Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
Bazely Street, Wells Street, Woolmore Street, Cotton Street and Ashton Street area
The impetus for development between the High Street and the East India Dock Road, east of Bow Lane (later Bazely Street), came from the construction of the docks and of the East India Dock Road itself. By the early years of the nineteenth century there were almost two dozen houses on the west side of Robin Hood Lane and some more in White Hart Place. There were, too, a number of cottages in Bow Lane prior to 1804, but the area was chiefly developed following the East India Dock Company's decision in 1807 to sell its land there for building.
The company's holding was the largest of the three parcels of land in the area bounded by the High Street, Bow Lane, East India Dock Road and Robin Hood Lane (fig. 68). In the north-east was part of a field which had been bisected by the East India Dock Road and had been held by the Wells family, the owners of Blackwall Yard and among the prime movers in the establishment of the East India Dock Company. The area was bought from the family by Thomas Ashton and Thomas Hale in 1807. The third area was held by the Grigges family of the White Hart public house and lay to the south-east of the East India Dock Company's purchase and to the rear of the premises in the High Street.
The East India Dock Company's land
This was the largest of the three ownerships, occupying the entire frontage on Bow Lane and running through to Robin Hood Lane. It was bought by the East India Dock Company from Robert Peers in 1804. (fn. 1) The company had used it for the making or storing of bricks while the docks were being constructed, and had erected a terrace of 21 cottages for the brickmakers, together with a number of buildings fronting Bow Lane. (fn. 2) These were subsequently demolished when the land, no longer needed once the docks were built, was cleared for sale. In addition, a shed for the company's carts and caravans was built on the west side of Robin Hood Lane by 1809 and sold to the East India Company in 1812. (fn. 3)
By early 1807 the principal streets, named after the directors of the company, were laid out. Cotton Street ran southwards from the East India Dock Road and Wells and Woolmore Streets connected Cotton Street with Robin Hood Lane. (fn. 4) Sydney Street, Dock Street, Providence Place and Wright's Place, which were narrower, gave access to the remainder of the company's land.
The building lots were offered for sale both at auction and by private sale. The first auction was held in March 1807, with 57 lots of land in Bow Lane, Cotton Street and Woolmore Street on offer. It seems not to have been a great success, perhaps because the lots, which were 20ft wide and between 105ft and 110ft deep, were too large to attract purchasers. (fn. 5) Most of the subsequent sales were of lots of 15ft or 16ft width and a half of the depth of those offered at the initial auction. Indeed, before a further auction in April 1808, at which 53 lots were offered, James Walker, the surveyor handling the sales for the company, was directed to set out the lots at dimensions he considered suitable for buyers intending to build 'on a small scale'. (fn. 6) Even so, some who had agreed to buy land were unable to complete their purchases because of financial difficulties, and only 17 of the 57 agreements reached for land not sold at auction in 1808–13 were for £100 or more. (fn. 7) Moreover, in at least 14 instances between 1809 and 1824, the dock company allowed prospective purchasers to erect houses before they had bought the land, effectively granting them credit on the sales. (fn. 8) Generally, the pattern was for sales of single or double lots of 15ft or 16ft frontage and of piecemeal building by developers operating on a small scale. One section of the Bow Lane frontage contained 21 lots which were sold to 15 buyers, typically at £40 or £42 each, and the 54 lots in Wells Street were disposed of in 39 parcels. (fn. 9)
The relatively large-scale purchases were negotiated in the early stages by men connected with the dock companies during the period of dock construction. In 1807 Hugh McIntosh, the contractor for the excavation of the East India Docks, bought a block of 14 lots, with a frontage of 369ft upon Bow Lane on both sides of its junction with Cotton Street, and extending in a narrow strip to the High Street. It occupied the full width of the ground between Bow Lane and Cotton Street and cost £1,640. He also bought a piece of ground north of East India Dock Road for £1,400. In 1812 the company was still pressing him to complete his payments. (fn. 10)
McIntosh built 25 houses in the area north of Cotton Street and east of Bow Lane soon after he had purchased the land, and in the early 1820s erected a terrace of three houses, called David Place, after his son, to the south of the junction of the two streets. (fn. 11) In the early 1830s he replaced a number of the houses on the east side of Bow Lane with larger ones, including the group of four which are now Nos 45–51 (odd) Bazely Street (Plate 36b). These, which are listed Grade II, formed part of Mary Place, named in honour of his wife. Presumably, the building of All Saints' church, and the setting out of the churchyard, Mountague Place and the northern part of Newby Place in the early 1820s, had increased the value of the site, and McIntosh had taken advantage of the improved ambience by erecting these houses, which have three storeys and basements. They had more than double the rateable value of those which they replaced. (fn. 12) They are of brick, of generally uniform appearance, with iron balconies at the first-floor windows, and have two rooms on each floor. Nos 47 and 49 have dormer windows in mansard roofs. The estate was sold in small parcels by McIntosh's son in the 1840s.
Two other large-scale purchasers were also closely connected with the dock company. James Walker, the surveyor, bought a number of lots with a total frontage of 262ft on Bow Lane and a further 55ft in Woolmore Street. In 1808 Simon Kingsell of Blackwall bought three substantial parcels of land on both sides of Cotton Street at its northern end, which also gave him a frontage of 106ft on East India Dock Road and of 33ft on Bow Lane. He purchased two lots in Woolmore Street four years later. Described variously as a plumber, painter and gentleman, he was declared bankrupt in 1816. (fn. 13) Both men disposed of their purchases, and the houses which they had built, within a few years. (fn. 14)
Some of the early purchasers used their land to erect houses fronting the streets and small cottages in courts to the rear. John and George Dickinson, of Limehouse, achieved a high density of housing by building, on a plot 30ft by 109ft, two houses fronting Cotton Street and six two-roomed cottages to their rear in a court opening into Providence Place, which became known as Dickerson's Place. (fn. 15) Similarly, there were five courts off the south side of Wells Street, some parallel to the street and some at right angles to it, which contained 41 cottages. One of them was India Row, which was built in 1808–9 upon seven adjoining lots and consisted of 18 two-roomed cottages of two storeys, arranged in two rows on either side of a courtyard that was approached by a passageway 45ft long and 18ft wide. (fn. 16) Such developments were feasible because the lots there were long enough to accommodate a row of houses and two rows of cottages behind, although the largest of the lots in Wells Street on which this arrangement was adopted was no more than 80ft deep. It was also possible because at that stage the company had not imposed any conditions to prevent it, nor had it attempted to control the nature of the developments by retaining the freeholds, for it disposed of the ground in outright sales, and it was often the developers who subsequently sold long leases of the completed buildings.
In 1810 Walker suggested that regulations should be included in sales agreements 'which would tend to support the respectability of the neighbourhood and the uniformity of Building … [and] insure a confidence in those who intend to purchase that at least their neighbourhood would not be a nuisance to them'. The court of directors adopted the proposal and in the following year the conditions, which applied only to Cotton and Woolmore Streets, were set out. (fn. 17) They were that the houses should be of a standard not less than that of a fourth rate, or of at least £180 value, that they should be set back 4ft or more from the pavement, fronted with malm bricks, with a parapet wall in front, be of three or more storeys and have at least two windows on the firstfloor front. (fn. 18)
The controls seem to have been effective, for there was only one court, of two houses, in Woolmore Street, and it was built before the minimum standards were introduced. Much of that street was built up in the late 1810s and early 1820s, and the last of the lots in Wells Street was not sold until 1822. (fn. 19) The land on the south side of Dock Street was also unsold until 1822, perhaps chiefly because of its bad drainage. The gardens of the houses in the High Street were rather higher than the company's land and they drained into it, with unpleasant effect. (fn. 20) It was eventually disposed of in two comparatively large parcels; the westernmost one to Joseph Haynes, a bricklayer who lived in Cotton Street, and the other to William Joseph Goodchild of Bow, a victualler. (fn. 21) The regulations did not apply here, and Goodchild's land was used for six houses on Dock Street, one to their rear facing Sydney Street and a row of six cottages in Sydney Place. In 1823–4 Haynes built five cottages fronting Sydney Street and in 1827 he sold the remaining land behind them to John Watkins of Blackwall. The ground was cleared and Fuller's Cottages – a row of six tworoomed, two-storey cottages – were erected there. (fn. 22)
Sales of the company's land were, therefore, spread over 15 years, from 1807 to 1822. The majority of the buildings in that area dated from that period, although there was some rebuilding and infilling thereafter.
Thomas Ashton and Thomas Hale's land
The second of the divisions within the district was part of a field of 5¾ acres sold by the Wells family to Thomas Ashton of Blackwall, esquire, and Thomas Hale, a builder of Bush Lane, Cannon Street, in 1807. They created two new streets, Ashton Street and Union Street, and subdivided the land into building lots, which were auctioned in 1807. (fn. 23)
Ashton Street contained 40 lots, which were sold in 15 parcels. The majority of the houses were built in 1807–8. One exception was on the north side of the street, where two lots formed part of the walled garden of a house in East India Dock Road, creating a gap that was later filled with two houses, probably in the 1850s. (fn. 24) The second exception was the westernmost lot on the south side of the street, which was not sold until 1810; the Bricklayers' Arms was erected on it by Robert Snell of Limehouse and completed in 1814. (fn. 25) By 1818–19 there were 47 houses in the street, including four built along the sides of two lots fronting Robin Hood Lane, and subsequent rebuilding of a slaughterhouse and stable at the north-eastern end and the infilling of the two vacant lots as Nos 30 and 31 brought the number to 49 by 1867. (fn. 26)
The houses were typically of two storeys, with two rooms on each floor, and rear-addition wash-houses. A few of them on the south side close to Robin Hood Lane were used as shops. In 1851 No. 1 was being used as a beershop, No. 3 was occupied by a pork butcher, and there was a baker at No. 4. (fn. 27)
The nine lots in Union Street were on its western side. All of them were built upon by 1811. Some of the developers took advantage of the creation of Providence Place to the rear, upon the dock company's land, to build upon both the front and back portions of their lots. (fn. 28) Thus, five houses were erected on the southernmost two lots, which had a combined frontage of 32ft on Union Street and 40ft on Providence Place. All five were of two storeys with four rooms. (fn. 29) There were five more houses on two other lots that were treated as one parcel, three of them forming Osborne Place, a cul-de-sac set at right angles to the street. (fn. 30) Union Court, of six houses, was erected on the eastern side of the street, partly on a strip of ground taken from the rear of the first six lots on the north side of Ashton Street. Its houses had one room on each of the three floors, which included basements with floors 5½ft below the level of the court. (fn. 31) In 1851 Union Street contained 16 houses and there were nine more in the two courts that led off it. (fn. 32)
Thomas Grigges's land
This was the south-eastern section of the district. William Grigges was the landlord of the White Hart on the corner of High Street and Robin Hood Lane. On his death the inn and the ground which he held with it passed in 1785 to his two sons, Thomas and Charles. The former took over the White Hart, while Charles served as a cooper with the East India Company. He predeceased Thomas, who thereby became the sole owner in 1807. (fn. 33) Thomas proceeded to lay out the land for building, adding Garden Street (later Butt Place) and Garden Place to White Hart Place, the eastern end of which was already built upon. The only street outlet for the area was through White Hart Place, although there were a few passageways which connected with the streets to the north and west. Thomas did not enfranchise the ground before offering it for sale and much of it remained copyhold of Stepney manor until the 1880s. (fn. 34)
Some lots were laid out in 1807. In that year William Scoffin of Limehouse bought four contiguous ones, forming a site with a frontage of almost 60ft and a depth of 50ft, on which ten houses were built, four of them fronting Garden Street and the remainder as a block of back-to-backs to the rear, designated Union Buildings. (fn. 35) On the northern side of White Hart Place Grigges erected a timber coach-house and ancillary buildings and, having leased, mortgaged and finally sold the White Hart itself, described himself by 1810 as a coachmaster. In 1817 he sold the coach-house and other buildings to Thomas Thornton, a Smithfield brewer, together with Nos 1–11 White Hart Place and a plot of empty ground there. (fn. 36) The coach-house site was later cleared and houses were built upon it. In all, 20 houses were built upon the north side of the Place, including the eight known as Turner's Buildings. By 1880 the five westernmost ones had been replaced by a building which served as the scenery store for the Oriental Music Hall (later the New Albion Theatre) in the High Street (see page 75). (fn. 37)
The remainder of this third part of the area was also built upon in a piecemeal fashion, mostly in the early 1820s in groups of three, four, or five houses. A few courts were also constructed. Caroline Place, on the north of Garden Place, consisted of six back-to-back cottages on four building lots acquired by Robert Mason, a Deptford shipwright. The four lots immediately to the west backed on to the Wellington public house in Wells Street and they were leased in 1819 by William Atherton, the Wellington's landlord. He thereby acquired a block of ground on which he subsequently built four houses facing Garden Street and nine others around Wellington Alley, a passageway through to Wells Street. (fn. 38) Katherine Place was built at the eastern end of Garden Place by Benjamin Adam, a London merchant, on land which he acquired in 1825–7 by buying sections of the gardens of houses in Robin Hood Lane. It consisted of two terraces, each of five houses, facing each other across a narrow court. (fn. 39) The five houses forming Forest Terrace, immediately to the south, were also built upon land taken from gardens.
Scoffin, Adam, Atherton, Mason, Jeremiah Jowett of Bethnal Green and James Lagden of Poplar High Street, a cordwainer, (fn. 40) were the principal developers of the Grigges area, which by 1841 contained 86 houses and a population of 457. (fn. 41)
Character, Clearance and Rebuilding
The fragmented development of all three parts of the district was reflected in the number of builders engaged there and the small scale of their operations. Many of them were the initial purchasers of the lots: bricklayers, carpenters and shipwrights. They generally built single houses or pairs. Amongst those contracted by developers to erect several houses were Benjamin Mellow Taylor, who built 17 houses in Woolmore Street, Union Street and Providence Place before 1814, and William Blackburn, who built 16 houses in Ashton Street, three in Woolmore Street, the six which constituted Strong's Buildings on East India Dock Road and those in Wright's Place to their rear. (fn. 42) Blackburn was declared bankrupt in 1812. (fn. 43) That predicament was shared by the partners Thomas Amor and James Dongworth, who built Nos 7–9 and 19–21 Wells Street and the cottages in India Row and Essex Place before their bankruptcy in 1810. (fn. 44) These were modest undertakings and indeed no builder operated on a scale large enough to impose a uniform style on more than a small group of houses. On the other hand, the position of the area, the size of the building lots and the scale of the investment involved limited the type and appearance of the housing which was erected.
The area disposed of by Thomas Grigges and the Wells Street and Dock Street neighbourhood became the most densely built-up part of the district, and the properties there were of the lowest value. The rating survey of 1818–19 shows that the mean value per house in Cotton Street was £20 and in Woolmore Street, Bow Lane, Ashton Street and Union Street it was between £14 and £16, while in Wells Street it was slightly less than £14. The courts on the south side of Wells Street produced a comparable figure of less than £7, however, and White Hart Place, Garden Street and their adjoining courts one of only £8 4s. (fn. 45)
There were some rebuildings later in the century, (fn. 46) but they did not modify the character of the area or the contrast between Bow Lane and Cotton Street on the one hand and the environs of Wells Street on the other. It was commented upon by Booth's researchers in the 1890s, who found the inhabitants of Bow Lane 'respectable and well to do' and those of Cotton Street 'respectable and comfortable as a whole', while those in the streets and courts to the east were poor and the housing conditions were bad. (fn. 47)
This area attracted the attention of the Poplar Board of Works's Medical Officer of Health and Sanitary Inspector, and the officers of the Metropolitan Buildings Office, who focused particularly upon that part between Wells Street and the rear of the premises in the High Street. They made a number of orders for improvements to the houses, but found them difficult to enforce, partly because of the poverty of the owners. (fn. 48) Some premises were condemned and closed and a few were demolished, but comparatively small numbers of houses were dealt with in this way. (fn. 49)
A larger clearance scheme was prepared following the Cross Act of 1875, and was adopted by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1878. It covered 3½ acres, bounded by Wells Street, Robin Hood Lane, the rear of the premises in High Street, and Cotton Street (fig. 68). (fn. 50) The area was described as 'one of the most unhealthy rookeries in Poplar', with a relatively high mortality rate, a 'generally low condition of health' and unsatisfactory sanitary provision. (fn. 51) Some of the buildings in the area were in a reasonable condition but were included so that it could be cleared and replanned in a coherent manner. (fn. 52) Of the 208 houses affected by the scheme, 81 were categorized as unfit for human habitation. (fn. 53) Not until 1883 were the terms for compensation and compulsory purchase agreed and the buildings demolished. The net cost of the scheme was £64,119. Of the 23 other schemes completed by the MBW and the LCC between 1875 and 1900, only nine were more expensive than the Wells Street one. (fn. 54)
The former street plan on the cleared site was substantially modified by the MBW. A new street, Manisty Street, was laid out between Cotton Street and Robin Hood Lane, and Cotton Street was extended to the High Street. Wells Street and Robin Hood Lane were widened and the former courts, alleys and minor streets on its south side were abolished. (fn. 55)
It was intended that model dwellings should be erected in the area, but the Peabody Trust, the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes and Sir Sydney Waterlow's company all declined invitations to undertake such a scheme, and the land did not reach the reserve price on auction in 1885. (fn. 56) The larger part was sold later in that year to the developer James Hartnoll, and the remainder was disposed of in small lots. These sales produced £8,200. (fn. 57)
Grosvenor Buildings (demolished).
Hartnoll built seven blocks of what he described as 'model dwellings', designated Grosvenor Buildings, with accommodation intended for 1,392 persons (Plate 35c). They were of four and five storeys, with basements, and had a dominating presence in this district of small houses. They contained 542 flats, two-thirds of which were of one or two rooms, while the seven largest ones had four rooms. (fn. 58) Each flat had a kitchen, lavatory and other facilities, making it 'equal to a house all to yourself'. Yet they seem to have been difficult to let – despite the overcrowding in the neighbourhood, the result, allegedly, of demolition carried out as part of the Wells Street scheme – and not until 1897 were they all occupied. (fn. 59) The designed occupancy rate was 1.3 persons per room, which would have produced the proposed population of 1,392, but this was quickly exceeded, and in 1894 the 512 occupied flats had 1,764 residents, 778 of them children. (fn. 60) The population later rose to over 2,000.
Within a few years of their completion it was said that, although they had replaced a very bad slum, they 'do not themselves bear an enviable reputation'. Conditions and rents led to a number of tensions between the landlords and tenants: there were rent strikes in 1915 and 1939, for example. (fn. 61) These tensions culminated in a prolonged dispute in the early 1960s, when a change of ownership was followed by rent increases. Some of the tenants objected and complained that the buildings were insanitary and verminous. An inspection revealed that they were structurally sound, however, and there was much debate before they were purchased by the GLC in 1965 and demolished shortly afterwards. (fn. 62) The westernmost blocks had been destroyed during the Second World War.
There were two other, smaller, areas cleared by the LCC under the 1875 Act. The first involved Burford Court, which lay on the north side of Ashton Street at its eastern end and to the rear of the Volunteer public house (fig. 68). It consisted of ten cottages around an irregular courtyard. Thomas Burford, a stationer of St George's-in-the-East, bought the land from Ashton and Hale in 1808 and the cottages were built in 1813–14. (fn. 63) There were three storeys in seven of the cottages and two in the remainder, and all of them had one room on each floor. (fn. 64) The MBW ordered the demolition of two of them in 1874, but they were rebuilt shortly afterwards. (fn. 65) The scheme for the removal of the cottages was approved in 1899 and included Nos 46, 46A and 47 Ashton Street and Nos 4–10 (even) Robin Hood Lane. The various claims were settled for £2,070 and all the buildings were demolished in 1905. (fn. 66)
There was a recommendation that the site should be used for a block to house 138 persons, (fn. 67) but it was sold, and the Grand Palace cinema was built there. The cinema was designed in 1913 by Frederic H. Lyon for the proprietors, Holloway and Green, and opened in December 1915. It was enlarged in 1927 when Nos 43– 45 Ashton Street were purchased and demolished. The cinema was of brick with stone facings and had a seating capacity of just over 1,000. (fn. 68) Talking-picture equipment was added in 1929–30. The building was destroyed by bombing in 1940. Plans to rebuild it were submitted in 1949 by Robert Crombie and the new cinema, which could seat approximately 1,200, was renamed the Lansbury Palace in 1951. In 1954 it was offered for sale as a building occupying 'a prominent and important position … with an imposing front elevation', on a site of 13,000 sq.ft, which could be adapted for commercial use. (fn. 69) In fact, the cinema never reopened.
The other LCC clearance in the area under the 1875 Act was designated the Providence Place Scheme, approved in 1902. It included Providence Place, Wright's Place, Union Street, four courts and Nos 1–9 (odd) Woolmore Street, in an area of 0.87 acre (fig. 68). (fn. 70) The skittle alley of the Bricklayer's Arms was also included, so that Union Street could be extended to Woolmore Street. (fn. 71) The area was found to be overcrowded, unhealthy – with a death rate 58 per cent higher than that for Poplar as a whole – in parts insanitary and containing much property that was in a bad condition. The average number of rooms per house was slightly less than four. (fn. 72) Nos 11–14 Providence Place had been demolished before the scheme was initiated and 64 houses, with 361 occupants, were cleared by 1907. The compensation cost £9,076, of which £350 was to Whitbreads for the skittle alley. The average was £136 9s 6d per house; the comparable figure for Burford's Court was £121 15s per house. The net cost of the scheme was £11,107. (fn. 73)
Following the completion of the scheme, Union Street was extended to Woolmore Street at a constant width of 40ft. (fn. 74) No replacement housing was erected in the area, which was mostly used for school buildings. A part of the site, at the junction of Woolmore and Union Streets, was employed for an LCC ambulance station, which was built in 1921–2 by F. & T. Thorne of Manchester Road on their tender of £1,579. (fn. 75) It accommodated two motor ambulances and 12 staff. (fn. 76) It remained in use until 1972 and was subsequently converted for commercial purposes. (fn. 77)
The area between Robin Hood Lane and the boundary wall of the East India Docks also attracted the attention of the local authority. The east side of the lane was built up by the end of the eighteenth century (fn. 78) and much of the space between it and the dock wall was filled in between 1825 and 1850 by four courts: Steven's Acre, Brunswick Place, Hank's Court and John's Place. (fn. 79) In 1856 the district was described as densely inhabited and some of its occupants were thought to be 'of negligent and dirty habits'. (fn. 80) Investigations made in the 1880s showed that the interiors of the 14 houses in Steven's Acre were damp, badly ventilated and generally dilapidated. It was also noted that the water supply for eight of them came from one leaky tank. They were small houses, eight of them were one-up-one-down dwellings, with rear kitchen or wash-house, and the remainder had a third storey. (fn. 81) Hank's Court was no better and the houses there were closed by the District Board of Works in 1889. (fn. 82) Further action proved to be unnecessary, for in the early 1890s the LCC acquired all of the properties in the courts and along the east side of Robin Hood Lane and cleared them for the approaches to the Blackwall Tunnel (see page 641). (fn. 83)
A scheme prepared in the late 1930s would have involved the clearance of 74 dwellings in Ashton, Woolmore, Wells, Union and Sydney Streets and in Robin Hood Lane. (fn. 84) This was not implemented because of the outbreak of the Second World War. In fact, wartime bombing destroyed or irrevocably damaged much of the remaining housing in the area and almost all of the nineteenth-century buildings which did survive were cleared after the end of the war.
The buildings which survived both the bombings and the subsequent clearances included those on the western side of Robin Hood Lane between Ashton and Woolmore Streets, which were not demolished until 1991. The Beehive public house, No. 12, at the corner of Ashton Street, was built in 1896 by W. Hadding of Whitechapel Road, for the owner G. W. Gordon. The earlier building on the site was being used as a beershop by 1851. (fn. 85) No. 28, the British Oak, was described as a beerhouse in 1883. It was reinstated in 1886 following a fire and was completely rebuilt in 1927 by Walker & Son of Streatham Hill. (fn. 86)
Amongst the non-residential buildings in the district, the Cotton Street Baptist chapel was destroyed by bombing and the Ladies Charity School was demolished as part of the Wells Street clearance scheme. The former school in Bazely Street (Bow Lane) survived the Second World War, as did the school buildings in Woolmore Street and Union Street (renamed Bullivant Street), and the ambulance station in Woolmore Street.
Cotton Street Baptist Chapel (demolished).
The congregation which built the chapel began to hold prayer meetings in 1808 in a room in the High Street and shortly afterwards obtained the use of two rooms in Robin Hood Lane for a Sunday school. The site for a chapel was subsequently bought from the East India Dock Company for £120. (fn. 87) It stood at the junction of Cotton Street and the northern side of Woolmore Street. (fn. 88) Building began in 1810 and the chapel was opened for worship in the following year; the congregation was constituted as a church in 1812. (fn. 89) The building was of stone, approximately 65ft long and 40ft wide, in the Classical style, with a heavy pediment and ball finials at either end of the façade (Plate 30a). A central doorway on the Cotton Street frontage was flanked by two round-headed windows and there were three similar windows at the upper level of that elevation. There was a vestry room at the rear of the building. The cost of the land, buildings and furnishings was £2,149 10s. (fn. 90)
The remainder of the site was initially used as a burial ground, but in 1822 a schoolroom was built on the greater part of that land, at a cost of £98 7s 9d. In the following year a gallery was erected in the chapel, exclusively for the use of sailors. (fn. 91) In 1851 there were 700 sittings, 100 of which were free. The school building was described as containing two large rooms, each capable of seating 200 children, and two smaller ones, each seating 40. The morning and afternoon congregations were 300 strong, not including the Sunday school children, and 500 worshippers attended the evening service. (fn. 92)
In 1864 ten of the chapel's fifteen trustees had addresses in Poplar and Blackwall, three were from Limehouse, one was from Bow and the other lived in Essex. They included four shipwrights and a boat builder, three joiners, two clerks, a blacksmith, a surgeon, a leather seller and an engineer. (fn. 93) By the turn of the century 100 worshippers went to morning service and 200 to the evening one, and in both cases children constituted more than a half of the congregation. (fn. 94)
By the early twentieth century the chapel was thought to be 'quite an architectural feature of the district'. (fn. 95) In the late nineteenth century it had undergone renovations costing almost £400, (fn. 96) but considerable internal damage was caused by a fire in 1914, necessitating further repairs and redecoration. (fn. 97) The buildings were severely damaged during the Second World War and the site had been cleared by 1945. (fn. 98)
Union Chapel, Bow Lane (demolished).
The congregation which built the Union Chapel was formed in 1812 following a division amongst the Baptist congregation in Cotton Street, for 'a root of bitterness sprang up among the friends … animosity prevailed, a painful separation took place and several of the members of the society withdrew with their friends and fitted up a place called Union Chapel and Sunday Schools'. (fn. 99) The site chosen was a part of the ground on the east side of Bow Lane which James Walker had bought from the East India Dock Company in 1808 (see page 189). (fn. 100) It was 37ft wide by 56ft deep and Adam Fail, a member of the congregation, bought a plot of ground to the rear and allocated a strip 4ft wide through it as a passageway from the chapel to Cotton Street. (fn. 101) The chapel building was finished by November 1813. (fn. 102) It had a symmetrical street frontage in which a central doorway was flanked by single windows and was 32ft wide and 35ft deep. (fn. 103) In 1820 the trustees were all Poplar men, five of them being shipwrights, one a joiner, another a baker, and one was described as a gentleman. (fn. 104)
In the late 1830s the chapel was in debt and by 1847 the building had been purchased by the Blackwall shipbuilder and philanthropist George Green. He also acquired the premises in Cotton Street to the rear, originally bought by Adam Fail, and proposed to extend the chapel on to a part of that ground, incorporating a vestry room and privies. (fn. 105) This plan was abandoned, however, and the building was demolished.
Bow Lane School (demolished).
The site of the Union Chapel was used by George Green for a school building, erected in 1848 to the plans of Thomas Atherton. The girls' schoolroom occupied the ground floor and that for the boys, on the upper floor, was approached by stone stairs from the passage at the rear of the building. Both rooms were undivided and were 50ft long and 34ft broad. Privies and the governess's room were placed at the rear, occupying a part of the yard of No. 19 Cotton Street. (fn. 106)
The school passed to Green's son and heir Richard, who bequeathed to it an endowment of £6,000 and vested its management in the chaplain of the East India Company's chapel. Richard's will was proved in 1864, but not until 1870 were the arrangements for the investment of the endowment completed. (fn. 107) Meanwhile, in 1867, with the chapel redesignated St Matthias's Church following the winding up of the company, the school was renamed the St Matthias School. In 1871 it had 350 pupils, a figure which the Board of Education later recognized as its maximum accommodation. (fn. 108)
In 1878 the school was transferred to a building in Grundy Street and the Bow Lane premises were sold in 1887 to the Ladies' Charity School, formerly in Cotton Street, for £1,565. (fn. 109) This was established as the All Saints' School for girls and infants, but by a reorganization undertaken by the Rev. Arthur Chandler, the rector, it became exclusively a girls' school and the infants' department was moved to the Newby Place building (see page 184). Chandler thought that the steep stairs providing the only access to the upper schoolroom made it unsuitable for use by infants, and this was also one of the features criticized by the architect who surveyed the building for the LCC in 1904. Fewer than 200 children were enrolled in this school, but it was because of several structural defects, rather than the numbers of pupils, that it was decided that the premises were unsuitable for elementary education and should be closed. (fn. 110) This was effected in November 1906 and the site was then sold for £950. (fn. 111)
Ladies' Charity School, No. 67 Cotton Street (demolished).
The Ladies' Charity School building was completed in 1813 on a site acquired from the East India Dock Company between Cotton Street and Sydney Street and on the north side of Dock Street. (fn. 114) The company sold the school managers a 99-year lease from 1810 for £150. (fn. 115) With the establishment of the new parish of All Saints in 1817, the rector was appointed as one of the managers and the school was referred to as the 'Ladies' Charity School of All Saints'. In 1820 there were 75 pupils. (fn. 116) A new schoolroom was completed in the early 1860s (fn. 117) and in 1871 it was noted that the school could accommodate 114 girls, although it then had only 84 on the roll. (fn. 118)
The building contained a schoolroom approximately 46ft long and 17ft broad and a classroom 13ft by 10ft. A bequest of £200 was received by the will of James Gates, which was proved in 1864, but it had little, if any, other endowment, the managers relying upon annual contributions to maintain it. (fn. 119)
The school was acquired by the MBW in 1880 and demolished as part of the Wells Street Improvement Scheme. Much of the compensation was spent on the purchase of the building in Bow Lane vacated by the St Matthias School and it was reconstituted there as part of the All Saints' Schools (see above).
Woolmore Street School, formerly Poplar and Blackwall Free (British) School.
Plans to establish a free school in Poplar and Blackwall were far enough advanced by 1814 for a committee to be appointed to invite subscriptions preparatory to acquiring a site. (fn. 120) The East India Dock Company donated a plot of ground with a frontage of 55ft on the north side of Woolmore Street and this was enlarged by the addition of an adjoining 75ft of frontage at a cost of £150. (fn. 121) The buildings were begun in 1815 and the school was formally established in April 1816 'for the education of poor children of both sexes of every denomination of christians'. (fn. 122)
George Green, who was a prominent nonconformist, was a leading figure in the creation of the school, acting as treasurer of the committee and donating £4,000 of the £6,000 which was invested as its endowment. (fn. 123) Other major donors included the West India Dock Company, the East India Company and the East India Dock Company, which respectively contributed £1,000, £200 and £100. (fn. 124) The endowment produced £240 yearly and annual subscriptions added a further £620. Each subscriber, of one guinea per annum, was entitled to nominate a child, in rotation. The buildings consisted of wings set on either side of a smaller central block. That on the eastern side was for boys and was slightly larger than the girls' wing. At a count on 1 May 1819 there were 249 boys and 170 girls in the school. There were also houses for the master and mistress. The total cost of the buildings was £3,037. (fn. 125)
In 1875 the managers transferred the school to the School Board for London and its title was changed from the Poplar and Blackwall Free (British) School to the Woolmore Street School. (fn. 126) The Board rebuilt the school in two phases. First, in 1875–7 the old buildings were demolished and a graded school for 180 girls and 180 boys was built on the site of the girls' department, and the boys' department was replaced by an infants' school with 300 places. When the infants' department was erected, four additional classrooms were added to the graded school, bringing the combined total of places to 827. The construction work was carried out by F. & F. J. Wood of Cleveland Street, Mile End Road, and cost £9,347. (fn. 127) Secondly, in 1887–8 a further 396 places were added, the site having been enlarged by the acquisition and demolition of Nos 12–15 Woolmore Street and Nos 14–17 Ashton Street. (fn. 128) No. 18 Ashton Street was also purchased and retained as the schoolkeeper's house. The construction contract was placed with J. Holloway of Lavender Hill, and the cost of the buildings and other work was £6,130. A further £3,573 was spent enlarging the site. The new buildings were opened in January 1888. (fn. 129)
The 1875–6 graded school building was of two storeys and was carried on arches so as to provide playground space underneath, and there was a further playground on the roof. During the 1890s Nos 19–23 Ashton Street were acquired and demolished and their sites used to increase the playground area. The arches were then filled in and the enclosed space was adapted for dining accommodation. The clearance of those houses also allowed extra windows to be inserted on the north side of the school building. (fn. 130)
More land became available following the LCC's clearance of the Providence Place area to the west of the school in 1902. In 1909–10 the LCC erected a manual training centre for 40 boys on the west side of Union Street, within the clearance area, to replace rented premises in Bedford Street. The construction of the singlestorey building was carried out by C. P. Roberts & Company of Highbury at a contract price of £1,799. The centre, which was 70ft by 22ft, was opened in January 1910 (Plate 35d). (fn. 131)
In 1912 the LCC produced plans to rebuild the Woolmore Street school, to provide places for 392 boys and 392 girls, and to erect a new infants' school, with 432 places, in Union Street. This scheme involved the purchase of the Bricklayers' Arms from Whitbread & Company and its adaptation as the schoolkeeper's house, and the acquisition of Nos 11–13 Ashton Street and Nos 11 and 13 Woolmore Street. (fn. 132) The designs were prepared by the LCC's Architect's Department.
The single-storey infants' school in Union Street occupied a part of the Providence Place clearance area, immediately to the north of the manual training centre. It was built by Patman & Fotheringham of Islington on their tender of £7,283. Furniture and incidentals brought the total expenditure to £7,981. The school was opened in June 1914. (fn. 133)
The two-storey building in Woolmore Street was erected by Brand, Pettit & Company of Tottenham. Their contract totalled £15,236, of which £11,555 was for the main building, and the total sum approved was £17,075. The building provided ten schoolrooms for boys and ten for girls. The school reopened in August 1916. (fn. 134)
The infants' school and manual training centre were largely undamaged in 1945, but the Woolmore Street building was described as derelict. The immediate postwar repairs were valued at £2,625. (fn. 135) A more extensive scheme was commissioned from an architect in private practice and involved war damage reinstatement and some modernization, such as the provision of facilities for school meals. It was designed to provide places for 480 boys and girls of junior age. The estimated cost of the work, carried out by A. Wheeler of Romford in 1950–1, was £31,083. (fn. 136)
Bazely Street Area Housing Scheme
The post-war redevelopment of the area to the north of Poplar High Street, between Newby Place and Robin Hood Lane and as far north as Woolmore Street, was largely carried out by Poplar Borough Council under the Bazely Street Area housing scheme, between 1953 and 1963. (fn. 137) This area, which covered 8.31 acres, had sustained fairly serious damage during the Second World War, particularly from the effects of one V2 rocket and two V1 flying bombs, (fn. 138) and the Council compulsorily purchased and cleared most of the remaining properties. The redevelopment is a typical post-war mixed scheme of relatively low-rise four-or five-storey blocks of flats (mostly flat-roofed) and three-storey terraced housing, all of traditional construction and faced in either yellow Uxbridge flint brick or mottled red Fletton 'Rustics'. It was planned by, and the individual blocks were designed by, the Borough Engineer and Surveyor's Department, although, because of shortage of staff, the plans for Discovery House were completed and executed by Harry Moncrieff of Co-Operative Planning, Clapham. There were eight phases in all.
Carmichael House, Poplar High Street
Carmichael House, Poplar High Street (1953–4) is a four-storey block of 12 flats. The main contractor was Poplar Borough Council's direct labour force; the tendered price was £24,830. It was named after a wellknown shipping line.
Nos 243–263 (odd) Poplar High Street
Lawless House, Bazely Street and Nos 35–43 (odd) Bazely Street
Lawless House, Bazely Street and Nos 35–43 (odd) Bazely Street (1954–5) are respectively a four-storey block of 16 flats (named after Father Lawless of the Roman Catholic Church of SS Mary and Joseph) and a three-storey terrace of houses. The main contractor was Poplar Borough Council's direct labour force; the estimated cost was £45,079. (fn. 139)
Anderson House, Woolmore Street
Nos 2–10 (even) Woolmore Street and Nos 1–11 (consec) Mackrow Walk
Nos 2–10 (even) Woolmore Street and Nos 1–11 (consec) Mackrow Walk (1954-6) are two two-storey terraces of houses, with pitched roofs. The main contractor was Poplar Borough Council's direct labour force; the tendered price was £33,164. This development involved the closure of part of Mackrow Street.
Newby House, Newby Place
Mermaid House, Bazely Street, Virginia House, Newby Place, and Nos 53–63 (odd) Bazely Street
Mermaid House, Bazely Street, Virginia House, Newby Place, and Nos 53–63 (odd) Bazely Street (1959–60) are respectively two L-plan, four-storey blocks (of 20 and 22 flats and maisonettes) and a terrace of three-storey houses. The main contractor was A. E. Symes of Stratford; the tendered price was £106,280. The names of the two blocks commemorate Captain John Smith's voyage from Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall (where a statue of a mermaid marked his place of departure), which led to the founding of the colony of Virginia.
Discovery House, Newby Place
Discovery House, Newby Place (1961–3) is a fourstorey block of 42 flats (plus a kitchen and dining-hall for old people's meals). (fn. 140) The main contractor was Griggs & Son of Victoria Street; the tendered price was £88,600. Part of the site of the rectory and All Saints' Institute was acquired from the church authorities for this development and the Institute was demolished (see page 184). The name 'Discovery' recognized the many new advances 'being made in this age of science'.
Robin Hood Gardens
Had it not been for the enormous rehousing problem presented by Grosvenor Buildings (see page 192), Poplar Borough Council would probably have redeveloped the Robin Hood Gardens site as part of the Bazely Street housing scheme, and even the County Council initially excluded the Buildings from its development plans. In 1963 Alison Smithson (1928–93) and Peter Smithson (b.1923) were appointed by the LCC to design a housing scheme embracing three small sites in the vicinity of Manisty Street. (fn. 141) The Smithsons, who had worked in the schools' division of the LCC Architect's Department, were highly influential in re-establishing the Modern Movement in Britain after the Second World War. Those few of their designs which were actually built were widely acclaimed. More compelling were their strikingly original competition designs and a series of polemical articles and books. Particularly significant were their unadopted plans for a housing scheme at Golden Lane, London, in 1952, which developed Le Corbusier's concept of the 'building as street' into one of the building as a continuous elevated street-network. Robin Hood Gardens was their first opportunity to put these housing ideas into practice and as such the scheme attracted international interest. (fn. 142)
Plans were still under consideration in 1965 when the GLC succeeded the LCC. The new Council, under great public pressure, at last resolved to deal with the thorny problem of Grosvenor Buildings. In April 1965 it agreed to acquire, by compulsory purchase if necessary, an area of just over five acres, bounded by Robin Hood Lane, East India Dock Road, Cotton Street, and Poplar High Street. Grosvenor Buildings and other older properties were to be swept away, but certain modern buildings, including part of the Borough's Bazely Street scheme, were to be retained. Some 1,200 people were displaced and the estimated cost of acquisition and clearance was £709,000. (fn. 143)
All this provided a much larger and more consolidated site of about 7½ acres for housing redevelopment. (fn. 144) The original brief was therefore withdrawn, and in the spring of 1966 the Smithsons were given a new brief which took account of the latest Parker Morris standards (see page 46) and covered the greatly enlarged site. They at first hoped to develop the whole of this, leaving the existing schools in the centre of a largely traffic-free 'super-block', but in the event only the southern part of the site was used, an area of just under five acres. Interestingly, Jeremy Dixon worked for the Smithsons on this project, in a very different style from the post-Modernism with which he is usually associated (see page 698). (fn. 145) The new design and layout for Robin Hood Gardens was guided by two main factors. The first was the traffic noise on three sides of the site from the approaches to the Blackwall Tunnel immediately to the east, Cotton Street (then the main access road to the Isle of Dogs), and the busy East India Dock Road just a little way to the north. The second was the need to create more open space in this part of Poplar. The architects, therefore, set about producing a layout where the buildings themselves shielded a central 'stress free' zone, protected from noise, without any vehicular movement, and with 'a quiet, green heart'. (fn. 146) In order to develop the site Lidgett, Mackrow, and Manisty Streets were abolished, and the adjacent parts of Cotton Street and Poplar High Street were widened. (fn. 147)
Robin Hood Gardens was designed originally with a reinforced-concrete box-frame construction, but during the working-drawing stage, at the suggestion of Ove Arup & Partners (who had been appointed as consultant engineers), casting construction systems were investigated and the Swedish SUNDH system was chosen, (fn. 148) a contract being negotiated with the SUNDH licencees, Walter Lawrence & Son. (fn. 149)
Work began in 1968, (fn. 150) and the contractors suggested substituting a dry-partition system for the blockwork internal partition walls. The architects agreed, although they had to completely revise the working drawings of the layouts of the flats to take account of the reduction in the thickness of the partitions. (fn. 151) In the wake of the disaster at the Ronan Point flats in 1968, the introduction of new standards to avoid the danger of progressive collapse meant that walls and joists had to be strengthened, while the fixings for the precast-concrete cladding were changed. (fn. 152) Robin Hood Gardens was opened in 1971 and completed in 1972; (fn. 153) the final estimated cost of erection being £1,845,585. (fn. 154)
The scheme consists of two relatively slim 'slab' blocks, very similar in design (fig. 69). The longer, seven-storey block gently snakes along Cotton Street (Plate 137a), while the taller, ten-storey block is slightly angled away from the Blackwall Tunnel approaches. To create the necessary wall-like buildings the architects devised a special dwelling-type in which the access decks and the living-rooms are on the outer side nearest the noise, and the bedrooms and dining-kitchens on the inner, 'quiet' side (fig. 70). Considerable trouble was taken to incorporate various features into the design of the windows and their surrounds to absorb or deflect noise.
Taking their lead from Le Corbusier the Smithsons championed 'the building as street', although unlike Le Corbusier, who placed his 'streets' within a building, they preferred to place their elevated 'decks' along the outside, so that views over the surrounding area could be enjoyed. Decks, being wider than balconies, were not intended to be mere access routes but could, it was argued, provide some of the virtues of the backyard and the pedestrian street, where children could move about safely and neighbours might chat. (fn. 155) At Robin Hood Gardens, the Smithsons had intended that the decks would later be used to link with further buildings as other sites in the area became available. (fn. 156) Alcoves off these decks provide individual shielded 'pause places' where residents, it was hoped, might place flower boxes – the equivalent of the 'yard-gardens' in the Smithsons' Golden Lane project. An American commentator, Anthony Pangaro, in arguing that 'the built reality of Robin Hood Gardens is less convincing than the theory behind it' was particularly critical of these decks. He felt that the 'pause places' allowed no definition of private territory or any sense of belonging to individual occupants, and that the dwellings virtually turned their backs on the decks. (fn. 157) Pangaro also found that by 1973 the lifts had been badly defaced and vandalized. (fn. 158)
There are 214 flats in all, producing a density of about 142 persons per acre; the GLC's required figure was 136 and the higher figure was adopted to allow future development (not in fact carried out) nearer to the noisy East India Dock Road to be at a slightly lower density. The size of flats ranges from two-persons up to sixpersons, and the accommodation provided in the individual dwellings is generous, even by Parker Morris standards. There are 38 ground-floor flats for old people, who were also provided with a clubroom. In addition, 143 garages and 10 motor-cycle stores, plus service areas are contained within two 'moats' which run along the outer edge of each block and are set below garden and street level. In this way, they are hidden underground but, since they are still in the open air, make use of natural light and ventilation a concept first developed by the Smithsons in their Mehringplatz project of 1962 The landscaped open space between the two blocks has grassed mounds and children's play areas, yet it seemed to at least one critic to serve more as a setting for the buildings than as a useful recreational area for the tenants. The perimeter of the development is guarded by a 10fthigh concrete-slab wall designed to shut out traffic noise and canted at the top to deflect such noise back into the road. (fn. 159) The uncompromising 'Brutalist' style has evoked strong reactions: to some representing a splendid interpretation of the principles of Le Corbusier; (fn. 160) for others encapsulating some of the worst features of modern multi-storey flats. (fn. 161)