was estimated that nine years would be required to raise the sum needed and so loans had to be obtained to cover the interval between expenditure and income. Two prominent local men, George Green and John Stock, provided £12,000 in 1821 in equal shares and a further £4,000 in 1823. (fn. 22) These loans were at five per cent interest, but in 1824 the West India Dock Company took them over at four per cent. (fn. 23) The church rate continued to provide the funds for the rector's and lecturer's stipends and the maintenance of the church and rectory, until it was abolished in 1903. (fn. 24)
Prominently placed close to the East India Dock Road, the church was no doubt intended to be an arresting symbol of the new parish. The plinth and the entrance at the west end are of granite from the Heyton quarry in Devon, the remainder of the church being in brick, faced in Portland stone. The design of the Ionic tetrastyle portico was said to have been based upon that of the Temple on the Ilissus at Athens (Plate 31c). Indeed, contemporaries referred to the church's 'Grecian character', while congratulating Hollis for avoiding 'the common place imitation of Grecian temples'. (fn. 25) The tower rising behind the portico is of four parts; successively a square bell tower with attached columns, an irregular octagon clock stage, a circular temple with detached columns and an octagonal spire (Plates 30b, 31b). The height is approximately 190ft. The side porches at the west end are of the same character as the portico. Each side elevation contains two rows of five windows, roundheaded above and straight-headed below, divided by a stringcourse. A plaque on the external wall at the east end records the consecration of the church.
The internal arrangement at the west end provided three lobbies; the central one being the principal entrance and those to the side containing the gallery stairs (fig. 62). At the east end the apsidal chancel was flanked by a vestry and a lobby. The remainder of the interior of the church was treated as a single space, the width being a little over two-thirds of the length. It had galleries, carried on cast-iron columns, on three sides, with the organ placed in the centre of the western one, which also contained the choir stalls. The instructions to the architect included the direction that 140 spaces should be provided for children from the workhouse and 680 more for schoolchildren. (fn. 26) The children's seats were arranged in the galleries on either side of the organ and in the upper parts of the side galleries. The seating arrangement in the body of the church was influenced by a stipulation in the Act of 1817 that a 20ft width in the centre should be appropriated for free sittings. In 1851 the accommodation was given as 2,252 sittings, 1,398 of which were free. (fn. 27)
The cast-iron altar, which also served as the parish safe, stood on a bronze pedestal on a low platform in the apse, reached by five steps in two flights (Plate 34a). In the east wall was a single round-headed painted-glass window by William Collins of Christ preaching, which cost £133 8s 3d. This attracted criticism because Christ's left, rather than his right, hand was raised in blessing. Another cause of complaint was that the window was not high enough 'to admit the figure [of Christ] … to be graceful'. (fn. 28) The opening to the chancel was fronted by two Corinthian columns with respondent pilasters, all of scagliola imitating Siena marble, which supported an ornamental entablature bearing the royal arms in its centre.
The brick vaults beneath the church were approached from an external entrance at the east end. They were ranged along three aisles. Only nine of them were purchased before further interments there and in the churchyard were prohibited in 1862. (fn. 29) The crypt was used as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War, with unused vaults adapted as cubicles for bunks. (fn. 30) It was reinstated in 1956. (fn. 31)
Some subsequent repairs in the church were perhaps prompted by original defects. Leakage in the roof in 1835 was attributed to 'faulty construction' (fn. 32) and the design of the interior may be responsible for the imperfect acoustics which were noticed in 1831 and again during the 1950s and 1980s. (fn. 33) The church was reseated three times in the nineteenth century and the original deal box-pews were replaced. (fn. 34)
A number of internal changes were made during the incumbency of Thomas Nowell (rector, 1861–91). They included the removal of the choir stalls from the west gallery to the chancel in 1868, and the creation of choir and clergy vestries in the lobby at the east end. In 1869 five memorial windows were inserted and other stainedglass windows were fitted during the next few years, including eight based upon Old Testament subjects and twelve illustrating the parables, by Alexander Gibbs. (fn. 35) The organ was rebuilt by Bunting in 1875. (fn. 36)
The first substantial alterations were made by Arthur Chandler (1860–1939), Fellow and from 1889 Vice Principal of Brasenose College, who succeeded Nowell as rector in 1891. (fn. 37) Chandler was dissatisfied with the internal arrangements in All Saints', particularly those at the east end, and in 1892 he made a number of changes, placing the choir stalls on a platform and raising the altar by the addition of extra steps. The higher level of the sanctuary necessitated the blocking up of the east window, two smaller windows being inserted on either side of the apse. A side chapel was created in 1897. The original altar was moved to the chapel and a new bronze one was placed in the sanctuary, together with a carved wooden altar-front, commissioned from Oberammergau. (fn. 38) Chandler acted as his own architect for these alterations. (fn. 39) His changes reduced the seating capacity, but at a time when attendance was declining. In the middle of the century it was difficult for ratepayers to get a pew and in 1851 the size of the average congregation at morning service was put at 1,000. Attendance when the 1886 religious census was taken was 1,093, but by that of 1902–3 it had fallen to 701. (fn. 40)
Subsequent changes before the Second World War were less substantial. The original heating was by flues underneath the floor, fed from stoves, but in 1914 radiators were installed at a cost of £248. (fn. 41) Gas lighting fitted in 1847 was replaced by electricity in 1903–4. (fn. 42) A general refurbishment was carried out in 1935–7 under Cyril Wontner Smith, the diocesan surveyor, at a cost of £2,802. (fn. 43)
Some of the windows had to be repaired following an air raid on 30 September 1917, (fn. 44) but far greater damage to the windows and the fabric itself resulted from the Blitz of 1940–1, and a V2 rocket which fell at the north end of Bazely (not Bazeley) Street in March 1945. (fn. 45) This necessitated a major restoration in 1951–3 under Wontner Smith, until his death in 1952, (fn. 46) and then Cecil Brown (1902–83), the surveyor to St Albans Abbey (Plates 32a, b, 33a, b). The roof was rebuilt and given extra support by four piers placed at the corners of the church and connected by beams in the ceiling. Corinthian pilasters were added to the inside of the church between the windows. The galleries were taken down and the western one was replaced by a larger and stronger gallery designed to carry a replacement organ, the original one having been badly damaged. The new organ was brought from Clapham Congregational Church and was installed in 1953–4. It was made by Hunters of Clapham and substantially rebuilt by N. P. Mander. The southern lobby at the western end was converted into St Frideswide's chapel (refitted as a 'social area' in 1971) and the northern one as a vestry. Chandler's arrangements at the east end were altered; the windows were blocked up, the sanctuary floor was lowered, the choir stalls were removed and a baldacchino was placed over the altar. The work was carried out by the firm of R. W. Bowman of West India Dock Road and the church was reconsecrated on 23 October 1953. (fn. 47)
The discovery in 1981 that the roof at the east end again required repair led to a further large-scale restoration. This involved work on the tower and spire and the stonework, as well as to the roof. It was completed in 1984 by Bowmans under the direction of John Phillips. A part of the cost was met by a grant from the LDDC. (fn. 48) This was followed by internal changes, notably the reordering and redecoration of the east end in 1987, which included the cutting back of the baldacchino (Plate 33b), and the conversion of the crypt in 1988–9 to provide a parish centre. Some of the original vaults were adapted to provide service rooms and the heating and ventilation plant. Those beneath the centre of the church were removed and the floor lowered to create a hall occupying the full width of the building. Steel girders were inserted to carry the floor of the church. In addition, a lift was installed in the north-east vestry. The design was by Triforum Chartered Architects, with Donald Halstead Associates as consulting engineers and Dove Brothers as builders. (fn. 49)
Among the mural tablets in the entrance lobby is one in memory of Ralph Walker, the engineer to the dock companies, who died in 1824. Those in the south-east vestry include one commemorating the life of Samuel Hoole, the first rector. Two larger tablets are prominently placed high on the walls at the east end: that on the north side is a memorial to John Stock (d.1842) and that on the south, commemorating John Garford (d.1850), was designed by Matthew Johnson to harmonize with that of Stock and cost £133 17s 6d. (fn. 50)
The churchyard was enclosed by iron railings on a granite plinth and in 1823 gas lights were fixed around it. (fn. 51) The ground on the west side of Newby Place to the north of the rectory was also consecrated for burials and was said to have been used for the interment of paupers and cholera victims amongst foreign sailors. (fn. 52) It was closed in 1859 when the inscribed monument of polished red granite by John Cusworth of Stoke Newington was set up, commemorating its use as a burial ground. A shrubbery was created around the monument in 1874 and the area was later adapted as a playground. (fn. 53) The churchyard was closed for burials in 1862 and in 1865–6 was laid out and planted by G. H. Bunney of Stratford. (fn. 54) In 1893 the northern part was set out as a public recreation ground by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association and the same arrangement was later extended to the whole churchyard. This facility was opened in 1906, its maintenance having been entrusted to the Borough Council. (fn. 55)
The air-raid defences constructed in 1938 and the deep bomb shelter built early in the Second World War, (fn. 56) together with the effects of war-damage, required the restoration of the churchyard and its railings. The tombs in the churchyard include those of Thomas Morris, the builder, close to the north-west corner of the church, and of Canon Thomas Bazeley, facing the west entrance.
All Saints' Rectory
When the arrangements for the new parish buildings were being considered, a site to the south of the church was suggested for the rectory, but it was rejected in favour of the one opposite, to the west of the church, preferred by Samuel Hoole, the first rector. (fn. 57) Designed by Charles Hollis, the rectory was built in 1822–3 by Thomas Morris, the builder of the church, at a cost of £3,625. (fn. 58) It is a handsome three-storey double-fronted brick house, with a basement (Plate 34b; fig. 63).
The internal arrangements have been altered from time to time (Plate 34d). A bathroom was incorporated in 1884, and it was then that a serious defect in the arrangement of the drains was discovered, the fall being towards the rectory and not into the main sewer in Newby Place. (fn. 59) In 1907 the number of rooms was given as 16 and a survey of 1943 shows 19. (fn. 60) The rectory accommodated the members of the large team ministry that was a feature of the parish in the 1940s and 1950s; in 1951 six clergymen were living in the building. (fn. 61) Work was required to repair bomb damage from both world wars. (fn. 62)
A coach-house, with a loft, and a stable were built to the south of the rectory. They were adapted for other purposes during the 1890s. In 1892 the stable was converted for use as a clubroom and other parochial purposes, and three years later the coach-house was remodelled internally to serve as a parish room. In 1900 a part of these buildings was turned into a workshop employing local women as seamstresses. Initially only seven women were employed with the 'Goodwill Outfitting Society', but by 1907 the number had risen to 20. (fn. 63) This range was destroyed during the Second World War.