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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Public Housing in Limehouse Hole
Providence House, Emmett Street (demolished)
Providence House, a development of flats by Poplar Borough Council, stood on the now empty site, flanked by Emmett Street to the west, Bowley Street to the north, and Westferry Road to the east (Plate 126b). The Providence Cottages (Emmett Street) Area had been represented to the LCC by the Borough's Medical Officer of Health in 1919 as unhealthy and needing clearance, (fn. 1) but in November 1929 the Borough decided to take action itself. (fn. 2) A clearance area covering 11 houses (Nos 1–8 Providence Cottages, and Nos 25–29, odd, Emmett Street) was confirmed in December 1931, (fn. 3) and involved the rehousing of 70 people. (fn. 4) In addition, some adjoining properties were compulsorily purchased. (fn. 5)
Plans for the site of 5,300 square yards were drawn up by the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Harley Heckford, during 1932. The site cost £9,270 and the expenditure on construction, which was carried out by direct labour, was £43,122. The development provided 78 two— and three-bedroom flats, at a density of 71 dwellings to the acre, to rehouse people displaced by other Borough Council slum-clearance schemes. (fn. 6)
Dramatic use of what could have proved an awkward site was made by building the main five-storey block on a V-shaped ground-plan, with its apex set back at the corner of Bowley Street and Westferry Road (to allow the widening of the latter). To the rear, and set back from Emmett Street, was a smaller two-storey block containing eight flats. (fn. 7) A triangular courtyard was thus formed within the two blocks. The V-shape of the larger block was in part designed to allow the maximum amount of sun into the courtyard-sides of this block, which were angled to face south and west as far as possible. Described by the Municipal Journal as 'a Continental type block of flats', (fn. 8) the exterior of the block was strikingly Modern, with an almost unbroken series of concrete balconies wrapping around the building. The balconies were decorated at intervals by a jazzy motif consisting of four incised horizontals and two relief verticals. The sunshine streaming into the backs of the flats must have been offset by the permanent deep shadow cast on the front windows by the overhanging balconies, particularly ironic in view of the local authorities' constant argument that slum properties were unfit because they lacked natural light. The main brick staircase tower in the centre of the set-back corner provided a dramatic vertical feature. Though the roofs were hipped, the pitch was slight, and they were scarcely visible from street level; in any case they were in part masked by flat-topped parapets. The least Modern feature was the wooden-framed sash windows with their Georgian-style glazing-bars. (fn. 9)
The two flats in the smaller block damaged during the Second World War were rebuilt to the original plan in 1949. (fn. 10) Providence House was demolished by Tower Hamlets Borough Council in 1981. (fn. 11)
The St Vincent Estate
The St Vincent Estate, at the northern end of Westferry Road and on its west side, comprised Bahama, Cayman, Garford, Grenada, Jamaica, Nevis, St Christopher, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad, and Windward Houses (Plate 128a). The estate was built by the LCC and was begun before the Second World War, although it was mainly completed after 1945. The site was largely created by the Phoebe Street Clearance Scheme, which, like the estate itself, straddled the boundary between the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Poplar and Stepney.
However, the southernmost block, Garford House, was built independently of the Phoebe Street scheme and pre-dates the formation of the St Vincent Estate. The island site for this block, an area of about 1.25 acres, bounded by Garford, Bridge, Bowley, and Emmett Streets, was acquired by the LCC in 1936, the cost of purchase and clearance being estimated at £15,000. Garford House was built as a standard five-storey, redbrick neo-Georgian block of 67 flats of the LCC's 1934 (3 and 4) type, with a hipped roof covered in red clay tiles (see page 33). (fn. 12) The block was built in two phases: 1936–7 (estimated cost, £12,900) and 1938–9 (estimated cost, £23,700). For both phases the foundations were constructed by Simplex Concrete Piles Ltd, but the superstructure for the first phase was by H. C. Horswill Ltd of Forest Gate and for the second by W. H. Gaze & Sons of Kingston-upon-Thames. (fn. 13)
The question of the clearance of the Phoebe Street area was raised with the LCC by Poplar Borough Council in 1933, but the LCC decided to take no action and invited the Borough Council to deal with the worst of the properties. (fn. 14) When, however, in 1935 the LCC was also approached by Stepney Borough Council, with the suggestion that much of South Limehouse, including the Grenada Street locality, should be cleared, it decided that the area between the railway on the north and Garford Street on the south, irrespective of borough boundaries, might appropriately be dealt with by the LCC. (fn. 15)
The Phoebe Street Areas, Poplar and Stepney, were officially represented in May 1936. Because of the scattered nature of the properties involved, no fewer than 12 separate clearance areas were needed, and these were officially declared by the LCC on 9 February 1937, under the 1936 Housing Act. The main area ran from Garford Street in the south to Limehouse Causeway in the north. Most of the other areas were in Stepney, and reached as far westwards as Church Row, and as far north as Grenada and Nutley Streets. The houses involved were mainly of the two-storey, terraced kind, many with basements 'of a bad type'. (fn. 16) The Orders for these areas were duly confirmed in April 1938, with only slight modifications. (fn. 17)
A detailed development scheme was agreed in November 1938. It provided for six five-storey blocks of 1934 (1 and 2) types comprising 336 dwellings for about 1,614 people. (fn. 18) Redevelopment involved some rearrangement of the existing street pattern, with a few thoroughfares wholly closed — including New Alley (off Three Colt Street, Limehouse), and Park Place — and others partly closed, such as Lance, Phoebe, and Park Streets, and Halker Place. (fn. 19) The opportunity was also taken to widen, or otherwise improve, streets in the area. (fn. 20) Public houses in the vicinity, such as the Warrior and the Steam Packet, were rebuilt, while others were relocated. (fn. 21)
Construction began in 1939 with the two blocks to the north of Limehouse Causeway, Trinidad and Grenada Houses; (fn. 22) although the foundations were completed, the onset of war meant that the construction of the superstructures could not begin. (fn. 23) In 1944 the Council decided to add about an acre to the Phoebe Street site by declaring a further clearance area comprising properties on the east side of Three Colt and Emmett Streets, between Milligan Street (formerly Park Street) and Garford Street. (fn. 24)
In the autumn of 1945 the Council began further demolition in the Phoebe Street Clearance Areas. (fn. 25) The LCC decided that on housing schemes where work had been suspended because of the war it would, wherever possible, try to negotiate with the original contractors to complete outstanding work. In November 1945, therefore, a new tender from Simms, Sons & Cooke to erect the superstructures of Trinidad and Grenada Houses was accepted. They were still to be five-storey blocks of the 1934 (1) type, but with minor internal improvements (see page 33). Nevertheless, such was the rise in building costs that the new tender was almost twice as much as the 1939 one — £30,436 7s 11d (plus a provisional sum of £1,578) for the superstructure of one block and, as before, the rest of the work to be completed on the same terms. (fn. 26) Unfortunately, the foundations of these blocks had suffered bomb-damage (although the cost of reinstatement was recoverable from the War Damage Commission) and Simplex Concrete Piles of Kensington had to instal new pile-foundations for Grenada House. (fn. 27) Trinidad and Grenada Houses were completed during 1948, and contained 38 and 51 flats respectively. (fn. 28) Both are standard five-storey neo-Georgian blocks in yellow flint brick, with hipped roofs covered in red pantiles. Among the few touches of individuality are the two canted bays on the Gill Street elevation of Trinidad House.
Meanwhile, the scheme as a whole had been slightly revised because part of the site was affected by proposals in the County of London Plan of 1943 for the B-ring road. This meant some reduction in the size of the housing site which — after the reservation of 1.9 acres for a school and for the reinstatement of two public houses — was about 5.4 acres. In addition to the two blocks begun before the war, six blocks of 1934 (1) type, with similar minor post-war improvements, were also proposed. (fn. 29) It was decided that this new development should be called the St Vincent Estate, and the blocks were all assigned the names of islands in the West Indies, while Garford House was incorporated into the new estate. (fn. 30)
In March 1947 the lowest tender, again from Simplex Concrete Piles, of £20,691 8s 6d for the pile-and-beam foundations for these further blocks was accepted. (fn. 31) By the time that the Council came to consider the erection of the superstructures in January 1949, it had been decided that seven additional flats could be provided by substituting heated for unheated drying rooms in the blocks. Rather than following the normal tendering process the Council accepted an offer by W. J. Simms, Sons & Cooke to construct the superstructures of the six remaining blocks at an estimated cost of £246,590 (£564 a room). (fn. 32) All were constructed in 1949–50, and they provided 156 flats. (fn. 33) St Vincent, Jamaica, Windward, Cayman, St Christopher and St Lucia Houses were all standard neo-Georgian blocks, but were only four storeys high, in red brick, with red clay-tile, hipped roofs, and metal-framed casement windows. Nevis House and Bahama House were constructed in 1955–7 by J. M. Hill & Sons of Wembley, at an estimated cost of £94,460. (fn. 34) Bahama House was a five-storey, flat-roofed block of 25 flats, in red brick and buff flint brick. Nevis House was very similar, but had only three storeys and contained just nine flats.
The construction of the Limehouse Link road, work on which began in November 1989, (fn. 35) had a drastic effect on the St Vincent Estate. Garford and Windward Houses were demolished in 1990 and several other blocks were emptied during its construction. During the first quarter of 1992 the seven blocks south of Limehouse Causeway (Bahama, Cayman, Jamaica, Nevis, St Christopher, St Lucia and St Vincent Houses), vacated for the construction of the Limehouse Link, were demolished. (fn. 36)