Poplar High Street: Public housing

Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


, 'Poplar High Street: Public housing', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994) pp. 90-97. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp90-97 [accessed 21 May 2024].

. "Poplar High Street: Public housing", in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994) 90-97. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp90-97.

. "Poplar High Street: Public housing", Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, (London, 1994). 90-97. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp90-97.

In this section

Public Housing

The public housing in the High Street area comprises the Birchfield, Will Crooks and Galloway Estates, and some smaller groups and individual blocks. The Birchfield Estate and the Saltwell Street Scheme within the Will Crooks Estate impinge on the High Street and so are dealt with here in their entirety, although they extend west to West India Dock Road and north to East India Dock Road, covering areas the earlier histories of which are discussed in Chapters V, VI and VII.

Birchfield Estate

The Birchfield Estate was built by the LCC and the GLC. It stretches from Ming Street as far north as East India Dock Road and westwards from Saltwell Street to West India Dock Road. Apart from one 1920s block, Birchfield House, it was built between 1957 and the mid1970s in a series of interrelated development schemes: Morant Street, Pennyfields, Perry's Close, and part of the Saltwell Street Scheme. In the centre of the estate is a small open space created as a result of the Turner's Buildings Clearance Area, on part of which stand five mobile homes put there by the GLC. In general this area suffered from considerable bomb damage during the Second World War and various parts of it were used by the LCC for temporary prefab housing sites. The area was also included within the Stepney and Poplar Reconstruction Area (see page 212). It was therefore eminently suitable for the creation of a large post-war estate.

Birchfield House

Birchfield House, on the east side of Birchfield Street, was built as a result of the only slum clearance scheme carried out in Poplar parish by the LCC during the 1920s. The site was one of several which had been represented to the LCC in 1919 by the Borough Medical Officer of Health as unhealthy areas. (fn. 2) In May 1923 further representations were made by the Borough Council, which impressed upon the LCC the urgent necessity of dealing with this area immediately. (fn. 3) The Birchfield Street Clearance Area was officially declared by the County Council in February 1924 in conjunction with two other areas within the borough — but outside the parish — at Baker's Alley and Bromley Place. It covered approximately ¾ of an acre and was bounded on the east by Vulcan Street, on the south by Castor Street, and on the west by Birchfield Street itself. The 27 houses within it had 97 occupants. (fn. 4)

At a public inquiry held in July 1924, Dr Alexander, the Borough Medical Officer, described the Birchfield Street Area as 'particularly bad' and considered that there was 'a want of ventilation in the whole of the area'. (fn. 5) The scheme duly received the Minister of Health's sanction in December 1924, but it was modified to require the LCC to provide accommodation for not less than 190 people on the Birchfield Street site after clearance. (fn. 6)

Properties within the area were being purchased by November 1925 and this continued into 1926. Birchfield House was built in 1926–7 by R. Woollaston & Company of Limehouse, at a total estimated cost of £16,264. (fn. 7)

Birchfield House is a four-storey neo-Georgian block constructed in yellow stock brick with a hipped roof covered in red clay pantiles. The walls are thicker towards the base, giving a two-stepped plinth from the top of the ground storey down to ground level. On the west elevation the four central first-floor windows go down to floor level and open on to narrow concrete balconies with iron balustrades. The block has an L-shaped ground-plan, providing a courtyard to the rear, where open balconies with iron balustrades give access off the staircases to the individual flats.

The original accommodation at Birchfield Street consisted of 25 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom flats of the LCC's 'simplified' type (see page 30), to house the 190 people stipulated by the Minister (fig. 7, see page 31). (fn. 8) Only gas, including gas lighting, was installed in the flats, although electricity was used to light the common staircases. (fn. 9) In 1930 gas fires were provided in the first bedroom of each flat, (fn. 10) and in 1943, despite wartime conditions, the whole block was reconstructed and modernized to form 24 flats. (fn. 11) This block, absorbed into the Birchfield Estate after the Second World War, was again completely refurbished in 1989–90.

The Morant Street Scheme

The Morant Street Scheme was the main component of the present Birchfield Estate. The site of this scheme was approximately 4¾ acres, bounded by East India Dock Road to the north, Birchfield Street to the west, Oriental Street to the east, and West India Dock Road and Pennyfields to the south. In March 1952 the LCC decided to acquire properties in this area, compulsorily if necessary, at a rough cost of £110,000 (including clearance and partial redevelopment), (fn. 12) and properties were soon being purchased. (fn. 13) Plans for the whole area were approved by the LCC in December 1955 and the estimated cost of development was put at £540,260. (fn. 14)

There were four phases of construction in this scheme. The first one consisted of Nos 2–40 and Nos 42–70 (even) Rosefield Gardens (1957–8), for which the main contractor was Rowley Brothers of Tottenham and the estimated cost was £101,900 (£715 per room). (fn. 15) In the second phase were Nos 1–13 Gorsefield House; Nos 60 and 62 East India Dock Road; a doctor's surgery in East India Dock Road; Nos 1, 3 and 5 Pinefield Close; and Nos 17–41 (odd) Rosefield Gardens (1958–9), for which the main contractor was again Rowley Brothers, at an estimated cost of £98,400 (£836 per room). (fn. 16) The third phase contained only Thornfield House (1960–2), for which W. & C. French of Chigwell, Essex, was the main contractor and the estimated cost was £245,900 (£987 per room). (fn. 17) The fourth phase consisted of Elderfield House, which provides a mixture of flats, maisonettes, and shops (1963–4). The main contractor was the LCC's direct labour force and the estimated cost was £132,100 (£885 per room). (fn. 18)

The blocks in this development are built of mottled red-and-black brick, and generally have flat roofs — with the exception of the small terrace of three single-storey houses, Nos 1–5 (odd) Pinefield Close, which has a pitched roof. Three-storey blocks of flats and four-storey blocks of maisonettes predominate and access to upper dwellings is normally by internal staircases and external balconies, although the eleven-storey Thornfield House (containing 75 maisonettes) also has lifts. A few decorative details are provided, such as the abstract relief running vertically up the west elevation of Thornfield House, and the mosaic and tiled decoration on the outside of Gorsefield House at ground-floor level (Plate 135a).

Perry's Close Scheme.

Although the LCC was acquiring properties in Perry's Close in 1947–8, with a view to creating a site for a permanent housing development, (fn. 19) it was not until October 1959, with the development of the main part of the Birchfield Estate under way, that plans for the development of the Perry's Close site were approved by the Council. They involved the extinction of Perry's Close itself. (fn. 20) Construction was carried out between 1961 and 1965 by Stewart & Partners of St Marylebone, at a total estimated cost of £139,400 (£863 a room). (fn. 21)

The blocks are all built of mottled red-and-black brick, with exposed concrete beams and columns. Access to upper dwellings is by internal staircases and external balconies. This part of the estate consists of the eastern two-thirds of Arborfield House (Nos 1–21 consec) in East India Dock Road — a three-storey block containing six one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom flats; Nos 42–80 (consec) Saltwell Street — a three-storey block of nine bed-sitter and three one-bedroom flats; and Nos 42–80 (even) Morant Street — a four-storey block of one fivebedroom and 17 three-bedroom maisonettes. The density is 37 dwellings (116 persons) to the acre. (fn. 22)

Pennyfields Scheme.

In July 1956 the LCC turned its attention to that part of the Birchfield Estate which lies to the south of Pennyfields, a triangular site of over two acres, bounded by West India Dock Road and Ming Street. Clearance of this area was brought forward in the programme because the Council's Medical Officer was proposing to represent a number of the houses on the site as unfit. The Council felt that it would be better to acquire the whole site as quickly as possible and that, as the area lay within the Stepney and Poplar Comprehensive Development Area, the easiest course of action was to clear the site using powers under the Planning Acts. Only two small clearance areas were therefore declared under the Housing Acts, and in one of them the houses were already owned by the LCC and the process was merely a means of safeguarding government subsidies for rehousing the families concerned. The major part of the site, including properties in Ming Street, Pennyfields and West India Dock Road, was the subject of a Compulsory Purchase Order made by the County Council in 1957. The cost of acquiring, clearing and partially redeveloping the site was put at £114,000. (fn. 23)

In the Development Plan the date for redevelopment of the Pennyfields site was 1961–2 (fn. 24) and clearly the LCC had hoped that by carrying out clearance ahead of schedule new building work would also begin earlier than intended. In fact the housing was only built in 1963–6. It consisted of three four-storey blocks of maisonettes (Nos 30–56, even, and Nos 58–156, even, Pennyfields) and a two-storey block of 14 old people's flats (Nos 2– 28, even, Pennyfields). Nos 58–80 and Nos 2–28 Pennyfields were demolished early in 1993. All of the buildings had flat roofs, and blocks in mottled red-and-black brick alternated with others in a brownish brick. Again, access to upper dwellings was provided by internal staircases and external balconies. The density of the scheme was 38 dwellings (142 persons) to the acre. The architects were Stewart, Hendry & Smith, on behalf of the LCC, and the building contractors were Rush & Tompkins of Sidcup. The original estimate for erection was £235,600, but the final one was £331,750, the increase being due to rising costs and problems with underground obstructions discovered during the construction work. (fn. 25)

Turner's Buildings Site.

In January 1958 the LCC officially declared the Turner's Buildings Clearance Area and this was confirmed in December of that year. It covered about a quarter of an acre and comprised Nos 4 and 5, plus the sites of Nos 1, 2, and 3, Turner's Buildings, together with Nos 55, 59, 61 and 63 Pennyfields. In addition, No. 57 and the sites of Nos 45– 53 (odd) Pennyfields were also acquired. In all about 12 families were displaced. The land was zoned in the Development Plan for an open space and most of the site was laid out for this purpose c1970. (fn. 26) However, in 1964, at a time of acute housing shortage, the LCC decided to erect five mobile homes on part of the southern section of the site, Nos 45–53 (odd) Pennyfields, (fn. 27) and though only a temporary measure, they were still occupied in 1994.

The Will Crooks Estate

This is an amorphous estate straddling Poplar High Street, built mainly by the LCC but completed by the GLC. Development began in the later 1930s, when the Sophia Street Clearance Scheme led to the erection of five blocks, Corry, Devitt, Leyland, Wigram, and Willis Houses, to the north of Poplar High Street on either side of Wade Place. Dolphin House to the south of the High Street was built at the same time as a result of another clearance scheme, that of the Dock Cottages Area. The Dingle Lane site around Dolphin House was developed between 1955 and 1957. To the north, along East India Dock Road, the Wade Street Scheme, comprising parts of Westcott House, was completed in 1961. Finally, the Saltwell Street Scheme, which involved the infilling of several sites between the Will Crooks and Birchfield Estates, was carried out by the GLC from 1973 to 1975.

Corry, Devitt, Leyland, Wigram, and Willis Houses.

The northern part of the Will Crooks Estate, to the north of Poplar High Street, was built by the LCC as a result of the Sophia Street Clearance Scheme, officially declared in December 1934. This was one of the largest slum clearance schemes to be carried out in Poplar during the inter-war years, involving an area of 5.25 acres, the demolition of nearly 200 dwellings, and the displacement of almost 1,500 people. With the additional lands, the scheme covered the whole block bounded by Poplar High Street, Hale Street, Shirbutt Street, and Wade Place. As well as the central core, the following were also included in the clearance scheme: to the east, Nos 21–28 (consec) Hale Street, Nos 1–3 (consec) Duncan's Court and Nos 95–105 (odd) Poplar High Street; to the south-east, Nos 1–13 (consec) Bickmore Street and Nos 100–106 (even) Poplar High Street; to the west, Nos 41–46 (consec) Wade Street and Nos 41–49 (odd) Poplar High Street; and to the north-west, Nos 27–31 (consec) and No. 32A Wade Street, Nos 2–10 (even) Wade's Place, and Nos 1–13 (odd) Shirbutt Street.

By the end of July 1935, and before the Minister of Health had confirmed the clearance orders in August (with only the most minimal modifications), the LCC had acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, 116 properties within the areas, all by negotiation. It dealt with 58 different freeholders, but only seven leaseholders. (fn. 28) The cost of acquiring and clearing all the properties involved was estimated at £55,000, and the cost of rehousing on site or elsewhere was put at £124,000. The LCC proposed to reserve some of the site for ancillary buildings such as a school, clinic, and day nursery. (fn. 29)

Corry and Wigram Houses were erected in 1936–7 by W. H. Gaze & Sons of Kingston-upon-Thames, at a total estimated cost of £26,850. (fn. 30) In the event, extra expenditure was required in constructing the foundations of Corry House. (fn. 31) Together the two blocks provided 10 one-bedroom, 24 two-bedroom, and 11 three-bedroom flats, plus five lock-up shops in Wigram House. (fn. 32) Devitt, Willis, and Leyland Houses were constructed in 1937–9 by J. Simms, Sons, & Cooke of Nottingham, at an estimated cost of £91,880. These three blocks provided a total of 29 one-bedroom, 82 two-bedroom, 49 threebedroom, and five four-bedroom flats. (fn. 33) Bickmore and Rook Streets were closed, as was part of Sophia Street, and the blocks were set back from the High Street to allow it to be widened. (fn. 34)

This part of the Will Crooks Estate suffered some damage during the Second World War and repairs had to be carried out to Leyland House in 1942 and to Devitt House in 1947. (fn. 35) The iron railings around the estate were removed during the war and never reinstated. (fn. 36)

All five blocks are standard LCC five-storey neoGeorgian blocks, originally containing flats of the 1934 types 1 and 2, modified to provide each flat with its own fixed bath in a bathroom. (fn. 37) The buildings are constructed mainly in yellow stock brick, but with redbrick ground floors, and there is also some red-brick banding at top-storey level. The hipped roofs are covered with red clay pantiles. On the rear elevations continuous balconies (which have brick parapets with occasional metal grilles set into them) give access to the flats from staircase towers.

Dolphin House

Dolphin House, on the south side of Poplar High Street, stands on the site of Dock Cottages, which formed the major part of two clearance areas officially declared by the LCC in November 1935. Dock Cottages Area No. 1, in addition to Dock Cottages themselves, included Nos 1–8 (consec) and 1A Dingle Lane, as well as Nos 1 and 2 Stoneyard Lane; Area No. 2 consisted of just Nos 62 and 64 Poplar High Street. The two areas were only 1.56 acres in extent, and additional lands of 1.14 acres were also required for the adequate redevelopment of the site. The total number of houses acquired was 88, including 8 shops, and 465 people were displaced. The estimated cost of acquisition and clearance was put at £33,000, and of rehousing at £48,000. (fn. 38) Dock Cottages were demolished in 1937. (fn. 39)

It proved possible to acquire much of the property in the two areas by negotiation, but orders had to be obtained for a few of the premises. In consultation with Poplar Borough Council it was agreed that the line of Dolphin Lane should be diverted in order to straighten the eastern boundary of the proposed housing site. It was also agreed that a new site for the Green Man public house would be provided on the east side of the realigned lane, on the High Street corner, so allowing the High Street to be widened. (fn. 40)

Dolphin House was built during 1937–8 at a total estimated cost of £36,400. The foundations were by West's Rotinoff Piling & Construction Company, and the superstructure by A. T. Rowley (London) Ltd of Tottenham. (fn. 41) In the event the second block (confusingly designated 'block 1'), which was to have been called Dingle House, (fn. 42) was never built.

Dolphin House was another LCC standard five-storey neo-Georgian block in red brick, with slated, hipped roofs. It was arranged around three sides of a southfacing rear courtyard. As built there were 68 dwellings of the 1934 types 1 and 2, (fn. 43) comprising 10 one-bedroom, 28 two-bedroom, and 30 three-bedroom flats. (fn. 44) Dolphin House was damaged during the Blitz, and in 1941 most of the dwellings had to be repaired. (fn. 45) It was demolished early in 1993.

Post-war construction of the Will Crooks Estate began with the Dingle Lane Scheme (1955–7) on a 2½-acre site assembled by the LCC and including a considerable number of war-damaged properties (among which was Dingle Lane School). The seven housing blocks were designed by the LCC's Architect's Department, and built by Rowley Brothers of Tottenham, at an estimated total cost of £216,634. (fn. 46) In order to carry out this development part of Dingle Lane had to be closed. (fn. 47) In all, this scheme provided 33 flats and 44 maisonettes, at a density of approximately 34 dwellings to the acre. (fn. 48) It consisted of Nos 1–12, 13–30, 31–44 (all consec) Dingle Gardens, and Nos 2–24, 26–38, 40–52, and 54–66 (all even) Poplar High Street. Nos 13–30 and 31–44 Dingle Gardens were demolished early in 1993.

The Wade Street Scheme, comprising the east and west ends of Westcott House in East India Dock Road, including the block in Saltwell Street, resulted from the acquisition and, in some instances, the official clearance of properties in the Wade Street area by the LCC. Construction was carried out in 1959–61 by Kirk & Kirk of Wandsworth, at an estimated cost of £100,137 (£769 per room). (fn. 49)

Finally, the Saltwell Street Scheme covered several sites on either side of that street, as well as a further area to the south of Ming Street, and included the completion of Arborfield and Westcott Houses along East India Dock Road. It represented the completion of the Will Crooks and Birchfield Estates, so that GLC-owned housing then stretched from West India Dock Road as far east as Hale Street. This development involved the stopping up of the rest of Wade Street (fn. 50) and the creation of Kemps Drive.

Plans for the 181 dwellings were prepared by the GLC's Architect's Department (fn. 51) and in July 1971 an estimate of £1,177,000 was proposed for this development. (fn. 52) However, when tenders for the scheme were examined in October 1973, the lowest price was £2,448,894, from William J. Jerram Ltd, and the original estimate had to be more than doubled to £2,642,000. (fn. 53) During the course of construction it was found that considerable extra expenditure was necessary for additional foundation works, (fn. 54) and in March 1975 the estimated costs had to be again revised upwards to £3,057,120 (over 2½ times the 1971 figure). (fn. 55)

The Saltwell Street Scheme consisted of the following: the western part of Arborfield House (Nos 22–33 consec) in East India Dock Road; Nos 1–31 (odd), Nos 33–55 (odd), and Nos 2–22 (even) Kemps Drive; the central section of Westcott House on East India Dock Road; Nos 51–79 (odd) Morant Street; Nos 28–48, Nos 52–86 and Nos 88–102 (all even), and Nos 27–41 and Nos 43–59 (both odd) Saltwell Street; Nos 61–83 (odd) Poplar High Street; Nos 2–30, Nos 32–40 (demolished early in 1993), and Nos 42–50 (all even) Ming Street (Plate 137d).

Generally, all the post-war blocks are faced in mottled red-and-black brick and have flat roofs, although Westcott House has a pitched roof, and parts are in yellow stock brick (presumably to match the Lansbury Estate opposite). The blocks are low-rise developments of two, three, and four storeys, mainly in the form of flats and maisonettes, although the Saltwell Street Scheme includes a number of three-storey terraced 'Town' houses.

Cruse House

Cruse House stands on the south side of Poplar High Street, on a site purchased by Poplar Borough Council in 1930. The Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Harley Heckford, prepared plans for a block of nine one-bedroom and two two-bedroom flats — each with its own scullery and bathroom — since the Council was assured that 'there is considerable demand for accommodation of the smaller type of flat'. When the area of the one-bedroom flats had to be reduced because of the size of the site (it was only about 3,500 sq. ft), this was only approved by the Minister of Health on condition that they were occupied by 'aged persons'. (fn. 56) The LCC, after much debate, also decided to make a supplemental contribution towards the cost of erection, having just extended this scheme to cover old people's dwellings. (fn. 57)

The total cost of the scheme, including the price of the land, was £7,132, and this was one of the first blocks to be built (1931–2) by the Borough Council using direct labour. (fn. 58) The density, at 132 dwellings to the acre, was the highest of all the inter-war schemes built in the parish. (fn. 59) It was only in 1939 that these flats were named 'Cruse House', after Edward Cruse (1867–1938) who had represented Bow and Bromley on the LCC for 19 years. (fn. 60)

Cruse House is a four-storey block. It was one of the last to be built by the Borough Council in the 'economic' neo-Georgian style, with the usual mixture of red and yellow brick (though the top storey is rendered), hipped slate roof, and wooden-framed sash windows with glazing bars. It was also one of the last of its blocks to be given open metal railings to the balconies (which are at the rear and also on the east-side elevation of the building). In the autumn of 1968 Tower Hamlets Borough Council agreed to a modernization plan for Cruse House, at an estimated total cost of £24,418. This involved converting the existing accommodation into three one-bedroom, two two-bedroom, and three three-bedroom flats. The opportunity was also taken to incorporate some adjacent derelict sites into the scheme to allow minor improvements, including three car-parking spaces and some landscaping. (fn. 61)

Presbyterian Housing, Poplar High Street and Simpson's Road

On the south side of Poplar High Street stands a group of blocks of flats built at various dates between the 1920s and 1950s by Presbyterian Housing (see page 36).

The 'Presbyterian Housing Scheme' began its activities in 1926 by purchasing No. 144 Poplar High Street and converting it into five flats. In the autumn of the same year No. 146 was acquired and during 1927 converted into a further four flats. The Scheme also acquired a piece of land at the back of No. 142, which, together with the ends of the two plots already acquired, provided 'a very fine site' for a new block. The three properties cost about £4,300 and the committee of the Scheme had received £2,774 in donations towards this, as well as various loans. (fn. 62) The architect was T. Phillips Figgis (1858–1948), who was a member of the Committee and acted as architect to the Scheme, as well as being architectural adviser to the Presbyterian Church of England and an accomplished architect of some repute. (fn. 63) However, it is doubtful if he had had any previous experience of building working-class flats, and because the new block, called Goodspeed House, was needed urgently, he would have had little time to worry about architectural niceties.

Goodspeed House was set in the angle formed by the northern and western arms of Simpson's Road. It was opened in 1929. (fn. 64) This three-storey block of nine flats, in yellow stock brick, with red-brick dressings, is therefore built in the 'economic' neo-Georgian style favoured by the LCC and Poplar Borough Council, and might easily have been built 30 years before. Access to the upper floors is via two staircases and common balconies with metal railings. Despite the somewhat grim exterior, the facilities, especially the bathrooms, were welcomed by the new tenants. (fn. 65) The building contractor was J. Marsland & Sons of South Molton Street. (fn. 66)

Early in 1930 the newly formed Presbyterian Housing Ltd, as successor to the Scheme, was able to acquire the freeholds of Nos 158, 160, and 162 Poplar High Street. These were let to tenants, but much of their long back gardens was used to create a site for Goodwill House, a further block of 15 flats. (fn. 67) Initially there was some difficulty in raising sufficient money, but in August 1930, with the promise of a loan of £5,500 from the LCC and a state subsidy, the committee felt able to accept a tender of £7,912 for the construction of this block. (fn. 68) Goodwill House was opened on 12 May 1932 by the Duchess of Atholl. Each of the 15 flats had a living-room, three bedrooms, and a bathroom, for a weekly inclusive rent of 12s 6d. (fn. 69) In addition to the state housing subsidy, the LCC agreed to make a supplemental contribution. (fn. 70)

The architect was again T. Phillips Figgis, but he seems to have had more time for reflection and was able to design a more individualistic building, although it still has echoes of the old model tenements. It is a three-storey block on the east side of Simpson's Road, symmetrically arranged and with a U-shaped ground-plan. Despite many similarities to the contemporary neo-Georgian flats erected by the Borough and County Councils, Goodwill House has a distinctively Italianate air (Plate 124a). The two small, central towers on the front elevation, capped by pyramidal roofs and bulbous finials, a few roundheaded windows and openings, the pantiles on the roof, and even the open iron railings to the access balconies, all contribute to the almost Mediterranean character of the building.

All the society's properties were damaged during the Second World War, and Nos 144, 158, 160, and 162 Poplar High Street were eventually classified as being total losses by the War Damage Commission. Feeling that it would be some years before rebuilding could be carried out, the committee decided in 1947 to sell Nos 158, 160, and 162. (fn. 71) Nevertheless, in November 1949 another appeal was launched to raise £5,000 towards the cost of building two further blocks adjacent to the existing ones, the balance of the cost being met by a mortgage through the LCC. The Council was also approached about acquiring the extra land, and it agreed to purchase the site, duly leasing it to the society. (fn. 72)

By February 1951 about £2,491 in donations had been received, including about £1,249 from American contributors. It was therefore decided to regard the first block as a gift from American supporters and to name it Winant House in memory of the wartime American Ambassador (1941–6), John G. Winant (1889–1947). (fn. 73) T. Phillips Figgis had retired as the society's architect just before the war, (fn. 74) and the new block was designed by Harry Moncrieff and Edna M. I. Mills of Co-Operative Planning Ltd. It was decided that the flats should be an outlier to the Festival of Britain Live Architecture Exhibition which was centred on the Lansbury Estate in Poplar (see Chapter IX). Amongst other things, this allowed the land to be acquired under expedited powers which reduced the time involved by as much as 12 months. (fn. 75) At a ceremony held on 5 July 1951 Winant House was handed over, on behalf of the American donors, by Robert E. Sherwood, the distinguished American author and playwright, who had been an outspoken supporter of the British war effort and a close friend of President Franklin Roosevelt. In turn, it was received on behalf of the people of Britain by Mrs Christopher Soames (deputizing for her mother Mrs Winston Churchill). (fn. 76)

Winant House contained three bed-sitting-room flats, six one-bedroom flats, and three two-bedroom flats, all to be let to elderly people and young married couples. (fn. 77) It cost considerably more than had been expected, due mainly to increases in wages and the cost of materials, plus heavy expense in laying foundations. However, a fresh American appeal in 1953 provided sufficient money to meet the immediate needs. The final building cost was £16,826 13s 3d. (fn. 78)

In 1953 work began on a further, almost identical, block and this, known as Goodfaith House, was opened by Lady Eccles, the wife of the then Minister of Works, on 19 February 1954. The accommodation provided was exactly the same as at Winant House, but the estimated cost was about £20,000. (fn. 79) At about the same time, the society sold Nos 144 and 146 Poplar High Street to the LCC for road widening purposes. (fn. 80)

Goodhope House was the third and final post-war block by Presbyterian Housing. It was begun in 1954 and opened on 6 October 1955 by an American Presbyterian, Mrs A. Warren Pearl, honorary CBE, who had done much to help fund-raising. It was very similar to the previous two blocks and again provided identical accommodation in its 12 flats, the final estimated cost amounting to £22,000. (fn. 81) Harry Moncrieff was the sole architect for Goodfaith and Goodhope Houses.

All three post-war blocks are virtually identical in appearance and they are similar to the first phase of the Lansbury Estate. They have hard, yellow, Uxbridge flint facing-bricks (enlivened on part of the front elevation with a repeated motif of three projecting bricks laid in soldier course); shallow-pitched roofs (although, unlike at Lansbury, covered in red interlocking tiles); metal casement windows, with top-opening vents; an access balcony to the front elevation, with metal-framed balustrades and glass panels (except Winant House, which has metal railings instead of glass panels), and protective central glass windshields for the access from the staircase; turquoise glazed tiles which face the internal porches of the ground floor flats and also the individual projecting sun balconies on the rear elevation.

Winant House carries a stone on the front elevation to Simpson's Road with an inscription commemorating Anglo-American friendship and John Gilbert Winant. The other two blocks simply have stones inscribed with their names, the fact that they were erected by Presbyterian Housing Ltd, and the dates of completion. By 1955, therefore, the housing society had 60 flats, all in Poplar, and the Presbyterian Settlement no longer felt able to manage the property and collect the rents. Consequently these tasks were put in the hands of the Shoreditch, Hackney and Highbury Housing Association, (fn. 82) although within two years this work was being carried out by the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association. (fn. 83) In 1957 a start was made on modernizing the interiors of the two oldest blocks, Goodspeed and Goodwill Houses, with the aid of improvement grants, but this was not completed until 1978. (fn. 84)

Until the 1970s Presbyterian Housing Ltd confined its activities entirely to Poplar, but in recent years it has been responsible for further housing schemes elsewhere in London. (fn. 85) In 1972 the Presbyterian Church became part of the newly formed United Reformed Church, and in 1979 the society changed its name to the United Reformed Church Housing Association Ltd. (fn. 86) As such it retains control and ownership of the five blocks of flats in Poplar, although day-to-day management is still undertaken by the Bethnal Green and East London Housing Association.

Galloway Estate

The Galloway Estate on the south side of Poplar High Street, to the east of Simpson's Road, was started by the LCC in the mid-1950s and completed by the GLC in the later 1960s.

In 1950 the LCC made a Compulsory Purchase Order in respect of Nos 130–176 (even) Poplar High Street, although a few properties were excluded. The cost of acquisition, clearance, and partial redevelopment was put at £36,000. (fn. 87) The Council began to purchase properties in Poplar High Street and Simpson's Road during 1951 and 1952. (fn. 88)

The land so acquired to the west of Simpson's Road was leased to Presbyterian Housing Ltd for their postwar housing development (see above). After a further small area had been reserved for widening Poplar High Street, nearly an acre remained for the LCC's own housing scheme. (fn. 89) Lubbock and Martindale Houses were designed by the LCC's Architect's Department, and built in 1956–7 by Rowley Brothers of Tottenham, at an estimated overall cost, including the laying out of the gardens, of £80,600 (£657 per room). (fn. 90)

Lubbock House, in Poplar High Street, is a fourstorey block of 18 flats, and Martindale House, to the south-east and set at right-angles, is a four-storey block of 12 maisonettes. Both have flat roofs and are built of mottled red-and-black brick and yellow Uxbridge flint brick. Access to upper flats is via internal staircases and balconies, and each maisonette has its own garden. The density is 34 dwellings to the acre. (fn. 91)

Norwood House (completed in the later 1960s) was designed by Trevor Dannatt, an architect in private practice, for the LCC, and construction was carried out for the GLC by F. R. Hipperson & Son of Barking. The initial estimate was £145,000, (fn. 92) but because of a rapid rise in costs the total estimated expenditure was increased to £171,500 (£1,204 per person). (fn. 93)

In order to achieve full density and also avoid daylighting difficulties on the sloping and restricted site of 0.7 of an acre, (fn. 94) the architect devised a staggered form of development, consisting of a five-storey block of 26 flats and maisonettes, with underground garages at the northern end, and above them four storeys of housing accommodation (Plate 136c). The street-level and firstfloor accommodation at this end is intended for old people. The blocks are of red brick and have copper-clad roofs. All dwellings were heated by warm-air units from an oil-fired central boiler. Also included in the scheme were ten garages and a play area. The density is 37 dwellings (143 persons) to the acre. (fn. 95)

Constant and Holmsdale Houses

These are two 1930s blocks of flats built by Poplar Borough Council in Harrow Lane and Poplar High Street respectively, following a slum clearance scheme involving two adjacent areas. The Harrow Lane Area consisted of Nos 1–12 (consec) Harrow Lane and Nos 204, 206, and 208 Poplar High Street. The 15 houses contained 30 families, and a total of 96 people to be rehoused. The Poplar High Street Area comprised only Nos 190 and 192 Poplar High Street, which were occupied by eleven people in five families, and Nos 194–202 (even) Poplar High Street were added in order to get a suitable site for rehousing development. (fn. 96) The latter area was confirmed without modification in June 1935, (fn. 97) but the sites of Nos 1 and 2 Harrow Lane were excluded from the other area. (fn. 98)

Constant House (1936–7) (fn. 99) and Holmsdale House (1937–8) (fn. 100) were designed by the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Rees J. Williams, and the plans also bear the name of one of the architectural assistants, A. E. Williams. (fn. 101) The building work on the two blocks was carried out by direct labour, but in view of difficulties experienced on other schemes it was agreed that the hollow-tile floors should be laid by a specialist contractor. (fn. 102) The total cost of the scheme was £45,616, including the site. As built, Constant House had 25 three-bedroom flats and five four-bedroom flats, while Holmsdale House had four two-bedroom and 16 threebedroom flats. On a site of 4,244 sq.yds this gave an overall density of 57 dwellings per acre. (fn. 103)

Constant House is five storeys high and Holmsdale House four storeys. Both are in the Modernistic style adopted by the Borough Council in the 1930s (see page 34) (Plate 126d). They are faced in red brick, have long concrete balconies with solid parapet-walls, hipped slate roofs set behind parapets, and metal casement windows. Constant House has right-angled corner windows and a curved, streamlined staircase-tower at the north-east corner — both characteristic of the International style. Holmsdale House has a similar staircase-tower, set offcentre along the High Street elevation.

Between October 1986 and February 1987 the two blocks were rehabilitated, and converted into 120 dwellings, arranged in 'shared clusters', usually for two or three single people. The work was carried out by the Oxford House Housing Association, (fn. 1) who leased the buildings from Tower Hamlets Borough Council. The costs of the scheme were £1,280,855 for Holmsdale House and £1,492,785 for Constant House, with finance being provided by the Housing Corporation. The Borough Council has the right to nominate 50 per cent of the tenants, the rest coming from referrals from local community-based organizations, and the association's own waiting-list. All tenants are local people, most of whom were previously homeless. As many were unemployed and in receipt of supplementary benefits, the initial rents for individual sharers were relatively low; between £21 and £24 per week (including rates). (fn. 105)

Collins and Commodore Houses

Collins and Commodore Houses are blocks of flats, built by Poplar Borough Council, on the north side of Poplar High Street, between Newby Place and Bazely Street. They stand on the site of Collins Place and Commodore Court, two areas among several represented by the Borough Medical Officer to the LCC in 1919 as being in need of clearance. (fn. 106) As nothing had happened by 1929, the Borough Council agreed to deal with these two areas themselves, but did not officially declare them as clearance areas until 28 September 1933. (fn. 107)

The Collins Place area consisted of eight houses (Nos 1–5 Collins Place, Nos 193 and 195 High Street, and No. 13 Newby Place), and involved the displacement of 54 people. To enable the site to be redeveloped, Nos 189 and 191 High Street were also acquired, displacing six more people. The Commodore Court area comprised 15 houses (Nos 1–12 Commodore Court, and Nos 219, 221, 223 High Street), containing 76 people. In addition, Nos 209–217 (odd) High Street were acquired, together with a slaughter-house in Bow Lane (now Bazely Street). (fn. 108)

The Borough Council contended that the houses in Collins Place were 'old, worn out, generally unsatisfactory, and most of them were infested with bugs', and the Commodore Court area was described as 'a dreadful place', having 'all the defects it was possible to have'. (fn. 109)

Commodore and Collins Houses were built during 1935 and 1936 (fn. 110) to designs initiated under the Acting Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Robert Bolt, (fn. 111) although later plans bear the names of one of the architectural assistants, Thomas Sibthorp, and the new Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Rees J. Williams. (fn. 112) Construction was carried out by the Council's direct labour force, but, as at Constant House and Holmsdale House, the hollowtile floors were laid by a specialist contractor. The total cost of the combined scheme, including the land, was £31,540. The densities were 58 dwellings per acre for Commodore House and slightly higher at 65 per acre for Collins House. (fn. 113)

Both blocks were set back to allow the widening of the High Street and initially they were awkwardly divided by the remaining older properties at Nos 197–203 High Street, which were left jutting out into the street. (fn. 114) Commodore House was arranged in two linked fourstorey blocks, with eight flats along Bow Lane and 16 flats along the High Street frontage. (fn. 115) The brickwork is a mixture of yellow and brownish-red, while the uppermost storey is completely rendered. The hipped roofs are slated, and concrete balconies with solid parapets run continuously along the rear of both blocks, wrapping round the corner to link the two. The main block also has a rear central, rounded, International-style, staircasetower. A novel, and rather alarming, feature was the provision of 12 'baby balconies' looking south so that a child could be put out into the open air to get the sunshine. (fn. 116) These have not survived, but were presumably of a patent iron-cage type, similar or identical to those offered to the LCC, but rejected by it on safety grounds. (fn. 117)

Collins House is similar to Commodore House, though the brick is brown and the hipped roof is set behind a high parapet wall to give the impression from street level of a flat roof. The heavy concrete rainwater-heads are a distinctive feature on the Newby Place elevation. The staircase-tower in this case is set at the south-east angle of the block and makes a curved corner feature.


  • 1. This was formed in 1975 and evolved from the Oxford House Community Centre in Bethnal Green.
  • 2. MoHR, 1919, p.89.
  • 3. PBC Mins, 1922–3, p.221.
  • 4. LCC Mins, 1924, i, pp. 130–1, 159.
  • 5. EEN, 22 July 1924, p.3.
  • 6. LCC Mins, 1925, i, p. 50.
  • 7. LCC Mins, 1925, ii, pp. 602–3; 1926, i, pp.588, 736; 1926, ii, pp. 188, 190, 235, 415, 500–2; 1927, ii, p.324; 1928, ii, p.915.
  • 8. LCC Mins, 1926, i, p.588: DA 10, 758.
  • 9. LCC Mins, 1926, ii, p.415; 1927, i, p. 704.
  • 10. LCC Mins, 1929, ii, p.437; 1930, i, p. 190.
  • 11. LCC. London Housing Statistics, 1939–46, p.38: LCC/MIN/7300, 1943, pp. 116, 138.
  • 12. LCC Mins, 1952, pp. 147–8.
  • 13. LCC/MIN/7307, p.476.
  • 14. LCC Mins, 1955, p.756; 1956, p.437.
  • 15. LCC Mins, 1957, p.533; 1958, p.632.
  • 16. LCC Mins, 1958, pp.69–70; 1959, p.291.
  • 17. LCC Mins, 1960, p.39; 1962, p. 111.
  • 18. LCC Mins, 1963, p.25.
  • 19. LCC/MIN/7302, p.425; LCC/MIN/7303, pp.472–3.
  • 20. LCC Mins, 1959, p.567.
  • 21. LCC Mins, 1961, p.37: GLC, Housing Service Handbook, Part II, 1966, p.20.
  • 22. GLRO, LCC/AR/Presented Plans/Perry's Close, dated 15 April 1959: LCC Mins, 1959, p.567; 1961, p.37.
  • 23. GLRO, GLC/MA/SC/03/466: LCC Mins, 1956, pp. 377, 424; 1958, pp. 541–2.
  • 24. LCC Mins, 1956, p.377.
  • 25. LCC Mins, 1961, p.790; 1963, pp.634–5; 1964–5, pp. 1156–7.
  • 26. GLRO, GLC/MA/SC/03/954, Report by Valuer and Director of Housing 18 July 1957; The London County Council (Turner's Buildings, Poplar) Compulsory Purchase Order, 1958; GLC/RA/A1/2/4, Report of Chief Officer of the Parks Dept, 1 Nov 1969; GLC Arts and Recreation Committee, 1968–70, p. 34: LCC Mins, 1958, p.29.
  • 27. PBC Mins, 1963–4, p.272.
  • 28. LCC/MIN/7294, pp. 213, 406, 410, 501, 554, 580, 604, 633, 667, 734; LCC/MIN/7557, 16 Oct 1935, item 8 (153), County of London (Sophia Street, Poplar Nos 1–8) Housing Confirmation Orders 1935, 19 Aug 1935.
  • 29. LCC Mins, 1934, ii, pp.831–2: LCC/MIN/7557, 16 Oct 1935, item 8 (153), County of London (Sophia Street, Poplar Nos 1–8) Housing Confirmation Orders 1935, 19 Aug 1935.
  • 30. LCC Mins, 1936, ii, p.305; 1937, i, p. 403.
  • 31. LCC/MIN/7296. p.280.
  • 32. LCC Mins, 1937, i, p.674.
  • 33. LCC Mins, 1938, i, pp. 495–6, 619; 1939, ii, p. 164.
  • 34. LCC Mins, 1934, ii, pp.831–2.
  • 35. LCC/MIN/7299, 1942, p.64; LCC/MIN/7301, p.401; LCC/MIN/7302, p.545.
  • 36. LCC/MIN/7307, p.613.
  • 37. LCC Mins, 1935, ii, p.312.
  • 38. LCC Mins, 1935, ii, pp.525–6.
  • 39. LCC/MIN/7296, p.826.
  • 40. LCC Mins, 1936, ii, pp. 195–6.
  • 41. LCC/MIN/7297, p. 384: LCC Mins, 1937, ii, p.392; 1938, i, pp. 41–2, 622; 1938, ii, pp. 21–2.
  • 42. LCC/MIN/7297, p.384.
  • 43. LCC Mins, 1937, i, p.361.
  • 44. LCC Mins, 1938, i, pp.41–2.
  • 45. LCC/MIN/7299, 1941, p. 72.
  • 46. LCC Mins, 1952, pp. 283–4; 1953, p.664; 1955, p.575; 1956, pp. 515–16, 736; 1957, pp.733–4.
  • 47. LCC Mins, 1954, p.390.
  • 48. LCC Mins, 1953, p.664.
  • 49. GLRO, GLC/MA/03/289; LCC/AR/Presented Plans/Wade St, dated 21 Jan 1957: LCC Mins, 1954, pp.78–9; 1957, pp. 144, 622; 1959, pp.753–4; 1961, p.789.
  • 50. LBTH Mins, 1972–3, p.113.
  • 51. GLRO, GLC Housing Committee Mins, 1970, p.478.
  • 52. GLRO, GLC Housing Committee Mins, 1971, p.716.
  • 53. GLRO, GLC Housing Development Committee Mins, 1973, pp.154–5.
  • 54. GLRO, GLC Housing Development Committee Mins, 1975, p.179.
  • 55. GLRO, GLC Housing Development Committee Mins, 1976–7, p.438.
  • 56. PBC Mins, 1930–1, pp. 63–4, 157, 220.
  • 57. LCC/MIN/7290, pp.298, 350–1, 671, 1130, 1132.
  • 58. Pop.1283, pp.2, 48, 59: PBC Mins, 1930–1, p.157.
  • 59. PBC, Abstract of Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1938, p. 158.
  • 60. PBC Mins, 1938–9, pp.41, 278, 367.
  • 61. LBTH Mins, 1968–9, pp. 205, 240, 319–20, 332.
  • 62. Presbyterian Housing Scheme, Report at June 1927.
  • 63. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for the Year Ended 31 Dec. 1939: A. Stuart Gray, Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary, 1985, pp. 179–80.
  • 64. Pop. 1284, p.123.
  • 65. United Reform Church Housing Association Ltd, file of reminiscences of Mrs Lloyd, Sept 1986.
  • 66. DSR 1928/556.
  • 67. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for the Year Ended 31 Dec. 1934.
  • 68. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports & Accounts for Years Ended 31 Dec. 1930 and 31 Dec. 1931.
  • 69. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for the Year Ended 31 Dec. 1932: ELA, 14 May 1932, p.5.
  • 70. LCC Mins, 1931, ii, p. 404.
  • 71. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1940–1948.
  • 72. LCC/MIN/7305, pp. 566–7.
  • 73. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1949 and 31 Dec. 1950.
  • 74. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 Dec. 1939.
  • 75. National Federation of Housing Societies Bulletin, No. 57, April 1951, p.3.
  • 76. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 Dec. 1951: The Times, 15 Nov 1955, p.11c.
  • 77. 'Winant House', Official Opening Ceremony Programme, 5 July 1951: LCC/MIN/7306, pp. 119–20.
  • 78. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 Dec. 1952.
  • 79. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1952 and 31 Dec. 1953: 'Goodfaith House', Official Opening Ceremony Programme, 19 Feb 1954.
  • 80. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1953 and 31 Dec. 1954.
  • 81. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1954 and 31 Dec. 1955: 'Goodhope House', Official Opening Ceremony Programme, 6 Oct 1955: Outlook, Dec 1967, p. 13.
  • 82. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 Dec. 1955.
  • 83. Outlook, Dec 1967, p. 13.
  • 84. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Reports for Years Ending 31 Dec. 1957 and 31 March 1978.
  • 85. Presbyterian Housing Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 Dec. 1973.
  • 86. United Reformed Church Housing Association Ltd, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 March 1980.
  • 87. LCC Mins, 1950, pp. 193–4: PBC Mins, 1950–1, p.66.
  • 88. LCC/MIN/7306, pp.242, 649; LCC/MIN/7307, p.36.
  • 89. LCC Mins, 1953, p. 407.
  • 90. LCC Mins, 1955, p.575; 1957, p.260.
  • 91. LCC Mins, 1953, p.407.
  • 92. LCC Mins, 1964–5, p.225.
  • 93. GLC Mins, 1964–5, pp. 339–40, 424: GLC, Housing Service Handbook, Part II, 1969, p. 67: Baumeister (Munich), Jan-March 1969, pp. 278–81.
  • 94. LCC Mins, 1964–5, p.225.
  • 95. LCC Mins, 1964–5, p. 225: Baumeister (Munich), Jan-March 1969, pp. 278–81.
  • 96. PBC Mins, 1934–5, pp. 81–3.
  • 97. Poplar (Poplar High Street Area No. 65A) Housing Confirmation Order 1935, 31 May 1935.
  • 98. EEN, 29 March 1935, p.7: Poplar (Harrow Lane Area No. 65) Housing Confirmation Order 1935, 25 June 1935.
  • 99. Pop.1284, p.215; Pop.1393, p. 120.
  • 100. Pop. 1393, b/w pp. 39–40; Pop. 1394, p. 149.
  • 101. Pop. 1288, p.57: THLHL, uncat. plans.
  • 102. Pop. 1284, p.35.
  • 103. Pop. 1284, p. 57: PBC Mins, 1936–7, p.345; Abstract of Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1938, p. 158.
  • 104. For the general history of the Oxford House Community, see Mandy Ashworth, The Oxford House in Bethnal Green: 100 Years of work in the community, c 1984.
  • 105. LBTH Mins, 1979–80, pp.234–5, 273; 1981–2, pp. 35, 62: London Docklands Housing Review, 1988, p.231.
  • 106. MoHR, 1919, p. 89.
  • 107. PBC Mins, 1929–30, p. 463; 1932–3, pp. 694–9.
  • 108. MoHR, 1934, p.55: THLHL, Poplar (Collins Place, etc.) Housing Confirmation Order, 1934, 17 April 1934; Poplar (Commodore Court, etc.) Housing Order, 1934, 17 April 1934.
  • 109. EEN, 19 Jan 1934, p.3.
  • 110. Pop. 1284, pp. 35, 46–7, 118, 191, 250.
  • 111. PBC Mins, 1934–5, p.21.
  • 112. THLHL, uncat. plans, dated April 1935.
  • 113. PBC, Abstract of Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1938, p. 158.
  • 114. OS 1937, LCC revision.
  • 115. Pop. 1284, pp.46–7.
  • 116. EEN, 17 April 1936, p.5.
  • 117. LCC/MIN/7551, 27 March 1935, item 57.