Poplar New Town: Randall's, Wade and Bell estates

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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'Poplar New Town: Randall's, Wade and Bell estates', Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994), pp. 207-211. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp207-211 [accessed 24 June 2024].

. "Poplar New Town: Randall's, Wade and Bell estates", in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994) 207-211. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp207-211.

. "Poplar New Town: Randall's, Wade and Bell estates", Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994). 207-211. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp207-211.

In this section

Randall's Estate

Named after its developer, Onesiphorus Randall, a local building speculator, the nineteenth-century development known as the Randall's Estate was centred on a sevenacre field, the Grove, which lay to the east of Upper North Street. To the east of the Grove ran the ancient Black Ditch or common sewer, which formed the eastern boundary of the estate, while its western one was along Upper North Street. Those boundaries merged at the north and south to form a lozenge-shaped area developed by Randall during the early 1850s (fig. 71).

Some development of the area had taken place towards the end of the eighteenth century. In December 1778 George Darby constructed 'an erection for a pot ash manufactory' on the northern portion of the Grove. (fn. 1) Potash or pearl ash was the main potassium compound in commerce until the 1860s. It was extracted from wood. plant and seaweed ashes, and was used in the manufacture of soap and glass. (fn. 2)

There were also two detached houses which pre-dated the mid-nineteenth-century development, one of which was known as the Hôtel de Ville Villa. These stood on the northern triangular tip of the estate between Randall (later Augusta) Street and Grove (later Bygrove) Street. Both were demolished during the 1850s. (fn. 3)

The southern section of the land on which the estate was built was held as copyhold of the manor of Stepney by the Smith family. In 1847 Richard Smith, junior, leased the land to Onesiphorus Randall, having obtained a licence to demise the land for 90 years from Midsummer 1846. (fn. 4)

Smith had nurtured ambitions to develop the area for speculative housing during the 1840s. John Morris, the local architect and surveyor, drew up a preliminary estate plan which laid out building lots and plot numbers. (fn. 5) When Randall began building the estate in 1848 he followed that basic street layout, but introduced a new and important element into the scheme, the inclusion of a retail market at the centre of the estate. The northern, smaller, section of the estate was acquired from Richard Redfearn Goodlad in 1850. (fn. 6)

The splendidly named Onesiphorus Randall was one of the many publicans in early nineteenth-century London who were involved in property speculation. A native of Holt in Norfolk, Randall settled in Poplar in 1819, and from 1820 until 1831 he was the licensee of the Silver Lion in Pennyfields, and subsequently of the Globe Tavern, Blackwall, until 1835. (fn. 7) From the mid1820s he became involved in building speculation in the East End, and started to amass a fortune from the development of cheap houses for rent to the lower middle classes. His first scheme was begun in 1827 when he took a lease of land belonging to Elizabeth Chrisp Willis to the south of East India Dock Road. (fn. 8) He then built a terrace of four houses, Nos 179–185 (odd) East India Dock Road, known from 1832 as Randall's Terrace, occupying No. 185 himself from 1831 until his death at the age of 75 in 1873 (see page 142). During the 1840s he continued to build modest houses in the adjacent parish of St Leonard's, Bromley.

A most eccentric man, he certainly lived up to the meaning of his name: 'bringing profit'. In later life he returned to Norfolk, where he purchased Woodlands, a mid-Victorian house in Cromer, which he extended, and decorated with stone pineapples. It now forms part of Gresham's School. Near the beach at Salthouse he built a folly with an enormous door on the lower floor, so that he could drive right through the house with a horse and carriage. (fn. 9) At the time of his death, his income from leasehold houses in London amounted to £3,000 per annum. (fn. 10) His young son, also Onesiphorus, inherited the estate after a protracted Chancery case, and he died in 1913.

Randall's estate was developed in the usual manner by means of building leases, most of them on terms of 80 years. A variety of local builders and craftsmen were involved in the construction of the estate. Among the most important were George Lester, carpenter (bankrupt by 1858); James Harpley Leake, joiner, who later ran the estate office for Randall; John Banbury and William Wickes, both bricklayers of Poplar; and Henry Clarke, a local builder. (fn. 11) In 1908 the development comprised 188 dwelling houses, 42 shops and houses, 49 lock-up shops in Randall's Market and a large premises formerly known as the Market Tavern. (fn. 12)

Development took place during the period 1848–57. (fn. 13) The standards of the new buildings were criticized from the outset. In 1850 Randall was accused by the district surveyor of building a fourth-rate dwelling house in Market Street of unsound materials and not in a manner to produce solid work, and on insufficient foundations. One wall was said to contain a large number of brickbats, and Randall was ordered to rebuild it. (fn. 14) In 1857, the Building News stated that 'a great number of new streets are in progress, but we regret to observe that they are anything but what they ought to be as regards design, materials and workmanship, being run up in a very paltry style'. (fn. 15)

The southern portion of the estate was built first, with the market in the centre, followed by the streets that ran on an east-west axis. The three streets that ran northsouth, Upper North Street, Augusta Street and Grove Street, were constructed over a longer period. The whole estate was completed by the end of 1857. (fn. 16) Grove (later Bygrove) Street was developed between 1849 and 1855, with 21 houses erected in 1851 (Plate 38d, ). (fn. 17) Richard (later Ricardo) Street was built between 1851 and 1853, and Randall (later Augusta) Street between 1848 and 1854, with 24 houses constructed in 1850. John (later Grundy) Street was an earlier development, being completed by 1851. On the south side of John Street was a terrace of 11 houses, known as King's Terrace, which was built in 1850–1 and named after Thomas Henry King, an architect and civil engineer of Spitalfields, who leased the site from Randall in 1851. (fn. 18) Market Street was built in 1850–5, and included a terrace of nine twostorey houses.

All the houses were similar in style and building materials. They were built of greyish brick, two storeys high and enriched with compo dressings which the Building News thought 'preposterously too heavy in their proportions'. (fn. 19) Towards the end of the nineteenth century the streets were described as 'mostly straight dull rows of two-storied houses with a frontage of from 14 16 feet containing 6–8 rooms … most of them rise straight from the payement in their grimy ugliness. There is generally a back yard of varying size and capabilities behind'. (fn. 20) Booth's investigators found that gardens did not flourish in this part of Poplar.

During the 1880s No. 77 Augusta Street became a mission hall for the London City Mission and the ground floor was extended into the rear yard to provide a meeting hall capable of seating 100 people. (fn. 21) At the northernmost corner of the estate, No. 116 Upper North Street was an extensive sawmill. First constructed in 1851, it was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century and was described in the 1910s as an extensive works with buildings of good order, constructed in steel. (fn. 22)

On the north side of Market Street was a terrace of nine houses. The three houses at the centre of the terrace were built beneath a high pediment on which a market clock was placed. Both the pediment and the cupola of unusual shape on the roof were Classical in design. The northern vista of Randall's Market was closed by these houses (Plate 38a).

Randall's Market

At the centre of the development was Randall's Market, much of which was built during 1851–2. (fn. 23) It consisted of a north-south street of lock-up shops with a circus in the middle, where it was bisected by an east-west cross street. It was an ambitious scheme to establish a shopping area north of East India Dock Road. Costermongers, who were felt to lower the social standing of the area, were prohibited from trading there and after about 1870 the market failed. In 1913 it was said that Randall had made a great mistake in his attempt to establish the market, for instead of driving the costermongers away he seems to have brought them nearer, 'for although High Street has had its days as a marketing centre, its place has been taken by Chrisp Street, with its scores of costermongers and its reputation as one of the cheapest middle-class markets in the whole of London'. (fn. 24)

In some of the early deeds the scheme is called Trinity Market, no doubt on account of its close proximity to the recently built Trinity Chapel in East India Dock Road. (fn. 25) But this name was never adopted, and from its first appearance in the Post Office Directories, in 1854, it is called Randall's Market.

The architect of the market is unknown. It was showy in style and constructed of cheap materials. An ugly cement drinking-fountain was erected at the centre of the market and was surrounded by a punched-metal and glass canopy. Above the fountain was a gas lamp supported by dolphin brackets. The fountain was said to be in a state of rapid decomposition as early as 1857. (fn. 26) Despite its architectural pretension, it was a market in a very humble area (Plate 38a).

The shops were a series of lock-ups with frontages of 14ft 6in. and depths of 15ft. At the front of each shop were double-doors and a facade constructed mostly of wood. (fn. 27) The roof of the single-storey shops was finished with a low parapet decorated with pierced stucco-work and concrete statues. At a later date covered walkways with a colonnaded roof of corrugated-iron supported on rough iron uprights extended around the outside of the southern end of the market to afford protection for shoppers in bad weather. (fn. 28)

In the centre of the market, on the corner of Ricardo Street and Augusta Street, stood the Market House Tavern (Plate 38b). This was a three-storey brick building with rendered walls. Italianate in style, the Market House had pedimented and embellished windows and the Ricardo Street façade was decorated with a niche containing a statue of a woman. Above the basement cellars, the tavern contained one large bar on the ground floor, behind which was a small kitchen, a sitting room and a wine store. In an extension to the market side was a tap room. On the two floors above were a variety of rooms used as living accommodation. (fn. 29) When first leased in 1854 it was established as a temperance house, and the tenant Henry John Vousley was not permitted 'to carry on or permit to be carried on upon the premises … the business of a vintner, licensed victualler, Ale House Keeper or licensed retailer of beer, Cyder or spirits', on penalty of £300. (fn. 30) But by the 1880s the Market House was a Watney house selling the usual alcoholic beverages. By 1906 it was unoccupied and it remained in bad repair until the 1950s. (fn. 31)

The Post Office Directories indicate that there was a variety of retailers in the market in the early years, including a greengrocer, cheesemonger, linen-draper, butcher, haberdasher, grocer, tobacconist and coffeehouse owner, but by the 1870s a decline had started, with many empty shops and 12 lock-ups tenanted by furniture dealers. There were also a number of workshops within the lock-ups, including a birdcage maker and a lucifer-box manufacturer. (fn. 32)

In 1904 furniture dealers occupied 23 of the 61 shops. The only shops selling food were a greengrocer at No. 45 and a confectioner at No. 46, showing the failure of the market to attract the custom of the Poplar housewife. Most of the other shops had become manufacturing workshops or the offices and storerooms of builders and decorators. Chrisp Street had become the dominant shopping area of northern Poplar. Few reputable shopkeepers wanted to set up in business in Randall's Market after the arrival of the furniture men, who took more and more lock-ups for storage. Booth's investigators found that 'the storied shops are for the most part furniture shops, mostly belonging to one man; no one buying and no one there selling'. The streets about the market were more frequently 'walked' by prostitutes than local shoppers. (fn. 33)

By 1913 the market's fabric was in decay and soon afterwards the southern half of the market was closed and demolished for the construction of The Holy Child Roman Catholic School in Grundy Street. Designed by Thomas H. B. Scott of Finsbury Square, architect, and built by Messrs Sims of Stepney, the school was erected in 1926 and was blessed by Cardinal Bourne, the head of the Catholic Church in England, in June 1927. (fn. 34) It cost £14,000. The single-storey brick building had six classrooms and provided 264 places for infants and juniors. (fn. 35) In 1952 two plots of land adjoining the school were acquired at a cost of £2,580, and in 1956 the school was extended and remodelled. (fn. 36) In the late 1960s an assembly hall, kitchens and classrooms were constructed at the rear of the building. (fn. 37) The school became part of the Holy Family School in 1983, when the Grundy Street buildings were closed (see page 172). (fn. 38)

The northern section of the market was badly damaged during the Second World War and lay largely derelict with many shops vacant until the 1950s. In 1952 a few shops in the northern part of the market were still standing, but the lock-up shops were in a bad condition. (fn. 39) In 1954 regret was expressed that the market had deteriorated so badly, because it 'could have been preserved as an exceptional and interesting attraction'. The Market House Tavern, the shell of which had stood empty for many years, was recommended by a local resident as an ideal venue for a museum for the Borough of Poplar. (fn. 40) But it was too late to save the tavern or the market and the site was cleared for the Lansbury Estate (see Chapter IX).

The Wade Estate

Development of that part of the Wade estate north of East India Dock Road began following the division of the land among Mary Wade's five daughters in 1823, but continued until the 1860s. The estate formed a block of land with a frontage on East India Dock Road between the Black Ditch and Chrisp Street, and, including that part of it which lay in Bromley, covered 43½ acres. In 1823 it was divided into 20 parcels, each daughter being allotted four, giving them more or less equal shares. The allocation was made in such a way that each daughter had a frontage on East India Dock Road, but their other parcels were scattered. (fn. 41)

The early streets were named after the Wade daughters and their husbands: Sarah and William Kerbey, Sophia and James Duff, Susannah and James Grundy, Elizabeth Chrisp Willis, widow of William Willis, and Catherine Wade, who remained unmarried. Grundy Street was set out as the principal thoroughfare parallel to the East India Dock Road, and Kerbey and Chrisp Streets as the chief streets running from south to north.

During the 1820s the initial phase of development was confined mainly to the area between Grundy Street and the East India Dock Road, but even there gaps were left, with little building along Sarah (Sturry) and Kerbey Streets before the late 1830s. Nevertheless, by 1828 the eastern part of the area could be described as 'a very considerable neighbourhood … [with] many respectable persons'. (fn. 42) Building in that part of the district extended north of Grundy Street – along Tetley, Willis, Catherine and Greenfield Streets (mostly outside the parish) – by the 1840s. There was little development in the remainder of the area north of Grundy Street until further streets were set out in the 1840s and 1850s. That locality was described as 'fast increasing' in 1851, and building there continued during the mid-century boom, until the late 1860s. (fn. 43)

The setting out of the Wade estate was given some coherence by its surveyor, John Morris, although the way in which the parcels were allocated in 1823, and the fact that building took place over more than 40 years, resulted, almost inevitably, in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development. Although the area was chiefly covered with rows of two-storey brick terraces without forecourts, there were differences in the way that the daughters' parcels were set out. For example, the groups of small cottages in small courts on Sarah Kerbey's and Susannah Grundy's land on the north side of Grundy Street had no parallel elsewhere on the estate, and the pairs of semidetached houses erected in the mid-1850s in New (later Chilcot) Street, on part of Catherine Wade's allocation, were also unique in the area. Such uniformity of appearance as there was came in short terraces in the smaller streets, such as the houses on both sides of Ellerthorp Street, which was built by W. B. Tomlin on one of Sarah Duff's parcels between 1842 and 1847. (fn. 44)

The author Arthur Morrison (1863–1945) was born at No. 14 John Street in 1863, but it is not possible to determine whether that was the John Street which was an extension of Grundy Street and was amalgamated with it in 1865, or the one which in 1875 was renamed Rigden Street. His descriptions in 'A Street', originally published in Macmillan's Magazine in 1891, have been taken to refer to the area of the former Wade estate. (fn. 45) The street
is not pretty to look at. A dingy little brick house twenty feet high, with three square holes to carry the windows, and an oblong hole to carry the door, is not a pleasing object: and each side of this street is formed by two or three score of such houses in a row, with one front wall in common … Two families in a house is the general rule, for there are six rooms behind each set of holes. (fn. 46)

By the 1910s the area was generally regarded as a 'poor neighbourhood'. (fn. 47) The commercial premises were chiefly in Grundy Street, Chrisp Street – which were primarily shopping streets – and Kerbey Street. (fn. 48) The market in Chrisp Street was a considerable success in the late nineteenth century, attracting costermongers from their former pitches in the High Street. (fn. 49) There was a scattering of public houses on the estate, including the rather distinguished African Tavern in Grundy Street, built c1868 to the designs of the local architect Thomas Wayland Fletcher (1833–1901) (Plate 38c). (fn. 50) Some of the shops provided further variety, such as the 'Gothick' Nos 129 and 131 Grundy Street, which stood in a row of houses erected in the late 1820s and adjoined the rather more conventional Duke of Clarence public house of 1829 (Plate 37a). (fn. 51)

Heckford House,

Heckford House, Grundy Street, the first block of flats to be built by the Borough Council, is situated on the north side of the street on the site of Oriental Terrace – two rows of diminutive houses which by 1920 were derelict. Plans had been prepared by Harley Heckford, the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, by May 1920, and the building was completed in mid-1921. (fn. 52) Construction was by R. A. Reeder of Hackney and the final cost, including the £600 paid for the freehold, was £8,204. (fn. 53) Originally known simply as the Grundy Street Flats, Nos 45A–F, the name 'Heckford House' was not adopted until 1939. (fn. 54)

The three-storey block contains six three-bedroomed flats, arranged as two flats to a floor, leading off a central internal staircase (fig. 76). The main elevation to Grundy Street is symmetrical and in a Georgian style, which is clearly akin to LCC flats of the same period and also to the flats being built at the same time for the Borough Council by the Office of Works at Thermopylae Gate (see page 493). It is of yellow London stock brick, with a plinth and pilasters in red brick, the latter having artificial stone capitals. The round-headed front doorway has a keystone inscribed with the Borough Council's initials 'PBC', and there is also a stone set above the doorway inscribed 'Poplar Borough Council, 1920'. The second floor of the building is incorporated as an attic storey into the mansard slate roof and has large dormer windows with flat, corniced heads.

Figure 76:

Heckford House, Grundy Street, ground-floor plan asbuilt. Poplar Borough Council, 1921

Baptist (later Presbyterian) Church, Manor (later Plimsoll) Street (demolished)

This church was built in 1858–9 as 'Chapel and Sunday Schools' for a congregation of Baptists formed in Poplar in 1851. The architects and the builder were local – John Morris & Son of East India Dock Road and Joseph Salt of Mountague Place – but the erection of the building was noticed by the Builder and the Companion to the Almanac, and by the Building News because of a dispute between the Morrises and the District Surveyor over the thickness of their end walls (eventually agreed at twoand-a-half bricks). (fn. 55) It had a front of about 45ft, but was not correspondingly deep, being almost square on plan. (fn. 56) The building was meagrely Gothic, brick-faced, with a central doorway approached by steep steps, and a triplet of lancets above. (fn. 57) Inside it was without galleries and was open to a stained and varnished hammerbeam roof. Beneath the church, which accommodated 300 or 400 worshippers, were the schools. The cost was £1,200. (fn. 58)

In 1865 the building was taken over by a recently formed congregation of English Presbyterians. (fn. 59) It was bombed in 1940 and was demolished between 1966 and 1971. (fn. 60)

The Bell Estate

This estate, of 27 acres, lay mostly in Bromley. It was set out by John Morris on the instructions of James Bell, who had inherited the property in 1851. (fn. 61) The agreement between the two men was made in 1854, and the plans were completed by 1860. But there was some delay in implementing them and not all of the streets had been formed by 1862. (fn. 62) The estate was built up during the local building boom of the 1860s. (fn. 63) It had a similar character to the remainder of the district, with rows of small two-storey houses producing monotonously regular frontages, and there was a distinct scarcity of public houses.

St Alban's, Giraud Street (demolished)

In 1885 a building containing a mission church and clubrooms on two floors was opened at Nos 59–61 Giraud Street, within the mother-parish of St Saviour's. The Vicar of St Saviour's, the Reverend V. E. Skrine, was an Old Boy of Uppingham School and for some years that school supported the mission, which is called Uppingham Mission on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map. The architect was Brett A. Elphicke of Surrey Street, Strand, and the builder, at a cost expected to be £1,000, J. Jarvis of Tunbridge Wells (where in 1888 Elphicke designed a mission church, St Peter's, Forest Road, illustrated by Muthesius). (fn. 64) Shortly before the Giraud Street church was built it was said it would be 'Gothic' and Basil Clarke says it was Perpendicular. (fn. 65) Its street front seems not to be recorded, but the rest, at its demolition in 1960, had little or no Gothic visible, being an ordinary, secularlooking building under a half-hipped roof. (fn. 66) By 1928 the church was called St Alban's. An interior view of the east end shows exposed brick walls and a three-light window of stone in a segmental-headed window-opening, each light having cusped heads and being filled with stained glass.

The area covered by Poplar New Town was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War and it was subsequently included within the Lansbury Estate.


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