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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Nos 1 and 3 (demolished).
The houses shown in about 1900 on Plate 2a were probably built or rebuilt in the 1840s following the acquisition of property here by Julius Natorff, a surgeon of Limehouse, who occupied No. 3 for many years. A horseflesh salesman, Mr McEwen, had been there only since 1899, but a hairdresser, G. Ablard, had been at No. 1 since the early 1860s. (fn. 7)
The White Horse public house at Nos 9 and 11.
The present public house was erected in 1927–8 by the builder H. V. Clogg of Battersea to designs by A. E. Sewell for Truman, Hanbury & Buxton, brewers (Plate 40c). (fn. 8) The site comprised No. 11, which had long been in use as a tavern, and No. 9, at the corner of North (now Saltwell) Street, which had previously been in separate occupation and prior to 1831 had accommodated the hamlet and parish watch-house. (fn. 9) Stylistically the present house is very like other Truman's houses of the period, such as the Bancroft in the Mile End Road.
There has been a tavern here with the present name since 1690 or earlier. (fn. 10) It was a good situation, close to the entrance to Poplar on the way to Blackwall and at the junction of the High Street with North Street, and overlooking the watering-place of Stonebridge pond (the position of which is still hinted at by the space in front of the White Horse).
The old White Horse was refronted or rebuilt in staid mid-Victorian classic style, perhaps about 1868–70. The freehold was bought by a lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment in 1891 for £3,750 and sold by him to Trumans in 1921 for £4,350. (fn. 11)
The sign of a white horse on a square post stood in front of the public house until 1993 (plate 40e). Of lead, painted and filled with sand, it was modelled with great verve but had no known history and was difficult to date stylistically: the early to mid-eighteenth century might be suggested. In 1874 the lessee protested strongly and successfully to the Metropolitan Board of Works that to remove it 'would be fatal to the business'. (fn. 12)
Nos 13 and 13A (demolished).
The date of the buildings shown on plate 4c is quite uncertain, although their site, together with that of No. 15, can be identified as belonging to the manor of Stepney in 1620, and as having a tenement on it in 1702 that replaced four cottages recently burnt. In 1767 it was owned by the Paillets, businessmen in Southwark and the City. (fn. 13) It was still owned by members of the family in 1828, when a lease for 21 years was granted of the two messuages on the site to John Gagen, a saddler, who undertook 'the substantially reinstating and repairing' of the messuages. (fn. 14)
No. 15 (demolished).
This house was built in 1854 by Mary Ann Wood & Sons of Mile End for the owner, the saddler John Gagen. (fn. 15) The first occupant was a milliner. (fn. 16) In 1910 it was taken by the vicar of St Stephen's, East India Dock Road, as a clergy house to replace a big detached vicarage in that road. (fn. 17) The narrow opening visible on plate 6b to the right of No. 15, between it and the flank wall of No. 17, marks the place where the line of the old Black Ditch or 'Spitalfields sewer' approached the High Street.
Nos 89–95 (demolished).
Nos 89–93, on the west side of Hale Street, were built in 1806–13 on copyhold property under the manor of Stepney belonging to the builder Thomas Hale. (fn. 18) Their front walls were rebuilt in 1915. (fn. 19) No. 95 appears in 1806–7 as the Queen's Head, on its removal by its licensee from another Hale property at No. 104. (fn. 20) It underwent some enhancement about 1838, but in plate 7a the dressing of the front looks later than that. All were demolished in 1935–6.
Offices of the Poplar Board of Works.
The Board of Works building at the corner of the High Street and Woodstock Terrace was erected in 1869–70 (plate 8c). It contained the board-room and offices of the Poplar District Board of Works and subsequently of the Poplar Borough Council, until 1938.
The District Board met for the first time in December 1855 and early in the following year it took a 21-year lease of No. 291 East India Dock Road, which had been erected as an excise office and was suitable for adaptation for the Board's use. (fn. 21) There was increasing pressure on the available space, however, and as the Board could terminate the lease in 1870, it was decided early in 1867 that alternative accommodation should be provided. (fn. 22) A plot of ground, 112ft from north to south and 60ft wide, at the south-eastern corner of the East India Company's land acquired in 1866, was set aside for the purpose and £5,000 was fixed as the upper limit for the cost of the new building. (fn. 23)
The process of selecting a design from the 43 competition entries attracted the attention and aroused the ire of the architectural press. Because the architects of the three designs which were awarded premiums all had a connection with the Board, there was some suspicion of favouritism. (fn. 24) But fears on this score were somewhat allayed by the fact that the majority of the other designs were 'so horridly bad as to deserve no attention whatsoever'. (fn. 25) The manner in which the designs were assessed was also questioned, on the grounds of ability. The Board itself prepared a short list of ten designs which was submitted to the referee for his selection of the three prize-winners. (fn. 26) The Building News expressed the view that 'No one would expect to find in a Poplar Board of Works a brain capable of making the difference between Westminster Abbey and the Strand Musick Hall' and went on to criticize, in the strongest terms, the judgement of the architectural referee, Sancton Wood. (fn. 27) The Builder found the elevation of the winning design 'terribly ugly' and recommended that the Board should pause 'before they perpetuate it in brick and stone'. (fn. 28) The Board did pause, for it was divided on the final decision, and a motion to reverse the order of the first two placed designs was only narrowly defeated. (fn. 29)
The architects of the winning design were Walter Augustus Hills (c1834–1917) and Thomas Wayland Fletcher (1833–1901) of Bow, both of whom had previously held the post of Assistant Surveyor to the Board, (fn. 1) and second were Arthur and Christopher Harston of the East India Dock Road, a partnership which went on to have a considerable local authority practice. After more than a year, during which nothing was resolved, the two firms were invited to submit a collaborative design. This they duly did, and it was accepted. (fn. 31) The arrangement which they came to was that Fletcher should be responsible for the specifications and quantities, and the Harstons for the drawings, but because Fletcher was ill for several weeks, his task was also carried out by the Harstons. (fn. 32)
Selection of a contractor from the 22 firms that submitted tenders was apparently a much easier task than choosing the design, for the sum of £7,330 tendered by Baker & Constable of Holloway was £560 below the next lowest figure, although it was £490 higher than the architects' estimate and £2,330 above the initial figure set by the Board. (fn. 33) Baker & Constable began work in April 1869 and stopped four months later because of a dispute with the architects, chiefly about the quality of the materials which were being used. (fn. 34) Conciliation proved to be impossible and the contractors did not resume work on the site. Indeed, they instituted legal proceedings against both the architects and the District Board, but subsequently absconded. (fn. 35) Tenders were invited for the completion of the building; that of Crabb & Vaughan of Kingsland for £5,159 was accepted. (fn. 36) The firm later complained that it had 'lost a considerable sum' on the contract. (fn. 37)
The building was ready for use by October 1870, the fabric having cost almost £7,600, of which £2,300 had been paid to Baker & Constable. (fn. 38) Furniture and fittings added a further £577. (fn. 39) Some additional costs had been incurred, most notably £500 in opposing Baker & Constable's suits, (fn. 40) and the estimate had apparently risen to £9,000. (fn. 41) The architects' commission was assessed upon £10,000, however, and that may be taken to be indicative of the total expense. (fn. 42)
The hall was designed in a mid-Victorian free Gothic style (fig. 13). It is built in yellow malm brickwork, with Portland stone strings and dressings and polished granite shafts at the main doorway in the octagonal corner tower and the board-room windows. The focal tower attempts to reconcile the two wings of unequal length on the difficult corner site, but it is not entirely successful because it causes the northern wing to stand at an angle to the street line and boundary wall. The tower has a finialed copper, formerly zinc, dome surmounted by a pinnacle. The Board's monogram and the date of erection are featured on either side of the doorway. The boardroom was designed to be big enough to be used for public meetings and social events, as well as the Board's meetings. A gallery at its northern end could accommodate 100 people and a music licence was obtained soon after the building was opened. The domestic accommodation was placed on the second floor of the western wing, which has gabled dormers. (fn. 43)
Some flaws in the design soon became apparent. Before the building was occupied, the Medical Officers of Health pointed out that the laboratories were not ideal, being badly lit from the windows and the larger one not having a fireplace or indeed access to a chimney. (fn. 44) The early meetings of the Board showed that the acoustics of the board-room were such that 'whenever anybody spoke, the reverberation was so excessive as to make the speaker almost incomprehensible'. (fn. 45) The use of hangings may have helped with this problem. A further difficulty was that the chimney near to the octagon in the west wing was so close to it that, when the wind was south-westerly, an eddy was created, causing the chimney to smoke to such an extent that the Assistant Clerk's room and the other two rooms which it served were 'at times uninhabitable'. (fn. 46) The use of zinc for the covering of the octagon had been questioned when the building was under construction, and by the late 1890s it was wasting so badly that parts of it had become detached during high winds. (fn. 47) Re-covering with copper was contracted to R. Fox of Salmons Lane in 1899 for £185. (fn. 48)
In 1900 the building passed to the Council of the newly created Metropolitan Borough and some alterations were made to the office accommodation. (fn. 49) It later became apparent that extra space for the drawing office staff was required and in 1925 an extension was erected for that purpose at the northern end of the building, at a cost of £618. (fn. 50) In 1938 the building was superseded by the new Poplar Town Hall at Bow. (fn. 51) Soon afterwards it was adapted for civil defence purposes. (fn. 52) War damage repairs to the building, which were executed in 1949–50, cost £3,189. (fn. 53)
The building was used for a variety of purposes after the Second World War until, in 1985–6, it was adapted for use as a district housing centre for the Borough of Tower Hamlets's Directorate of Housing. (fn. 54) The alterations included the insertion of a mezzanine at first-floor level in the former board-room, the removal of the 1925 extension at the northern end of the building and the restoration of that elevation. (fn. 55) A contract was awarded to Walter Llewellyn & Sons on their tender of £337,350. A further £180,000 was later provided for the treatment of the extensive dry rot discovered within the building, and also to cover the cost of other unforeseen repairs to the roof and windows. (fn. 56) The housing centre opened in 1987.
Nos 119–123 (demolished).
From 1715 to 1852 the imposing group of houses shown on plate 6a occupied the site of what is now part of the carriageway of Woodstock Terrace where it joins Poplar High Street, of No. 119 Poplar High Street at the eastern corner of that junction, and of the vacant lot to the east. It was built for Thomas Coalthurst of London, merchant, who had previously lived on or behind the western part of this site. (fn. 57) He had married the widow of an Ipswich gentleman, who herself possessed properties in Poplar and Ratcliff. (fn. 58) She acquired this site as copyhold of the manor of Stepney in 1714. (fn. 59) Coalthurst pulled down the houses already there (fn. 60) and by April 1715 could insure his fine new buildings for £1,200. (fn. 61) In the same month his wife transferred the copyhold to him. (fn. 62) The Coalthursts had gone from their house by 1719. (fn. 63)
The view of 1820 on plate 6a might suggest that the easternmost six bays, unbalancing the symmetry of the seven-bay western part, were an addition, but the insurance policy makes it clear that the new building consisted from the beginning of what can be seen in the view, that is, Coalthurst's dwelling house, with a frontage of 43ft 6in., to the west, and two houses, each 17ft or 18ft wide (and in April 1715 still empty), to the east. The eastern end of Coalthurst's house occupied the site of what became No. 119 Poplar High Street and the two eastward houses became Nos 121 and 123. It was the six bays of these latter two houses that survived longest — probably until the Second World War — and they can be seen in about 1930, above and behind derelict shopfronts, in plate 6c.
That photograph suggests the modelling of the façade was a little less emphatic than is shown on plate 6a. Even so the front of the main house was a striking piece of English domestic baroque architecture. The treatment of the central bay is notable, with a columned straightheaded doorcase, band rustication across the face of the bay and carved heads to the two windows. The street wall is low, surmounted by fine ironwork, especially elaborate at the gateway of the main house. The artist has attempted to indicate a vista through a central corridor to the garden.
This property was charged with the upkeep of the almshouses in Bow Lane built in 1686 by Esther Hawes (see page 187), (fn. 64) who had bought the property in the High Street in 1685 from a clergyman in Wandsworth. (fn. 65) It had been from a kinsman of Esther Hawes that Coalthurst's wife had acquired it, with this encumbrance.
In 1794 the copyhold of the houses was sold by a 'gentleman' of Hammersmith, who had acquired it two years before, to John Stock, who moved here from the substantial old house at No. 151. Stock's family retained the big house in occupation for virtually the rest of its existence, while the smaller houses were mostly also in the occupation of relations. (fn. 66) John Stock set up a school here some time before 1818 that became known as the Poplar House Academy. It was partly at least a boarding school, charging 35 guineas (or, with 'extras' like separate beds, about £60) per annum, (fn. 67) but educated among others the sons of the partners in the local building firm, Howkins, Morris & Constable. (fn. 68) The school was continued by Stock's son, Edward, until at least 1849. (fn. 69)
In his will of 1852 Edward Stock bequeathed the property, which by then was enfranchised from manorial tenure and extended back to East India Dock Road, to his son, Edward Wood Stock, a solicitor. He explained: 'I am about to pull down the old house and the two adjoining houses and to erect four houses and make a street through the garden on the west side.' (fn. 70) In the event, only the big house was demolished to make way for the bottom end of that street, Woodstock Terrace, and the present No. 119 Poplar High Street (erected by the local builder F. W. Simpson in 1856). (fn. 71)
The two smaller houses remained. Shops were built in front of them (perhaps about 1860). (fn. 72) In 1892 they were both in the tenure of an 'oiled waterproof clothing maker'. (fn. 73) They were acquired for demolition by the Presbyterian Settlement in East India Dock Road in 1932, when the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings concerned itself with their possible preservation. Its architect, J. E. M. Macgregor, reported that each house had a front and back room with a 'square staircase' between them. In one of the houses much of the 'large panelled deal panelling' remained, although in bad condition, and also the 'delightfully delicately turned balusters of the staircase'. These were worth preserving, together with the brick and rubbed-brick front wall of the houses. The architect commissioned by the Presbyterian Settlement to design a building to replace the old houses, T. Phillips Figgis (1858–1948), rejected these suggestions as impracticable. (fn. 74) It seems clear that the old houses were not replaced before the Second World War, (fn. 75) when whatever was on the site was badly damaged by bombing. By 1945 the site was vacant, as it was in 1994. (fn. 76)
Nos 125–135, The East India Arms public house and Finch Court (demolished).
To the east, Finch Court appears unnamed in the ratebooks with seven small houses behind Nos 127–133 Poplar High Street in about 1782–3, and was thus one of the oldest of the courts off the High Street to survive into this century. No. 127 was occupied from 1767 to 1790 by a John Finch, whose property under the manor of Stepney included two acres of garden ground northward and who was presumably the developer of Finch Court. (fn. 79)
From 1788 the copyholder was a butcher in Limehouse, George Quarrell, (fn. 80) who in 1791 leased the whole property for 61 years at £42 per annum to a gardener called William Gardener, Finch's successor in occupation of No. 127. (fn. 81) In 1801 the enterprising John Stock acquired this lease (fn. 82) and it was he who developed the two acres northwards with Cottage Street and Cottage Row (see page 174). The whole copyhold property was thereupon sold for £1,300 15s by a Shadwell victualler-turnedgentleman (a purchaser from Quarrell) to a Blackwall pilot, John Clippingdale. (fn. 83)
Part at least of Finch Court and Cottage Row and Cottage Street were condemned as unfit for human habitation by the Medical Officer of Health in 1869–70: nothing happened and in 1879 a new MOH, Dr Corner, tried again. He reported that one house in Finch Court, inhabited by two families, contained two rooms and a lean-to. The floor was below street level (as was usual in Poplar's slum courts) and rain came through the roof in several places. The house, including the privy in the lean-to, had no water-supply except what could be got from two water-tanks common to 27 houses. This was despite a lease from the Clippingdale trustees containing covenants to keep the houses in tenantable repair. This house and two others were demolished in 1880. (fn. 84) By 1895 the other houses in Finch Court, which latterly included a lodging house 'where the rejections of the other common lodging houses of the neighbourhood were received', (fn. 85) were evidently demolished, as were also Nos 129 and 131 Poplar High Street. (fn. 86) In July of that year Poplar Board of Works bought these sites and No. 127 Poplar High Street from the Clippingdale trustees for £750. The site of Nos 133 and 135, where a brewhouse had been built about 1793–4, (fn. 87) was bought in December 1895 for £825. (fn. 88) These purchases were to accommodate a coroner's court and mortuary. The Poplar Board of Works obtained authority from the Justices of the Peace to close Finch Court, but the licensee of the East India Arms objected that this would hinder his customers' access from the Cottage Street neighbourhood, and, as his appeal to Quarter Sessions seemed likely to bring 'a Judgment for damages and costs' upon the Poplar Board, it abandoned the idea.
Coroner's Court and Mortuary.
Poplar Coroner's Court stands at the junction of the High Street and Cottage Street, with the mortuary building to its rear. The 1891 Public Health Act for London required the LCC to provide suitable accommodation for inquests, while responsibility for mortuaries rested with the appropriate sanitary authority, which for Poplar was the District Board of Works. (fn. 89) In 1893 it was proposed that a combined mortuary and coroner's court should be erected for the whole of the Poplar Board's area, with the LCC paying rent for the latter. (fn. 90)
In 1895 the area between Finch's Court and Cottage Street was acquired for the purpose. (fn. 91) The site consisted of Nos 127–135 (odd) High Street, a strip of ground to their rear, and Nos 60 and 62 Cottage Street, and cost £2,413. (fn. 92)
The design of Lansdell & Harrison of Highbury was selected from the 14 which were received, but certain modifications were suggested. (fn. 93) Not until October 1897 were the plans submitted for the LCC's approval, which was given, although the estimated cost was questioned. (fn. 94) In fact, rising prices and later adjustments to the design made it even more expensive, and by the time that tenders were submitted in 1899 the District Board of Works was close to dissolution and decided not to erect the building. (fn. 95)
Poplar Borough Council's initial reaction was to abandon the proposal for a separate coroner's court and to adapt the existing mortuary accommodation in Bickmore Street. Various arrangements were considered and in 1906 attention was again focused on the site fronting High Street and Cottage Street. The buildings there had become unsafe and had been demolished. (fn. 96) An agreement was reached whereby the LCC bought a part of the ground from Poplar Borough and erected a coroner's court, while the mortuary was built by the Borough Council to the rear. (fn. 97) New plans were prepared accordingly. Those for the court building were completed in 1909. They were signed by W. E. Riley (1852–1937), the LCC's Superintending Architect, and initialled by George Weald, who was then working for the general constructional branch of the Architect's Department. (fn. 98) The costs were to be kept as low as possible, by making the apartments as small as they conveniently could be and using plain finishes internally and externally, with facades of unornamented red brick. The internal arrangements in the LCC coroners' courts of the same period served as a guide for the layout of this building. (fn. 99) It was erected by Gathercole Brothers of Norbury and was ready for occupation early in 1911, having cost £2,970, considerably less than the estimate for the rather grander unexecuted design of Lansdell & Harrison. (fn. 100)
The building is essentially of a domestic Arts and Crafts character, of red brick with stone dressings, a tiled roof and stucco coved eaves. It has mullioned windows with leaded lights (plate 9a; fig. 14). The main entrance, from High Street, has an arched doorway. From Cottage Street two doors gave access respectively to the coroner's room on the ground floor and stairs to the caretaker's quarters on the first and second floors. The western part of the ground floor is occupied by the court-room, which rises through the first floor to the beam-and-post roof (plate 9b). In common with several other coroner's courts, a waiting room was provided for female witnesses (male witnesses waited in the corridor); the room was converted in 1938 for use as an office. There was a covered way between the court and the mortuary. In 1989 the caretaker's accommodation was converted into offices.
The scale, accommodation and layout of the building were characteristic of the other coroners' courts erected in London during the 1890s and 1900s, as was the placing of the mortuary to the rear of the court, so that the bereaved did not have to pass the mortuary when attending an inquest. A certain degree of compatability in the designs for the two buildings was desirable and so the LCC Architect's Department and Harley Heckford (1869–1937), the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, consulted over the plans for the mortuary. (fn. 101) The health regulations respecting isolation imposed certain constraints on the placing of the mortuary buildings on the rather cramped and awkward site. The draft plans sent to the LCC in 1908 were not entirely satisfactory in that respect and the Architect's Department responded with designs that included 'a suggestion for the treatment of the Mortuary buildings'. (fn. 102) These may have served as the basis for Heckford's final plans, which were completed by July 1909 and, apart from a minor adjustment, were accepted by the LCC and the Local Government Board. (fn. 103) They placed the mortuary room and viewing gallery closest to the coroner's court, with the mortuary where infectious cases were dealt with beyond, in the centre of the site, and the post-mortem room at the rear. The laboratory and stores adjoined the post-mortem room. (fn. 104) This layout did not have a central courtyard, which had been a feature of the arrangements proposed in 1897. (fn. 105) The mortuary was built by direct labour and was ready for use by January 1911 at a cost of £1,919 4s 11d. (fn. 106)
By the mid-1930s some modernization was necessary, for the equipment was reported to be generally inconvenient to use, inefficient and in poor condition, while working conditions, particularly in the post-mortem room, were also considered unsatisfactory. (fn. 107) The installation of new equipment in the existing building was considered, but it was decided to erect a new structure on the same site at an estimated cost of £4,918, including equipment. (fn. 108) The new building, erected in 1939 by direct labour, was a single-storey brick structure with a reinforced-concrete roof. (fn. 109) The design sought to overcome some drawbacks inherent in the earlier structure, in, for example, allowing a greater amount of natural light to fall into the building and a revised internal layout. Chilling and cooling chambers and new heating and lighting systems were installed. (fn. 110)
In the 1950s Poplar, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch combined to provide a joint mortuary service, with Poplar mortuary selected as the main one. (fn. 111) In 1965 it became the mortuary for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. (fn. 112)
In 1982 further modifications were deemed necessary, notably the installation of ventilation and sealed drainage systems in the post-mortem room. (fn. 113) In fact, an extensive modernization and rebuilding programme was decided upon, including some internal rearrangements and the extension of the building by roofing over most of the yard on the Cottage Street frontage which had been provided in 1939. Internal changes included the conversion of the viewing room into a specialist post-mortem room, the provision of a new staff ablutions area, a new plant room and alterations to the layout of the office and viewing facilities. The post-mortem and body storage rooms were completely refitted. (fn. 114) The work was executed by Walter Llewellyn & Sons of Bow in 1985–6 at a cost of £501,622. (fn. 115)
Nos 137–141 (demolished).
The three houses shown on plate 3b in 1877 were replaced by W. Davies of Limehouse, builder, in 1885. (fn. 116)
The shops shown in the drawing were occupied in 1868 by a greengrocer (at the corner), a confectioner and a shoemaker. The houses are of unknown date. The 1867– 70 Ordnance Survey map shows them with a straight back wall. Possibly their appearance owes something to the period about 1777–9. (fn. 117) The ratebooks suggest that before then their site may have been occupied by a fairly large house that from at least 1694 until about 1774 was occupied by the Stevens, or Steevens, family.
Nos 143–149 (demolished).
The Blakeney's Head at No. 143 was a tavern from at least 1716 under the name of 'The Sarah Galley'. (fn. 118) This was changed to its later name (sometimes the General Blakeney) by 1758, (fn. 119) in honour of William, Lord Blakeney, the defender of Minorca in 1756. The tavern was rebuilt in 1899 by Courtney & Fairbairn of Camberwell for the brewers Watney, Combe, Reid & Company. (fn. 120) Alterations were carried out in 1939, but the building was irreparably damaged by bombing during the Second World War. (fn. 121)
Nos 151 and 151A (demolished).
The principal building on this site comprised a two-storeyed timber-framed house about 38ft by 33ft, perhaps of sixteenth-century date, standing back from the street behind a singlestorey addition probably dating from the first half of the nineteenth century (No. 151) (plate 5b; fig. 15). It was flanked on the west by a cartway leading to industrial premises in the former garden of the house and probably built in the early nineteenth century (No. 151A). These buildings were demolished in 1972 without a full record having been made, and lack of documentary evidence means that the early history of the house remains unknown.
The occupants of No. 151 can be traced back only to 1774, when its ratepayers were a John and Susanna Wood (probably as lessees), who were succeeded from 1788 until 1794 by the successful local schoolmaster, John Stock. In its latter days the house contained some features apparently of this late-eighteenth-century period, including a chimneypiece. (fn. 122) The south front of the house, latterly much concealed, was faced with brick, possibly of similar date. (fn. 123)
In 1794 the house passed until 1823 to a brewer, Joseph Smith, who presumably built the brewhouse at the rear, first assessed for rates as 'new' in 1815. (fn. 124)s (fn. 125) In 1848 the Eagle Brewery, as it was called, passed to James West & Company. (fn. 126)
At the brewhouse James West was given permission to erect a 'furnace chimney stack' in 1867 and in 1887 to do some rebuilding. (fn. 127) By 1895 the brewhouse extended across the whole rearward site. (fn. 128)
It was perhaps in the 1840s that the single-storey extension to the house was made over the front yard or garden, (fn. 129) presumably to serve, as it later did, as the 'brewery tap'. The old house remained a residence: in 1881 the brewer West was living here with his family and a single servant, sharing the house with his 'engineer' and his family. (fn. 130) By 1895 the retail sale of beer was listed here in directories, the main bars being in the front addition and the 'bar parlour' being in the south-east room of the old house. The brewhouse was by 1908 a mineral water factory. (fn. 131)
In 1928 the house was inspected by an Investigator of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for inclusion in the East London volume of the Commission's inventories. In his notes he describes the building as timber-framed, the north-western angle post and end of the wall plate being visible on the north, or rear, front, although he does not specifically mention the jetty of the first floor on this front. The photographs then taken show the exterior generally plastered. The roof, which later investigation showed to be of relatively modern construction, had a longitudinal ridge at the front, slated on the forward slope, and twin transverse tiled roofs to the rear, all hipped (plate 5b). (fn. 2) The window-openings were of conventional rectangular shape, evidently filled with modern sashes. The Investigator considered the building to be early seventeenth century and noted the existence of a small area of panelling of that date inside, as well as decorative plaster margins to some of the ground-floor ceilings that may have been of the same period. The interior, however, was generally 'much modernised and gutted'. The existence of old brick cellars was also noted. (fn. 133)
In 1932 the public house, as 'a very old house, though well built and in good repair', was bought for £600 by the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association to be converted for working-class housing. (fn. 134) The Association, anxious not to destroy needlessly any features of 'archaeological interest', sought an opinion on them from the Poplar Borough Librarian, and consulted the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The Society's architect, J. E. M. Macgregor, examined the building before having it converted in 1932–3 (by Wilkins, Hatchett & Litt of Chesham) into four flats. (fn. 135)
Macgregor assigned the earliest visible work to the early sixteenth rather than the seventeenth century. In an empty building he was better able to appraise items not visible fully or at all in 1928. Chief among these was a 'Tudor' chimneypiece of limestone in the east wall of the north-east room on the first floor (plate 5c). Perhaps more could be seen of the brick cellar under the southwest part of the old house, which extended, though partly blocked-off into two compartments, beneath the former bar-extension to the line of the street frontage. This was for the greater part of its width barrel-vaulted, and had triangular-headed niches in the south and west walls of its northern compartment (under the old house). (fn. 136) (fn. 3) Macgregor judged this (unlike the more modern parallel cellar to the west under the cartway) to be contemporary with the house, and gave a similar date to some panelling in the north-east part of the house. He observed signs that much work was done in the late eighteenth century 'and the house given a formal character as evidenced in the squaring up' of the south-east room and the insertion of 'a fine moulded plaster cornice against the arches across the hall'. (This last feature is not mentioned again by later observers; nor is the evidently late-eighteenthcentury chimneypiece discovered at that time.) (fn. 138) Macgregor does not mention the stone fireplace frieze in the east wall of the south-east room that later attracted some attention.
The principal change Macgregor made was to take the former bar-extension on the street front into the living accommodation, but curtail it on its eastern side to give access from the street to an external staircase serving the two upper flats. The chairman of the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association's Building Committee was full of praise for work that had 'preserved the beautiful old lines and the distinction and character of a very well-found building which has seen a lot of life, and which now has an honourable future before it'. (fn. 139) Eagle House, as it was called (having the sign of an eagle, perhaps re-used, positioned in the centre of its street frontage), was opened in 1933 and remained until 1971. (fn. 140)
In 1964 the question arose of the demolition of Nos 151 and 151A for the absorption of their site into the LCC's St. Matthias housing estate (see page 176). (fn. 141) The GLC bought the property for £6,000 in 1969 and in 1971 the Department of the Environment granted a Listed Building Consent to demolish No. 151. The items from the interior thought to be of historic interest had already been removed to the London Museum. These were the 'Tudor' chimneypiece, a seventeenth-century fireplace with carved stone frieze from the ground-floor south-east room, and a sixteenth-century panelled wooden partition from the ground floor.
The date of the building continued to be under discussion. An important element in this respect was the 'Tudor' chimneypiece, which was dated about 1535, partly by comparison with a chimneypiece formerly at Brooke House, Hackney, and has since been recognized as even closer to — indeed virtually identical with — one still in place at Sutton House, also in Hackney, a house tentatively dated about 1525. (fn. 142) The chimneypiece at No. 151 was, however, thought to be possibly an 'importation' because it 'showed considerable signs of later makeup' and had perhaps 'been originally used elsewhere'. Nevertheless, the GLC's Historic Buildings Division considered the building to be earlier than the seventeenth century, chiefly because of the quality and substance of the close-studding and of the rear jetty revealed during dismantling in 1972 (plate 5d). At the same time the building's compact, double-pile plan, which had earlier been taken to indicate a mid-seventeenth-century date, was no longer thought to be inconsistent with a preseventeenth-century one. (fn. 143)
When the question of the demolition of No. 151 had been raised there had been little opposition. Opinion in the Historic Buildings Division was that, being 'sited in a factory yard, and ruthlessly mutilated', it did not 'come near the standard necessary for a Preservation Order'. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government had invited the LCC to consider incorporating the building into its housing scheme, but the Historic Buildings SubCommittee of the GLC inspected the house and, with the support of the Tower Hamlets Borough Council, confirmed the intention to demolish it. However, in November 1971, when tenders were out for the demolition work, the East London History Society told the GLC that it was possible that the 'basement' of the house was late medieval. At the same time the Tower Hamlets Society made an urgent appeal to the Inner London Education Authority to intervene to save the house for use as 'a small historical and education centre'. This was because 'at the last moment' the house had been discovered, the Society said, to be early Tudor over a medieval cellar. Also in November the Tower Hamlets Borough Council informed the GLC that it would like the cellar to be preserved — a suggestion welcomed by the GLC's Historic Buildings Division — but the idea was abandoned because of the extra cost involved, and the appeals to save the building itself were of no avail.
Indeed, the speed of demolition took the officers of the Historic Buildings Division by surprise and they were unable to complete the survey which they had undertaken 'as a piece of positive recording within the aims of the Survey of London and to fulfil the Council's undertaking to the National Monuments Record'. When they hurried to the site on the afternoon of 29 February they found the building largely demolished and they had to content themselves with taking more photographs. (fn. 144)
The former brewery building at No. 151A was pulled down at the same time. The older part, brick-built under a timber roof with round- or segmental-headed arches and openings, and with thin iron columns on the ground floor, may have been basically the original early nineteenth-century building. Its flat-pilastered front to the yard under a wide shallow pediment had been rendered and otherwise altered, perhaps in 1936 (plate 5a). (fn. 145)
Bethel Baptist Chapel (demolished).
This chapel was built in 1795 for a congregation 'under the denomination of Independents and Baptists' (fn. 146) and is already shown as a meeting-house on maps of 1802 and 1807. (fn. 147) By 1884 it was a member of the Metropolitan Strict Baptist Association, the Baptist Handbook giving its foundation date as 1855: (fn. 148) this presumably refers to some re-establishment, and it is in 1855 that the chapel made its appearance in the Post Office Directory. Enlargement was required in 1857, when the front was rebuilt further forward. (fn. 149) The chapel was then one house westward from England Row but in 1866 that narrow street was widened (fn. 150) (subsequently becoming the southern end of Poplar Bath Street) and the chapel was henceforward on a corner, taking the number 163 Poplar High Street. A new schoolroom was opened in 1873. (fn. 151) The church was 'extremely weak', but 'not extinct', in 1882, numbers declined still more in the 1890s and the chapel closed in 1908. (fn. 152) The building was used as a cinema c1912– 17, (fn. 153) then for industrial purposes, (fn. 154) and was demolished in or after 1956. (fn. 155)
Nos 165–177 (demolished).
In 1692 this area was part of a larger property extending west of England Row held under the manor of Stepney by a City goldsmith, Abraham Chambers. One of the two buildings on this frontage was the Black Boy and a lane known as Black Boy Lane (later England Row) led north to Black Boy Field. (fn. 156) In 1718 the other building was probably occupied and perhaps owned by a Thomas Arnold, who also owned property south of the High Street. In his will made that year, he described himself as an inhabitant of Poplar and a citizen and carpenter of London. (fn. 157) His designation would not necessarily have meant he was a working carpenter, and his will mentions arrears of salary owed to him by King William, Queen Anne or King George 'as Yeoman of the Guard or otherwaies'. But after his death in 1718 or 1719 his cousin described him as 'house carpenter', (fn. 158) so he may have built the small houses westward of his own that seem to appear in the ratebooks in 1715–16. His family connections were evidently in Lincolnshire, his benefactions being to relations called Andleby in Lincoln and London.
By 1772 the small houses and probably Arnold's own were in the hands, apparently free from manorial tenure, of Benjamin Hager, (fn. 159) a local carpenter and undertaker. Rebuilding was heralded in 1774, when his widow sold them to Thomas Tourll of Limehouse, a timber merchant. (fn. 160) A witness to the deed of sale was William Petty of Stepney, a carpenter, who a few weeks later, with another carpenter of the same place, Thomas Dodson, took a 99-year building lease of this area (that is, between England Row and the Green Dragon at No. 179, with a depth of some 125ft), from Tourll and his trustee, a gentleman of Maidstone named Wildes. A peppercorn term of one year from Midsummer 1774 was allowed them, the ground rents thereafter totalling £30 from the three pieces of ground into which the lease was divided. (fn. 161) Nineteen brick houses were said to be under construction then — seven facing Poplar High Street (Nos 165–177, with frontages averaging a little under 15ft), six fronting Black Boy Lane (averaging 11ft 6in. square) and six at the rear facing Black Boy Field (averaging 14ft 6in. in width). (fn. 162)
Petty and Dodson, who in the previous year had been building in Greenfield Street, Stepney, (fn. 163) promptly mortgaged the lease back to Tourll as security for the payment of his bills to them for 'timber and other goods'. (fn. 164) When this mortgage was redeemed in the following year one of the witnesses was a surveyor, William Boyd of East Greenwich. (fn. 165)
Early in 1775 the 19 small houses, of the fourth class under the Building Acts, were registered by the district surveyor, John Powsey, who himself lived in the High Street. (fn. 166) Further mortgages were made, two being to Anne Wildes of Maidstone, widow, of which one, made in 1775, was to secure £1,200. (fn. 167) These mortgages presumably became absolute, as Anne Wildes is found selling one of the houses in the High Street (to a shipwright and a Rotherhithe caulker) in 1785. (fn. 168) The rearward houses had been sold in 1776 to a Shoreditch watchmaker and his trustee — a 'gentleman' in Throgmorton Street, John Sherwood, (fn. 169) who is perhaps identifiable with the magistrate of that name before whom Powsey as district surveyor had registered the building of the houses in the previous year. (fn. 170) Here at least the long building lease and associated procedures characteristic of builders' undertakings in prosperous residential London were in operation to produce what must have been quite humble houses.
Most of the rearward little houses were probably rebuilt in 1852–4 by a builder in the East India Dock Road. (fn. 171)
No. 179, The Green Dragon public house (demolished).
The Green Dragon tavern existed here under that name in 1690. (fn. 172) By 1763 it had been divided into two, the smaller western part being in other occupation. (fn. 173) In 1772 the licensee sold off the western part to a farrier who lived there. (fn. 174) With the arrival of the railway immediately eastward of the Green Dragon it became the property of the East and West India Dock and Birmingham Junction Railway, and was sometimes known as the Green Dragon Railway, Tavern. (fn. 175). The house was partly rebuilt for the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1928 (fn. 176) — presumably for a change of use, as the Green Dragon disappeared from the Post Office Directory in 1925–6.
Collins Place, between Nos 191 and 193 (demolished).
Little can be said of Collins Place although a name-plaque contemporary with its building and reading COLLINS'S Place 1804 has been reset on the exterior of Collins House (see page 97). Its creator, in that year, (fn. 177) was probably the William Collins, victualler, who was the tenant of the Green Dragon and in 1811 acquired ground very near Collins Place, (fn. 178) but the circumstances are not known. In 1855 No. 193 Poplar High Street, adjacent to the entrance to Collins Place, was owned by a Mary Major and Collins Place itself by William Collins's nephew Richard Collins. (fn. 179) A few years earlier the latter had owned houses on the south side of the street intermingled with those of a Mrs Frances Major, so perhaps there was a connected ownership here also (see page. 90).
The five houses, all on the east side of the court, had an average width of 14ft (plate 10d; fig. 16). Three of them were three full storeys high and the others two. The back yards were very small. The houses themselves were not abnormally small by Poplar standards or, in 1881, overcrowded, averaging four persons a house. (fn. 180) In 1882, however, the Poplar Medical Officer of Health reported to the Poplar Board of Works that they were unfit for human habitation. The owner, who lived in Dalston, replied 'that owing to the disgusting and disgraceful sights that were nightly enacted there he could not keep a respectable tenant'. (fn. 181) The houses continued in occupation and were demolished only in 1935, being at the same time enfranchised from the manor of Stepney. (fn. 182) Their latterday appearance, with plain fronts of decaying plaster punctuated by widely spaced window— and dooropenings, pantiled roofs, and big, square, brick chimneystacks, had a simplicity not altogether unappealing to a plainer taste.
Nelson's Court and Nos 197–201 (demolished).
Nelson's Court, one of the bad slums off the High Street, was built about 1806, when its proprietor was a James Harbottle. (fn. 183) It was a poor tribute to the victor of Trafalgar. It was a block of six back-to-back two-storey houses, each about 12ft by 11ft, (fn. 184) tucked away behind a narrow entrance from the street. Until 1855 it had only an open brick drain into the street, causing difficulty for the builder of a new house at No. 197 in 1851 (Henry Clarke of the East India Dock Road) (fn. 185) who had to drain it into a cesspool: as he explained to the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers on behalf of the owner (a staymaker) 'we doo not know of any other drainage to the said house'. (fn. 186) This was remedied in 1855 (fn. 187) but there continued to be no proper water supply in the court. The six houses were served by two outside privies. The owner in 1855 was Robert Goymour, a beerseller in the West India Dock Road. (fn. 188) It was, as a newspaper said in 1861, 'a wretched place … inhabited almost solely by poor and industrious Irish'. The occasion of the comment was the deaths of three members of an Irish family of four sleeping in one bed on a December night when their home — evidently some kind of lean-to — fell in on them. (fn. 189) The ratepayer in 1864 was a local builder, George Lester. (fn. 190) In 1870 a long report was made on the houses to the Poplar Board of Works, describing their dampness and decay. In default of a response from the owner, called Polley, who lived at Gravesend, they were closed and ordered to be pulled down. (fn. 191) The Oylers of Spitalfields Market, who were buying properties nearby, then stepped in and had Nos 199 and 201 Poplar High Street rebuilt in 1880 by a builder, Job Bell of the Mile End Road, to designs by an architect in Whitechapel, John Hudson (c1822–97), but their attempt to resurrect Nelson's Court as four small, hemmed-in houses was frustrated. (fn. 192)
Nos 203–207 and St James's Chambers (demolished).
From the 1750s to the 1870s this site was mainly occupied by a house about 38ft wide, owned for most of the time by a family named Topping, who lived there until 1807. The hamlet's apothecary then found it sufficiently salubrious to live there until 1820, when it was taken for dissenting worship. (fn. 193) Latterly it was numbered 203–205 and occupied by an auctioneer. (fn. 194) Eastward had been two timber-framed houses that were probably part of the hamlet's workhouse in the late 1730s (fig. 17). These were demolished in 1832 and replaced by a single house (No. 207). (fn. 195)
By 1879 the site was owned by T. and G. Oyler, lodging-house keepers in Wapping, but described as of Spitalfields Market, where the family sold fruit. (fn. 196) In that year they had a common lodging house built here in two large blocks. Called St James's Chambers, the establishment housed no fewer than 420 lodgers, in big dormitories. (fn. 197) The builder was the Job Bell who built Nos 199 and 201 for the Oylers, (fn. 198) but it is not known if the architect was John Hudson (see above).
In 1933 the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association bought the empty building for £5,500 and converted it into 31 self-contained flats let at low rents to 'the poorer and rougher people'. (fn. 199) The flats housed 154 persons. (fn. 200) They were the work of the SPAB's architect, J. E. M. Macgregor. (fn. 201) Like his work at No. 151, it was well contrived in planning, although when confronted as he was here by the daunting semi-industrial 'style' of 1879 he resorted to some 'period' dressing. A small building at the back of the site, for example, erected as a lumber house in 1883, was equipped with canted bays and an external sweep staircase, while the yard was given geometric paving. (fn. 202) The estimated cost of the conversions was £6,000. (fn. 203) The buildings were very badly damaged in 1944, (fn. 204) and after purchase of the site by Poplar Borough Council, the remains were demolished for the building of Carmichael House in 1953–4 (see page 196). (fn. 205)
No. 209 (The Red Lion, sometime Old Commodore, public house) and No. 211, and Red Lion (later Commodore) Court (demolished).
The Red Lion at No. 209 was until 1832 a timber-framed building, the groundfloor plan of which is shown in fig. 17 as it was (doubtless altered during a chequered career) in 1808. (fn. 206) It had been a tavern under this name since about 1745. (fn. 207) Rather like another old building and tavern, the Talbot at No. 108, the Red Lion (and the two houses to its west) had previously been used by the hamlet as its workhouse. It was acquired from a Clement Paillet by the hamlet on lease in 1735, (fn. 208) but perhaps only opened in 1738 when '6 rooms of the hamlet' located in 1731–7 at No. 270 on the south side of the street were given up. (fn. 209) (fn. 4)
After 1745 the tavern and workhouse appear to have divided the site between them in some way, but in 1757, at the end of a 21-year lease, the workhouse moved to the other side of the street, further west. (fn. 210)
The Red Lion was rebuilt by its lessee and licensee John Webb in about 1832, with another house (No. 207) to the west where the two smaller houses had stood. (fn. 211) A covered skittle alley was made at the rear. (fn. 212) From about 1844 until 1913–14 it was known as the Old Commodore. (fn. 213) In 1880 local builders did the usual job of removing partitions and inserting iron girders to support the upper floors, (fn. 214) and the 'concert room' was altered by a Stepney builder, J. A. Widdicombe, for the London and Burton Brewery in 1891. (fn. 215) (The Old Commodore had had a music licence since at least the 1850s.) (fn. 216) The Red Lion was demolished for the erection of Commodore House in 1934–5.
This demolition was in large part occasioned by the lamentable state of the properties to the rear of the Red Lion. In 1807 the licensee, George Nunn, its occupant since 1795–6, (fn. 217) took a 12-year lease of the tavern and its hinterland. On the strength of this short tenure he built four houses to commence a court tucked in behind the tavern and called Red Lion Court (later Commodore Court) (fig. 16). (fn. 218) By the following year, when the Paillets renewed his lease of the whole for another 21 years at £65 per annum, he had built two more houses, (fn. 219) and by 1821 there were four houses on the east side and six smaller ones on the west side, and by 1827 there were six houses on each side. (fn. 220) (fn. 5)
In 1846 a local builder, John Lester, took a 50-year sub-lease of the 12 houses at £17 10s per annum from the brewers who held the Red Lion, and was the ratepayer until about 1864: (fn. 221) perhaps he was related to the George Lester who was then the ratepayer for Nelson's Court nearby. That Lester should have troubled to rebuild the houses seems unlikely, but the appearance of the houses at least on the eastern side in the 1930s suggests a later date than 1808–32.
These houses, on the east side of the court, were not the worst of Poplar's back-court houses. They were about 15ft wide and they had two rooms to a floor: after a little more ground was acquired they had sufficient back gardens. (fn. 222) In 1871 they averaged five occupants each. (fn. 223) Their appearance, at least in their last days, can be seen in photographs of about 1934 (plate 10a, 10b). (fn. 224) On the west side of the court the houses had fronts of only about 12ft and house-depths of 14ft 9in.: (fn. 225) their condition at the time of demolition is shown on plate 10c. (fn. 226) They had small front yards or gardens, but in 1867 the back yards of the northernmost four were almost entirely covered by deep lean-tos. (fn. 227)
In the 1930s the party walls rose above the roofs (as they did at Collins Place). (fn. 228) By then the houses on both sides had what are evidently ventilation-grilles placed low in the front walls but above floor level.
The freehold, like that of the Red Lion, continued in the heirs of the victualler who had bought it in 1821 — eventually a daughter married to a gentleman of Kentish Town. (fn. 229) But the descent of this property was disputed (fn. 230) (perhaps explaining why there seem to be records of overlapping leases), and in the 1870s a gentleman of Dorset, a Baptist minister in Hampshire, a naphtha manufacturer of Walworth and a colourman of Houndsditch all claimed a lien on the court, and No. 211 in the High Street at its entrance. By 1873 or 1874 the court was being disposed of separately from the tavern. (fn. 231)
The landlord's controls were perhaps relaxing. A sublease for some 20 years in 1873 (but possibly echoing a lease of 1846) contained full provisions to prohibit noxious trades and to secure the owner's rights in regard to inspection and repair. (fn. 232) But when the court and No. 211 were leased for 21 years to a neighbouring cement manufacturer in 1874, the terms acknowledged a distinction between the house in the High Street and those in the court. The former was to be held under the usual specific requirements but 'having regard to the nature of the property in the occupation of the tenants in Red Lion Court' the lessee was there given only the less onerous obligation to keep the court in 'good tenantable repair'. (fn. 233)
In 1881 the ten occupied houses in the court were not, statistically, overcrowded at an average of four persons per house, although two, including the tiny No. 9, had eight occupants each. The heads of households were five labourers, two dressmakers, one journeyman tailor, one lighterman, one washerwoman and one widow. (fn. 234)
In 1889 the freeholder, a widow in Bedford Park, sold the court and No. 211 to T. P. Oyler, a publican in Southwark and obviously closely related to, if not identifiable with, one of the Oylers who owned the lodging house next door at Nos 203–207 (see page 72). She lent him £400 of the (unstated) purchase price on mortgage. By 1904 they had married and he had sold the property back to her. (fn. 235) In 1933 Commodore Court (and No. 211) were in the same ownership as the lodging house at Nos 203–207. (fn. 236) By 1934 Poplar Borough Council had no doubt how bad Commodore Court was, and pulled it down.
No. 225 (demolished).
This house was probably built about 1808–9 for F. H. Beall, a surgeon, who lived here until 1836. (fn. 237) In 1821 the parish engaged in negotiations with a T. G. Smith, 'Secretary of the Equivalent Company', (fn. 238) of Dowgate Hill, the copyhold owner of a site probably identifiable as this one. The purpose was to induce him to set back the frontage. In the end the parish had to be content to see him 'round off the corner', which perhaps gives the date of the grave Doric portal to the surgeon's premises here (plate 7c). If so, it may have been erected under surveillance by Charles Hollis, the architect of All Saints' church, who had had a hand in the plans for a more extensive setting back. (fn. 239)
Nos 227–233 (demolished).
These four uniform houses with shops were built in 1829 (fn. 240) on the property of F. H. Beall, the surgeon at No. 225, but at the initiative of Hugh McIntosh, contractor to the East India Dock Company, to whom Beall sold them (or perhaps sold them back) for an unknown sum in 1831. (fn. 241) They were thus an instance of a building operation being effected by means other than under the usual building lease. There were shops here from the beginning. (fn. 242) In 1882 the representatives of the McIntoshes, then large landed proprietors at Romford, sold three of the four houses and shops for £1,700 to a meat salesman of Aldgate. (fn. 243)
The Sun and Sawyers public house at No. 241 (demolished).
The Sun and Sawyers was a tavern from 1749 or 1750, called the Rising Sun until that name was transferred to No. 270 in the 1760s, but little is known of it. A large coffee room with 'club room' above was erected in 1861, (fn. 244) and further additions were made in 1885 and 1891. (fn. 245) From 1883 until 1915–16 it was known as the Exchequer Tavern. (fn. 246) It was demolished after the Second World War.
Behind the Sun and Sawyers was Sun and Sawyers Court, abutting northward on Cotton Street. In 1811 its site was acquired by Richard Meek of St James's, the owner of the Sun and Sawyers, (fn. 247) and it is shown on Horwood's map of 1813, opening southward via the Sun and Sawyers to the High Street. Although it was one of those courts built on the hinterland of a public house, it was not on the actual curtilage, which itself accommodated two recently built cottages in 1810. (fn. 248)
Nos 261–273 and Angel Court (demolished).
Emslie's view of the High Street of about 1877 shows a few of the houses west of the Queen's Music Hall, called by him the Albion Theatre (plate 3a). They included the Little George beerhouse at No. 273, a plain three-storey house perhaps still basically that erected in 1776 for a shipwright. (fn. 249)
Immediately east of No. 273 was a narrow entrance to Angel Court or Alley, which appears in the ratebooks as 'Jackson's Court' in 1806–7, with three tiny houses evidently on its east side behind No. 275. Each about 10ft by 12ft overall, they were built on copyhold land of the manor of Stepney, probably by a Joseph Jackson. (fn. 250) (fn. 6) In 1867 the beerseller at No. 273, George Hincks, turned a two-storey building on the west side of the court behind his shop, containing a skittle-alley and workshop, into two 'dwelling houses', and by 'excavating the ground and under-pinning the walls had formed three stories to each'. His failure to notify the district surveyor brought him before the Thames Street magistrate, who fined him £5, remarking 'it was a bad case'. (fn. 252) The Poplar Board of Works, finding the houses undrained and unfit for use, ordered their demolition in May 1867, but despite Hincks's assurances, they were in use again in the following February, although they had probably gone by 1871. (fn. 253) The cottages on the east side of the court, occupied in 1871 by a dock labourer, a lighterman and the latter's out-of-work son, were swept away by the music hall built in 1873 to embrace the site of No. 275 and its rear premises.
The Queen's Theatre, Nos 275–279 (demolished).
The first music hall here was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain's Office in 1865. Until the mid-1860s the performances were given in a separate hall to the rear of the Queen's Arms public house. There had been an inn, previously called the Angel, on the site from 1765. (fn. 254) In 1863, Frederick Abrahams, a theatrical impresario, took over the ownership of the Queen's Arms. His family was to be connected with the theatre for nearly a century. Soon after the change in ownership, in 1867 plans for alterations of the premises, then called the Oriental, were drawn up by J. H. Good, the District Surveyor of Poplar, working here in a private capacity. Even at this early date the stage was large, measuring 30ft by 20ft. There were stalls on the ground floor, a balcony and a single private box. (fn. 255)
The Oriental closed in mid-September 1873 and was 'demolished to make room for the new and larger theatre' which was to be erected on the site. (fn. 256) The New Albion, as it was renamed, was built by Charles Wheeler of Croydon, to the designs of Jethro T. Robinson (d. 1878), the surveyor to the Lord Chamberlain. (fn. 257) It was at this date that the hall and public house were partially amalgamated, but essentially the building remained a 'pub' theatre until the 1920s. At least five cottages in Angel Court and various yards and sheds were cleared. The theatre was enlarged to almost double its previous size and an extra tier was built. From Christmas Eve 1873, the New Albion could accommodate (albeit rather uncomfortably) 3,100 customers in the pit, ground-floor stalls, first circle, gallery and eight private boxes. (fn. 258) In front of the stage was a chairman's table, in true music hall tradition.
A sketch of the front elevation dated 1873 shows the elaborate 'Moorish' style façade (fig. 18). The slim columns, elaborate ironwork and much ornamental decoration were typical of Robinson's style, and no doubt emphasized the 'exotic' nature of the new theatre. (fn. 259) Robinson's designs for the Royal Alexander Theatre at Camden Town (1873) and New Grecian Theatre in City Road (1877) were in a similar style. The interior decorations of the new Poplar theatre were described as 'elegant and pleasing' by the Era and were the work of Messrs Pashley, Newton & Company of Red Lion Square.
There appears to have been a decline in the fortune of the theatre during the late 1880s and early 1890s, possibly due to the difficult economic conditions and the dockers' strike of 1889. The clientele had always consisted of local residents, workers and visiting seamen, and in times of hardship in the East End the theatre was inevitably one of the first casualties. By the mid-1890s new proprietors, Thomas Flower Maltby, Harry Wickes and Dalby Williams & Company (a syndicate of local men), had brought in a new manager, Fred D. Harris, who improved the standards of the variety bills, and restored the fortunes of the theatre. (fn. 260)
In 1897 the LCC demanded considerable alterations to the Queen's, as the theatre was now called, mainly related to safety: the widening of entrances, provision of additional exits and removal of wooden linings. The work was extensive, very expensive and involved the closure of the theatre for several months. In 1899 the Music Hall and Theatre Review criticized the LCC's policy on the construction of music halls and the arrangements of the exits has become something of a fad with the council. Their ideas are easily met in the case of new buildings, but very difficult to comply with where buildings which have been erected some years are concerned. It is not always a wise or useful thing to try and obliterate the intentions of the original architect of a building by making his plans conform to arbitrary red tape. (fn. 261)
The alterations of 1897–8 included the construction of a roll-up asbestos fireproof curtain and fire sprinklers. Both were designed by the architect Bertie Crewe (d. 1937), who also renovated the sunlights designed by Robinson. The façade of the building was reconstructed and the coat of arms which had been in the centre of the building was incorporated into the pediment above the entrance at one end. (fn. 262)
The theatre was sold in 1905, and a plan of the same date shows quite clearly how the entrances to the theatre were squeezed between two public houses; the Queen's Arms and the Little George (fig. 19). (fn. 263) The plan also shows the famous side bar where the public and performers could mingle. The stage measured 38ft by 58ft and the hall could accommodate and audience of 2,000. There was a large working cellar beneath the stage, where gas tanks for limelight were stored. (fn. 264)
The Queen's Theatre of Varieties reopened in April 1905 with a bill 'suited to this humble but none the less discriminating public'. There were two shows a day and benefits for local charities and individuals were frequently undertaken. In 1908 a series of 'sacred' entertainments upon Sunday evenings commenced, containing musical contributions and pictures upon Biblical subjects shown on the bioscope.
During 1921–2 Bertie Crewe altered the internal arrangement of the circle, rebuilding the ceiling and completely altering the front of house. He incorporated the area that had previously been used as public houses into the theatre and created a new box office, bar, offices and a new unified frontage to the theatre (plate 11a).
Further internal alterations were carried out in 1937 by Thomas Braddock (1887–1976). They included an extension at the rear of the theatre for use as a cinema projection room. Unlike many other suburban theatres, the Queen's continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s as a place of live entertainment, never becoming simply a cinema. During the Second World War the theatre was bombed twice. During the 1940s a neon sign was erected and the building's façade above the first floor level was stripped of all ornamentation (plate 11b).
In 1950 the interior of the Queen's was described in The Times as 'tall and seemingly a little narrow on account of its great height … [it] reminds one strangely of some French or Italian theatre with its two tiers of boxes rising giddily to the roof and its three pillared horseshoes of gilding and red plush'. (fn. 265) By 1956 the theatre was closed, and in 1958 J. Baxter Somerville, owner of the Lyric, Hammersmith, and some provincial theatres, bought the Queen's for £15,000, planning to reopen it within 18 months as 'a West End theatre in the East End'. But such dreams were not realized and the fabric began to decay. By 1964 the LCC had acquired the site for £9,750 and decided to use it for 25 houses, having concluded that future use of the building as a theatre 'was no longer practicable'. (fn. 266)
Beaumont Court, between Nos 289 and 291 (demolished).
These three houses, approached by a narrow, crooked way between Nos 289 and 291, measured about 13ft 9in. in front and about 9ft 6in. in depth, and were in effect back-to-backs, being built directly up against a back wall. They were perhaps built by the occupant of No. 291 in 1814–27. (fn. 267)
In 1881 two of the three houses were occupied, one by four persons and the other by eight (the latter consisting of a widow, her married son, an unmarried daughter and five grandsons). The three working men in the houses were labourers or porters and the one working woman was a factory hand. All 12 inhabitants were born in Poplar. (fn. 268) In 1883 Poplar Board of Works obtained the closure of the houses as unfit for habitation, commenting on 'the wretchedness, squalor and degradation' of such places as this. (fn. 269)