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 Southern Millwall
The Millwall Estate
This estate was built by the LCC on the site of Phoenix Wharf on the west side of Westferry Road, after a long and difficult history. Following discussions which had been going on since at least the previous October, (fn. 2) in May 1931 the LCC's Housing Committee decided to buy the major part of the Phoenix Wharf site. This was an area of about 2.17 acres, extending from Westferry Road to the river. The estimated cost of acquisition and clearance was £20,000. Not only was the price of the land high, but redevelopment required the removal and replacement of oily soil. The Committee also considered preliminary plans for three blocks of flats. The estimated cost of erection was £77,700, and the Finance Committee was worried about such high costs, which were 'considerably in excess of previous cases of dwellings provided for rehousing purposes'. They were eventually persuaded to give a grudging approval by the persistent assertion of the Housing Committee that it was one of the few sites available to provide rehousing in East London and that its acquisition was vital to the Council's slum clearance programme. (fn. 3)
Matters at first moved quickly, and the lowest tender for the construction of the foundations of three blocks was accepted in October 1931. (fn. 4) The scheme was, however, overtaken by the national economic crisis, one effect of which was to curtail very seriously the LCC's housing budget. By 1933, the site, which in 1931 had seemed so essential to the Council's programme, and on which over £2,000 had already been spent on preliminary works, was considered surplus to housing requirements. (fn. 5)
By October 1935 the site had still not been disposed of, but in 1934 the Labour party had come to power on the LCC, and the national slum clearance programme was at last gaining momentum. The Council reinstated the plans for three blocks, containing a total of 151 flats, on the Phoenix Wharf site. (fn. 6) The first two blocks, Montcalm and Montrose Houses (built in 1936–7), are both standard five-storey, neo-Georgian-style LCC blocks, in yellow brick, with grey brick to the ground floors, originally providing between them 53 flats of the 1934 (3 and 4) types, and 53 flats of the 1934 (1 and 2) types (see page 33) (figs 8, 9, pages 32, 33). (fn. 7) The pile foundations were constructed by Christiani & Nielsen, and the superstructures by Gee, Walker & Slater, at a total estimated cost of £46,550. (fn. 8)
Michigan House, which was also to have been of the 1934 type, was not built until 1958–60, and then to a rather different design. It was constructed by Gray Conoley & Company, of West Ham, at a total estimated cost of £74,600. The five-storey, flat-roofed block is in yellow stock brick, contains 25 dwellings, and, unlike the pre-war blocks, was provided with a lift (fig. 10, page 44). (fn. 9)
The West Ferry Estate
This estate, on the north-eastern side of Westferry Road, consists of eight blocks of flats built by the LCC in the 1930s as part of the West Ferry Road Clearance Scheme. This was one of the areas which suffered badly when an exceptionally high tide caused severe flooding along the Thames in January 1928. Severe damage was caused when the flood broke through two oil refineries and washed quantities of heavy oil into the houses in this part of Westferry Road. Poplar Borough Council therefore drew the LCC's attention to the area. The LCC concluded that the houses on the south-western side of the road could be reconditioned, but proceeded, after some delay, to acquire and clear the properties on the northeastern side, mostly without recourse to formal clearance or compulsory purchase procedures. (fn. 10)
The first two blocks, Conway and Triton Houses (called, like all the blocks on the estate, after training ships of the Merchant Navy), were erected in 1932–3 by Gee, Walker & Slater, at an estimated cost of £19,891. Each contained 24 flats, apparently of the LCC's modified type 'B' (see page 32). (fn. 11) Akbar, Brassey, Exmouth, Rodney, and Warspite Houses were built in 1934–5 by R. J. Rowley Ltd of Belmont Avenue, at an estimated cost of £33,935. Each block again contained 24 flats, mostly of the modified type 'B', although two blocks were of the modified type 'A'. (fn. 12) Finally, Arethusa House was built in 1935–6, by A. E. Symes of Stratford, at an estimated cost of £19,700. It had 34 flats that were of the LCC's 'normal' type, but with a modified standard of finish, together with seven ground-floor shops. (fn. 13) The boundaries of the estate were protected by iron railings, but they were removed for salvage during the Second World War. (fn. 14)
In the late 1960s the Greater London Council carried out an extensive modernization scheme that included the installation of a bathroom for each flat. The number of flats per block was reduced from 24 to 16, except at Arethusa House, where the original 34 flats were converted to 31. (fn. 15)
The Masthouse Terrace Scheme
This group of public housing, off Westferry Road, was developed by the East London Housing Association in the early 1990s (Plate 138c). The site was acquired by the LDDC from Tower Hamlets Borough Council in 1981, but in 1983 part of it was transferred back to the Council in return for land which it owned in Royal Mint Street. (fn. 16) Clearance and filling was carried out by the LDDC during 1984, at a cost of £790,000, (fn. 17) but Tower Hamlets had difficulty in obtaining the finance to build dwellings there. (fn. 18) Negotiations took place in 1987–8 between the LDDC, the Borough Council, and various other parties over a joint development on 8.6 acres of land, of which 3 acres were owned by the Council and 5.6 by the LDDC. The proposal was that, in association with Countryside Developments, the Abbey National Building Society, and the East London Housing Association, properties for sale were to be built on some of the LDDC's land. These were to finance the construction of 171 dwellings, to be built on Tower Hamlet's land and a part of that owned by the Corporation, for rent through the Housing Association. The Council was to have the right of nomination to all of the homes. (fn. 19)
The collapse in the housing market on the Isle of Dogs meant that building houses for sale was no longer a viable proposition. Eventually, in March 1990, it was announced that 175 homes were to be developed by the East London Housing Association on four acres of the Masthouse Terrace site. The scheme cost £ 21.5 million. This included land from the Council valued at £2.9 million and grants of £7.2 million from the LDDC and £8 million from the Housing Corporation.
The scheme was designed by the Alan J. Smith Partnership and construction was by Countryside Homes (1990–2). (fn. 20) The blocks are in yellow brick, with bands of blue brick, and have slated, pitched roofs. Beside the river, the six-storey Phoenix Court has some nautical touches, as does the adjacent three-storey block in Masthouse Terrace. The rest of the dwellings are arranged in two- and three-storey blocks on either side of Britannia Road and in courtyard fashion around Vulcan Square and Cutlers Square. The accommodation ranges from one-bedroom flats to six-bedroom houses, and there is also provision for 16 elderly people, as well as two Health Authority 'Care in the Community' units. Tower Hamlets Borough Council has 50 per cent of the nomination rights to dwellings. (fn. 21)
The Hesperus Crescent Estate
This was built as a result of the British Street Housing Scheme (fn. 22) and comprises Nos 22–34 Harbinger Road, as well as Nos 1–139 and Nos 2–62 Hesperus Crescent (fig. 5, page 24). It was designed by Harley Heckford, the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, and built in 1929–30 by R. A. Reader of Hackney. (fn. 23) So satisfied had the Council become with the latter's work that they accepted his estimate of £55,870, even though it was not quite the lowest tender. (fn. 24) The site of about four acres was by no means ideal, and the fact that it was used reflects the acute shortage of suitable housing land on the Isle of Dogs and in the borough as a whole. A large deposit of clinker had to be removed from the land before work could commence, (fn. 25) and the Council also had to pay for a private railway siding serving Maconochie's works to be moved from the centre of the site to the edge. An 8ft-high reinforced-concrete wall then had to be constructed to divide the Chapel House Street Estate from the new line, and a footbridge was also built to provide access over the siding between the two estates. (fn. 26) The new estate also had to wrap around the Millwall Cooperage, as this was too expensive for the Council to purchase outright at the time. (fn. 27) Finally, the nature of the site was such that retaining walls had to be constructed, and reinforced-concrete foundation rafts were required for at least 72 of the houses. (fn. 28) The total cost of the scheme was £67,389, including the price of the land and the costs of other works. (fn. 29)
Nevertheless, there was scope for a satisfactory Garden-City-type layout. A new crescent — named after the Hesperus, a clipper ship on the Australian run curved round the site almost describing a circle, with three culs-de-sac running off it. At the same time, as there was another British Street in the Bow division of the Borough, the opportunity was taken to rename the Millwall one Harbinger Road, again after a clipper ship. (fn. 30) A total of 108 houses was provided, comprising 45 threebedroom and 63 two-bedroom houses. All had a livingroom, kitchen, w. c., bathroom, and mangle-shed, the last being a small rear projection (fig. 189). (fn. 31) A few houses even had the luxury of having their bathroom upstairs. (fn. 32) The density, at about 26 houses to the acre, was slightly more generous than at Manchester Grove. The houses are very similar in design and materials to those on the Manchester Grove Estate; the same ceramic and brick rubble front garden walls occur here too. The estate layout meant that the houses could be arranged in curved formations. A particular feature is made of the terrace which curves round the end of the shortest cul-de-sac at the south-east end of Hesperus Crescent, Nos 113–131 (Plate 124b). However, the angles of the roof are not handled very well and, most curiously, there is a central parapeted party wall — one of the features of the old terraced bye-law housing so abhorred by the Garden City Movement reformers. Presumably, the overall roofline was considered so long that such a feature was regarded as necessary to provide a fire barrier. The blank decorative panels on the front of this terrace are rather arbitrarily placed and seem unrelated to the rest of the design.
Nos 1–13 (odd) Hesperus Crescent were destroyed during the Second World War. The three two-bedroom and four three-bedroom houses were replaced by a terrace of six three-bedroom houses, but because of post-war shortages these were not completed until March 1948. (fn. 33) They are numbered 1–11 (odd), so there is no longer a No. 13. In 1959 Poplar Borough Council purchased the strip of land between the Hesperus Crescent and Chapel House Street Estates, where the railway siding had been, and in 1961 the footbridge over it was demolished. (fn. 34)
Nos 36–62 (even) Harbinger Road
These are built on the site of G. W. Mansell's yard. The lease expired in December 1952, and the site reverted to Poplar Borough Council. The buildings were demolished in 1953 and initially the Council proposed to erect a terrace of 11 three-bedroom houses. (fn. 35) This scheme was not proceeded with, however, and in 1955 the Council approved in principle a new one for ten maisonettes and four flats on this site, together with 14 garages. (fn. 36) The plans bear the name of V. A. Brown, the Borough's Principal Assistant Architect. (fn. 37) Construction was carried out by the Council's own direct labour organization in 1956–7, at an estimated cost of £31,419. (fn. 38)
The block, Nos 36–62 (even) Harbinger Road, is of three storeys, with a flat roof, and is built of yellow flint brick. (fn. 39) A flat-headed opening at either end of the building leads to a yard at the rear, where there are also individual walled gardens.
The Chapel House Street Estate
This comprises Nos 13–51 (odd) Chapel House Street, Nos 140–168 (even) East Ferry Road, Nos 1–19 (odd) and 2–24 (even) Macquarie Way, and Nos 1–65 (odd) and 2– 34 (even) Thermopylae Gate (Plate 124d; figs 5, 6, pages 24 and 29). The intervention of the Office of Works in this and other council-house schemes was fiercely opposed at the time in the architectural and building press. (fn. 40) Ostensibly, the aim was to speed up the housing programme, but it may have been that the Office's architects, having had direct responsibility for a number of workers' housing schemes during the war, did not wish to relinquish this responsibility to local authorities. (fn. 41)
Significantly, the initiative for the Office's involvement came from the Ministry's Housing Board — from whom the Borough Council had to seek approval at an early stage in the project — before any alternative ways of designing or building the scheme had been explored. (fn. 42) And, although the Council had not built any dwellings before, smaller housing developments being designed and built contemporaneously in the Bromley and Bow divisions of Poplar Borough were left entirely to the Borough Engineer and Surveyor. (fn. 43) The fact that a local builder was given the Chapel House Street Estate contract makes the apparent need for the direct involvement of the Office of Works and the Ministry seem all the more doubtful. The situation is further confused by the agreement that the design and execution of the estate should be a collaborative effort between Sir Frank Baines, the Chief Architect of the Office of Works, and Harley Heckford, the Borough Council's Engineer and Surveyor. It seems evident, however, that Baines was responsible for designing the houses and flats, while Heckford was said to have been responsible for the layout. (fn. 44)
Some 7.5 acres of undeveloped land was acquired, partly from the Charteris Estate and partly from the Strafford Estate, for a total of £9,500. (fn. 45) The building contractor, Griggs & Sons of Manchester Road, began work in December 1919, and on 30 January 1920 George Lansbury, Mayor of Poplar, ceremonially cut the first turf. (fn. 46) The estate was complete by the end of 1921, (fn. 47) and the final cost of building was £129,640, that is, £1,080 per dwelling (about the average for a house built under the Addison Act, see page 23). (fn. 48) Completion had been delayed by problems over the scarcity of materials and labour, and the consequences of these shortages soon began to manifest themselves. In July 1922 it was reported that several ceilings had collapsed, and in the case of one house this had happened no fewer than five times, while by 1924 all the properties required external painting. (fn. 49)
The 120 dwellings built consisted of 60 three-bedroomed houses, 30 three-bedroomed houses with parlour, six four-bedroomed houses with parlour, and 24 twobedroomed flats; all the dwellings having a living-room, scullery, bathroom, and w.c. (fn. 50) These accorded with the standard types of accommodation suggested in the 1919 Housing Manual, (fn. 51) although parlours were already regarded by some housing reformers as unnecessary and wasting valuable space, and were not included in any other Borough Council dwellings. (fn. 52) The houses were designed without back extensions, as rear projections — a common feature of earlier speculative housing — were anathema to followers of the Garden City movement, because they shut out precious light to the back of the house, (fn. 53) and they were condemned by the Tudor Walters Report on post-war housing standards. (fn. 54)
The layout of the estate is also on Garden City lines. Chapel House Street itself was extended north-eastwards through to East Ferry Road. The two new streets that were created, Thermopylae Gate and Macquarie Way, were named after clipper ships which used the Docks on the Australian run. (fn. 55) In the best Garden City tradition, Thermopylae Gate curves round, while Macquarie Way and Chapel House Street have bends, in order to avoid the hint of a straight line.
Since the construction of Hampstead Garden Suburb, neo-Georgian had become acceptable for Garden Citytype developments, and indeed the style was growing generally in popularity. (fn. 56) Nevertheless, the houses on the Chapel House Street Estate are unusually metropolitan in appearance and seem to derive from the standard Georgian London lower-class houses; an affinity emphasized by the use throughout of traditional London yellow stock brick. It may be significant that, in his early years with the Office of Works, Baines was mainly concerned with the restoration of historic buildings. (fn. 57)
Certainly, the advantages of adopting the Georgian style are well demonstrated by this estate. On the one hand, standardization of house-layouts, components (especially doors and windows) and materials (the bricks, already mentioned, and the grey Welsh slates on the roofs) made for quicker and more economic erection, while giving an overall unity and identity to the whole estate. On the other hand, an almost infinite variety is produced by quite simple devices, such as grouping the houses into pairs or terraces of four, five, or six dwellings, or by arranging houses in straight lines, around gentle curves, or even in butterfly fashion around the two corners of Thermopylae Gate and Chapel House Street. Above all, variety is obtained by employing a range of relatively simple decorative details. In the brickwork, this takes the form of the occasional introduction into a group of a dentil cornice, quoins, or more elaborate gable-end wall treatments; while the centrepiece groups on either corner of Thermopylae Gate with Chapel House Street are given fully fledged parapets. The windows were generally sashed and had glazing bars, but their arrangement is again varied; a number of groups have an attractive, relatively large, circular window, also with glazing bars (a feature to be seen in contemporary houses in Sunray Avenue, Herne Hill, also designed by Baines — see below); (fn. 58) while Nos 9–15 and 14–20 on either side of Macquarie Way have three ground-floor windows arranged in Venetian style with a central semi-circular shell relief decoration above. Similarly, doors, which were originally half glazed, could be paired or set individually, and doorhoods provided in some cases. Finally, the roofs are either gabled or hipped. However, a number of alterations have taken place, especially to windows and doors, and few groups now retain all their original details.
Surprisingly for a housing development built under the aegis of the Ministry of Health, the Chapel House Street Estate does not conform in every detail to the official orthodoxy of the time. Baines had been a member of the Tudor Walters Committee, whose report strongly influenced Government thinking on public housing and on which the Housing Manual was closely based. (fn. 59) However, he resigned a month before the actual report was signed because he disagreed with some of its conclusions, (fn. 60) and at Chapel House Street Baines seems to be quietly putting forward his own minority view. The wealth of decorative detail is one major departure from the Housing Manual and the Tudor Walters Report, both of which rejected ornament on economic and aesthetic grounds, (fn. 61) and is the major feature which distinguishes this estate from two otherwise very similar developments by Baines and the Office of Works for Camberwell Borough Council at Herne Hill and Peckham. (fn. 1) It is, however, characteristic of Baines, who even in the most austere days of the war had introduced 'intricacy and complexity of form' into his most important scheme for the Office of Works, the Well Hall Estate built in southeast London to house workers from the Woolwich Arsenal. (fn. 63)
To reduce the soaring costs at Well Hall, Baines also introduced two-bedroom 'cottage flats'. The inclusion of flats at the Chapel House Street scheme is almost certainly due to his conviction that there was a popular demand for such accommodation, (fn. 64) and he included a similar group of flats in the Herne Hill scheme (in Casino Avenue). Certainly, there was no overwhelming need either to cut costs or increase densities (in fact, at about 15 dwellings to the acre this estate only just exceeds the suggested density of 12 to the acre given in the Manual). (fn. 65) Nevertheless, it was an economic way of providing all the two-bedroom accommodation on the estate. It was this championing of flats which particularly set Baines at odds with the rest of the Tudor Walters Committee, and more especially Unwin, for the Committee's Report and the Manual were both generally against flats and advocated the building of two-storey cottages. (fn. 66)
The flats are arranged in three blocks of two storeys and attics around a cinder square or 'quadrangle' off Thermopylae Gate, and they close the view northwards up Macquarie Way. The mansard roofs and flat-headed dormers allowed the top storey to be incorporated into the roof structure, saving on the costs and lessening the apparent scale of the blocks by passing off the uppermost floor as an attic without appreciably losing living-space. This, too, went against the precepts of the Tudor Walters Report and the Manual, both of which advocated unbroken rooflines without dormers. (fn. 67) The materials are the same as on the rest of the estate. There are four staircases, each entered from a ground-floor doorway, and each having two flats leading off on each of the three floors. Unusually for flats, each dwelling is provided with its own back garden, albeit of differing size and shape.
As far as the houses on the estate were concerned, the Council agreed to provide one fruit tree for each garden, with the planting being done by unemployed exservicemen. (fn. 68) The front hedges and trees overhanging the pavements are still an attractive feature. The chestnutpaling fences needed repairing in the early 1930s and were replaced, on economic grounds, with wire-andconcrete posts. (fn. 69) Two public wooden shelters with seats and a sundial inscribed 'No man lives for himself alone' were erected in Macquarie Way, but these soon succumbed to vandalism. (fn. 70)
Unusually, some details of the early tenants on the estate, in 1922, survive, giving their occupations, any exceptional financial circumstances, and the size of their families. The impression given is that, generally, the 120 tenants were drawn from the upper echelons of the working classes. However, the most numerous single occupation, with a total of 22, is that of labourer — a vague description which might be applied to a multitude of activities and a range of abilities. Grouping individual occupations together, it is not surprising, on the Isle of Dogs, to find that the largest category was docks and shipping, with 28 who could definitely be assigned to this heading and another six who could probably be added to it. The next largest group consisted of the various industrial workers; there were at least 25 in that category, mainly skilled or semi-skilled. There were also about 12 who could be classified as clerical or professional, including a schoolteacher, a Labour Party secretary, and a trades union secretary. There were five widows. The tenants included 11 who were on Poor Relief, a further 11 who were on reduced wages, and one who was unemployed. The largest family, occupying a six-room house in Chapel House Street, consisted of a widow on Poor Relief and 11 children, of whom five were wage earners. There was also a number of families containing nine or ten members, though the majority were smaller. Conversely, there were five dwellings occupied solely by a husband and wife. (fn. 71)
Nos 14–52 (even) Chapel House Street and Nos 110–200 (even) East Ferry Road
These appear to be part of the Chapel House Street estate, but, although contemporary (1920–1), they were built by Locke's Housing Society, a public utility society (see page 37), formed by the firm of Locke Lancaster, after discussions with the Office of Works and Poplar Borough Council (which initially hoped to take over the development of the scheme). (fn. 72) The firm's architects, Bradshaw, Brown & Company, of Billiter Square Buildings, closely copied Baines's designs (the only material difference being the introduction of segmental heads to the windows) and used the same building contractor, Griggs & Sons. (fn. 73) The 36 two-storey houses were provided exclusively for Locke Lancaster's own workers at the nearby Millwall Lead Works. (fn. 74)
Nos 1–25 (odd) and Nos 2–12 (even) Julian Place (formerly Chapel House Place), Nos 1–11 (odd) Chapel House Street, and Nos 413–417 (odd) Westferry Road
These were built in 1977–9 by Tower Hamlets Borough Council. (fn. 75) This followed the declaration by the Council in 1971 of Clearance Areas covering properties in Chapel House Street and Place, and Westferry Road. (fn. 76) The new houses, designed by the Council's Architects' Department, were erected by Fordham Brothers, at a tendered price of £435,130. (fn. 77) They are terraces, in mottled red and yellow stock-type brick, with pitched roofs covered in grey pantiles. Nos 1–11 Chapel House Street are twostorey and the remainder are three-storey blocks.