Poplar Dock: The buildings

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 Dock: The buildings', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, ed. Hermione Hobhouse( London, 1994), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp341-344 [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Poplar Dock: The buildings', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Edited by Hermione Hobhouse( London, 1994), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp341-344.

"Poplar Dock: The buildings". Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Ed. Hermione Hobhouse(London, 1994), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp341-344.

In this section

The Buildings

Goods Depots

The plans for Poplar Dock drawn up in 1846 included a 'terminus and goods station' with quayside sheds for letting to other carriers as depots. In fact, only the most basic cover was provided. In 1851 Henry Martin designed and George Myers built an open-sided timber-and-slateroofed goods shed at the end of the railway line, set back from the western half of the north quay, and smaller sheds over sidings on the north and west quays, with awnings to cover barges. Further building was deferred, though the goods shed was extended to the north in 1852 to cover the handling of carted goods. (fn. 1)

In 1852 the London and North Western Railway Company arranged designs for a substantial warehouse on the eastern half of the north quay. Built for the East and West India Docks and Birmingham Junction Railway Company by George Myers, the brick warehouse had iron columns and timber floors. It was used for exports, notably the storage of Bass & Company and Allsopp & Company Burton ale (Plate 60b). The lower levels were for ale, with bottling in the basement, and the upper storey was used by the London and North Western Railway Company for general goods. (fn. 2) The north quay buildings came to be known as the London and North Western Railway Goods Station.

The North London Railway Company sold the ale stores to the parent company in 1859 and they were then extended to the west with a block displacing the carting shed. That shed was re-erected on the west side of the goods shed, a part brick-walled structure that was altered to be two storeys. The carting shed was extended to the north in 1880–1. (fn. 3) Allsopp & Company and Bass & Company remained at the ale stores into the twentieth century, with other tenants, until all the buildings on the north quay were destroyed in 1940. (fn. 4)

The North London Railway Company built a goods shed on the south quay in 1868, for letting to the Great Northern Railway Company. Thomas Matthews prepared plans and the building contract went to Francis Hedges. This open shed covered two lines of railway under an M-roof, with a central row of columns and about 20ftclearance to the tie beams. Barges using the building were covered by an awning (Plate 60a). The shed was cleared in the mid-1960s. (fn. 5)

Three goods depots were built on the quays of the 1875–7 barge dock extension. The Great Western and Great Northern railway companies rented buildings erected by the North London Railway Company, and the London and North Western Railway Company built its own warehouse.

The Great Western Railway Goods Depot, on the west quay of the dock extension, was built in 1876–8 by John Cardus to plans by William Baker and Thomas Matthews at a cost of £24,000 (Plate 60d). Swingler & Company of Derby supplied the ironwork. (fn. 6) The depot measured 218ft by 130ft, with a 20ft-high open ground floor and a cellar below the platform. The two upper storeys were supported on wrought-iron girders weighing up to 30 tons, 30 large hollow-cylindrical cast-iron columns on 5 ½ft-square granite bed-stones and foundations 30ft deep. The triple-span slate roof was iron and timber framed and an awning over the dock was extended upwards in front of the loopholes. The road on the other side had glazed roofing as cover for carts. There was a two-storey office building to the north with smaller offices to the south, and seven internal cranes, three on the quay and four on the platform. Locomotives stopped at turntables outside the station and wagons were hauled in by hydraulic capstan, to be unloaded either directly into barges or into the warehouse above. Iron, machinery and hardware were the main goods handled at the depot, but the Great Western Railway Company was said to refuse nothing. The depot was destroyed in 1940. (fn. 7)

The Great Northern Railway Goods Depot was a similar, but smaller, building on the south quay of the dock extension. It was built in 1877–8 by William Bangs & Company, to plans by Baker and Matthews, for £21,750 (Plate 60a). (fn. 8) It was 180ft by 125ft, with a single upper storage floor. Goods housed included bottles, scrap iron, biscuits, linseed oil, grain and meal, rope, earthenware and oil cake. (fn. 9) This depot was damaged during the Blitz. The bomb damage was repaired in 1944 5 with tubularsteel roof trusses. The depot had closed by 1967 and was demolished in 1970–1. (fn. 10)

The London and North Western Railway Goods Warehouse was on the east quay of the dock extension (Plate 60a). Baker prepared plans and J. Parnell & Son, of Rugby, built it in 1877–9 for £39,092. (fn. 11) This was the largest and most ostentatious warehouse at Poplar Dock. It had four storeys and a cellar, with polychrome brick walls and an ornate modillioned cornice. The ground floor was open for railway wagons towards the quay, with iron-girder and brick-arch floors over this platform and over the cellar. The enclosed part of the ground floor was a single space on massive iron columns. There was another corrugated-iron awning extending over the dock and the loopholes were enclosed. In 1882 the building housed iron goods on the ground floor, hardware on the first floor, pottery on the second floor, grain on the third floor and guano in the cellar. It was destroyed in 1940. (fn. 12)

The London and North Western Railway Company built open shedding, erected by Kirk & Randall, over sidings on the west quay of the old dock in 1881 (Plate 60a). The shedding comprised iron roofs on timber supports with a barge awning, cleared in the late 1960s. (fn. 13)

Boundary Walls, Offices and Stables

The 1828–9 reservoirs were separated from Preston's Road by a dwarf wall and fence, erected by Jolliffe & Banks. This was raised by the East and West India Docks and Birmingham Junction Railway Company in 1850. (fn. 14) The wall is 22ft 2in. tall to Preston's Road, but only 6ft 6in. tall to the dock, indicating the extent to which the quays of the dock are raised. Only 1ft 2in. thick, it is buttressed at regular intervals with iron ties extending through to the wharfing. (fn. 15)

A dock company wall south of Poplar Dock was replaced with fencing in 1853. Then, in 1873–4, brick walls 8ft high were built along the south and west boundaries of the site. (fn. 16) These walls were cleared in 1988–9.

There were several office buildings at Poplar Dock, reflecting the arrangements of the site. The first offices may have been located in makeshift cabins or within the sheds. However, purpose-built goods station offices were erected for the railway companies in 1856–7, to plans by Henry Martin. The London and North Western Railway Company's office was near the north-west corner of the dock, that of the North London Railway Company was on the south side of a road that linked Preston's Road to the West India Docks. The London and North Western Railway Company took over its junior company's office in 1869 and extended it with stables, then rebuilt it in 1876–8 as a two-storey building with more stabling and a wheelwright's shop. (fn. 17) These offices survived into the 1980s. The North London Railway Company Goods Manager's Office of 1876–7 stands at the junction of Poplar High Street and the east side of Harrow Lane (see page 88).

A coal-traffic control office was built in 1858, when the North London Railway Company took over operations at the east quay. It was sited near Preston's Road amidst the sidings north of the London and Blackwall Railway. (fn. 18) A two-storey office and house was erected on Preston's Road in 1866–7 as part of the removal of T. C. Parry's coal depot from the east side of Harrow Lane to the area between Poplar High Street and the Poplar Dock coal sidings. This stood until 1986–7. (fn. 19)

There were several stables for horses used for shunting at Poplar Dock. The North London Railway Company built stables on the east side of Harrow Lane, just south of the London and Blackwall Railway, in 1868. These were let to the Great Western Railway Company in 1878 and extended in 1885 and 1900–1. (fn. 20) They were destroyed in the Blitz. The North London Railway Company also provided stables for 20 horses of the Great Northern Railway Company at the south-west corner of the Poplar Dock estate in 1876. (fn. 21) These survived into the 1980s.


The steam engine that impounded water into the West India Docks from 1830 until 1843 was housed on a raised bank between the settling reservoirs and the upper reservoir in a T-plan brick building erected by T. & J. Johnson in 1828, to plans prepared under (Sir) John Rennie's supervision. (fn. 22) This engine house survived on the north quay of Poplar Dock, refitted as an hydraulic pumping station in 1850–1. (fn. 23) The building was later used to house a boiler for pasteurizing beer, and was destroyed in 1940. (fn. 24)

In 1850–1 eight hydraulic box crane coal derricks with timber jibs (seven of 15-cwt and one of 1-ton capacity) were erected on the east quay, probably by W. G. Armstrong & Company, with an accumulator tower near the south end of the quay (Plate 60a). (fn. 25) Hand-operated cranes were used for handling exports at the north and west quays. Beecroft, Butler & Company, of Kirkstall Forge, Leeds, supplied four 3-ton cranes, a 10-ton crane and a 30-ton crane in 1851–2. The 30-ton one was later moved to the west quay of the barge-dock extension (Plate 60d). (fn. 26)

The North London Railway Company began to consider extending the Poplar Dock hydraulic system in 1870–1, to replace hand cranes and shunting horses. Armstrong & Company prepared plans for hydraulic cranes on the south, west and north quays, jiggers in the north quay warehouses, and capstans and snatch-heads for shunting. The north quay pumping station was unsuited to expansion so a new station was projected. (fn. 27) None of this went ahead until work on the dock extension was under way. The pumping station and an attached accumulator tower were built in 1876–8 by George James Watts to a plan submitted by John Carter Park (1822– 96), the railway company's locomotive superintendent. It was north-east of Millwall Junction Station amidst sidings, on the site of the Harrow Lane policemen's cottages. Armstrong & Company supplied three pairs of horizontal compound pumping engines, each of 60hp, and four accumulators. A water tank and six boilers were supplied by the London and North Western Railway Company from Crewe Works. (fn. 28) Following Park's recommendation, John Cardus was contracted to build four remote accumulator towers, put up in 1877–8. Armstrong & Company supplied three more pairs of compound pumping engines for the pumping stations in 1878–80, to cope with demand generated by the London and North Western Railway Company's goods warehouse, which had its own accumulator tower at its south end. Here the railway company provided its own hydraulic machinery. (fn. 29)

Figure 124:

Accumulator tower built at Poplar Dock in 1877–8, east elevation, plan, and sections in 1986. This tower stands withinthe Billingsgate Market site

The hydraulic pumping station had its engine house to the south, linked to the boiler house by the accumulator tower, with a tall octagonal chimney to the east. At the north end there was a workshop below the water tank. The building was demolished in 1981. The remote accumulator towers, two of which survive, had rams of 17in. diameter and 17ft stroke, with ballast tanks guided by vertical iron rails (fig. 124). The south-west tower is shorter, as its stroke continued below ground level. (fn. c1) The towers originally had double doors under boarded tympana. The upper-level hatch openings are secondary insertions. (fn. 30)

The extension of hydraulic cranage included a 30-ton straight-jibbed quay crane, supplied in 1877 by Tannett, Walker & Company, of Leeds, and erected near the north end of the east quay. Its base, which survives, was built by John Cardus as a granite-and-brick projection into the dock. A 12-ton crane was erected at the south-west corner of the barge dock extension. Other cranes and hoists were supplied by Armstrong & Company. The Hydraulic Engineering Company of Chester supplied a 3-ton ship's capstan for the entrance lock, which survives on its west side, and 1-ton shunting capstans and snatch-heads at the depots. (fn. 31) A remodelling of the east quay to equip it to deal better with the discharge of inland coal was also part of the 1877 work. The north end of the quay was refitted with Armstrong & Company's 10-ton side coal tips, simple wrought-iron girdered quay-level platforms over hydraulic rams, some with turntables to allow end tipping. (fn. 32)

The remaining coal derricks from 1850–1 were replaced in 1894 with four 25-cwt travelling quay cranes supplied by the East Ferry Road Engineering Works Company. (fn. 33) The rebuilding of the entrance lock as an ungated passage in 1898–9 brought an increase in water depth, causing problems with the coal tips. Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Company raised two of the tips and then, in 1901–2, supplied an 18-ton combination twin coal hoist-tip, erected near the north end of the east quay (Plate 60c). This enormous piece of hydraulic machinery was a steel-framed structure that lifted wagons for highlevel end or side tipping, with funnels for coal dust. (fn. 34) It was dismantled in 1966–8. (fn. 35)

In 1900 Poplar Dock had 73 hydraulic cranes, 11 handpowered cranes, 8 coal tips, 40 hydraulic capstans and 156 snatch-heads. It was by far the most densely equipped dock in the Port, in terms of machinery per mile of quay. (fn. 36) By the 1930s there were seven electric luffing cranes on the east quay, two of 5-ton and five of 2-ton capacity, some, if not all, of which had been supplied by Sir William Arrol & Company of Glasgow. Electrically driven pneumatic plant for transferring grain from barges to railway wagons had come into use by this date. (fn. 37) In 1960 Stothert & Pitt supplied or remodelled 6-ton electric travelling cranes.

Bridges and Railways

When the cut from the Blackwall Basin to what became Poplar Dock was made in 1844 the East and West India Dock Company provided a cast-iron turning footbridge, supplied and mounted by Hunter & English. (fn. 38) This was replaced with an open-framed traversing drawbridge by the East and West India Docks and Birmingham Junction Railway Company in 1850–1, when the cut became a lock. (fn. 39) The railway company added a single-leaf irongirder swing-bridge, supplied by Westwood & Baillie, over the north end of the lock in 1862, to allow the railway to reach the south quay. (fn. 40) These bridges were replaced when the lock was widened in 1898–9. The Thames Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company supplied another traversing drawbridge for foot passage and another swing-bridge for railway traffic. The former was 75ft 6in. long and 6ft 2in. wide overall, rolled on wagon wheels and rails, and had lattice girder sides; the latter had solid girder sides. Both bridges had been removed by 1978. (fn. 41) A swing-bridge was mounted across the cutting between the two parts of Poplar Dock in 1988 to improve road access to Canary Wharf. (fn. 42)

The railway line to Poplar Dock, as built by George Myers in 1850–1, originally had two branches separating just south of Poplar High Street, leading to the east quay for coal traffic and to the north quay for export goods (fig. 122). The London and Blackwall Railway Company refused to allow a level crossing, and so each line was carried over its viaduct on bridges. There were coal sidings on the east quay and also at the north end of the site, south of Poplar High Street. Further sidings and another bridge were laid south and west of these in 1852 to serve the ale stores. The export sidings were extended to the west quay. (fn. 43) The line to the south quay was laid in 1862–3, to give the Great Northern Railway Company inland-coal sidings. The General Steam Navigation Company had a cattle station on the site of the barge dock extension until 1873. It was moved to sidings north of the viaduct, where it remained until the 1890s. (fn. 44)

Access to the north, west and south quays was hampered by a steep rise to the western bridge over the viaduct. From 1864 the North London Railway Company planned to improve this approach via a new bridge and sidings on a large plot of empty dock company land north of the viaduct and west of Harrow Lane. The first Harrow Lane sidings were built in 1866 and they were extended as far west as Dolphin Lane in 1873–5. (fn. 45) The bridge over the viaduct was built by John Cardus in 1874–5. It had two 25ft spans, over the railway and a road, and carried 16 lines on wrought-iron girders and timber floors. (fn. 46) Traffic to all but the east quay was shunted into Poplar Dock over this bridge, via the Harrow Lane sidings on a loop line (fig. 123). (fn. 47)

British Rail simplified the railways at Poplar Dock in 1967–8. Redundant sidings were removed and, as part of the viaduct had been demolished, the line to the northwest corner of the old dock was relaid to run on the level. This and the line to the east quay, the two earliest lines, were the last to remain in use. (fn. 48)

Surviving Structures

In 1994, much of Poplar Dock itself survives. The dock of 1850–1, slightly diminished by the filling of its north end in 1988–9, retains its original timber wharf walling. There are two Stothert & Pitt 6-ton electric travelling cranes on the west quay. The barge dock extension of 1875–7 was more extensively filled in 1988–9, but the passage linking Poplar Dock to the West India Docks remains as built in 1850–1 and enlarged in 1898–9. The brick wall along the Preston's Road side of the site stands as built in 1828–9 and raised in 1850. The two southern remote accumulator towers of 1877–8, one on Preston's Road, the other inside the grounds of Billingsgate Market, are unused but listed shells.


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  • c1. Excavation in 1998 by the Corporation of London uncovered the surviving ballast tank and ram.