Tag Archives: Poplar

New Deal For East London – Bromley By Bow to Poplar

Two years ago I started a project to revisit all the locations listed as at risk in an issue of the Architects Journal. dated 19th January 1972. This issue had a lengthy, special feature titled “New Deal For East London”. The full background to the article is covered in my first post on the subject here.

I have almost completed the task of visiting all 85 locations, there are just a few more to complete. I had a day off work last Monday, the weather was perfect, so I took a walk from Bromley by Bow to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs to track down another set of locations featured in the 1972 article, and also to explore an area, the first part of which, is not usually high up on the list for a London walk.

There was so much of interest on this walk, that I have divided into two posts. Bromley by Bow to Poplar today, and Poplar to the tip of the Isle of Dogs, hopefully mid-week.

I had five sites to visit, which are shown in the following map from the 1972 article, starting at location number 29, passing by sites 56, 28 and 27 before finishing at site 26.

To get to the start of my planned route, I took the Hammersmith & City line out to Bromley by Bow station. There have been some considerable changes to the area in the years since the 1972 article, changes which are still ongoing. The following map shows the area today with the five locations marked. One obvious difference between the 1972 and 2019 maps are the major roads that have been cut through the original streets, and it is by one of these new roads that I would start the walk.

Map  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

The entrance to Bromley by Bow underground station has been a building site for the last few years, although with not too much evidence of building work underway. The exterior of the station entrance is clad in hoardings and scaffolding.

Bromley by Bow

The underground station entrance opens out onto a busy road. Three lanes of traffic either side of a central barrier. This is the A12 which leads from the Bow Flyover junction with the A11 and takes traffic down to the junction with the A13 and the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames.

Directly opposite the station is a derelict building. This, along with surrounding land has been acquired by a development company ready for the construction of a whole new, mainly residential area, including a 26 storey tower block.

Bromley by Bow

In the photo above, i am looking across the 6 lanes and central barrier of the A12. The construction of this road in the 1970s had a major impact on the area. It was once a network of smaller streets, terrace housing and industry, much of which was due to the location adjacent to the River Lea. The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London shows a very different area. Bromley Station (now Bromley by Bow) is towards the top of the map with St. Leonard’s Street passing the station, leading down to Brunswick Road. Parts of these streets remain, however as the north to south route they have been replaced by the six lane A12. Many of the side streets have also disappeared or been shortened.

Bromley by Bow

There are still many traces that can be found of the original streets and the buildings that the local population would have frequented. This photo is of the old Queen Victoria pub at 179 St Leonard’s Street.

Bromley by Bow

The pub is surrounded by the new buildings of Bow School, however originally to the side of the pub and at the back were large terraces of flats which presumably provided a large part of the customers for the Queen Victoria. The pub closed in 2001 and is presumably now residential.

Walking further along the road, the road crosses the Limehouse Cut, built during the late 1760s and early 1770s to provide a direct route between the River Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs loop and the River Lea.

Bromley by Bow

New build and converted residential buildings have been gradually working their way along the Limehouse Cut, however there are a few survivors from the light industrial use of the area, including this building where the Limehouse Cut passes underneath the A12.

Bromley by Bow

A short distance along is another old London County Council Fire Brigade Station for my collection. This was built in 1910, but has since been converted into flats.

Bromley by Bow

The building is Grade II listed, with the Historic England listing stating that the building “is listed as one of London’s top rank early-C20 fire stations“. The building originally faced directly onto Brunwsick Road and was known as Brunswick Road Fire Station, however with the A12 cutting through the area, the small loop of the original Brunswick Road that separates the fire station from the A12 has been renamed Gillender Street.

The short distance on from the fire station is the first of the Architects Journal sites on my list:

Site 29 – Bromley Hall

The view approaching Bromley Hall:

Bromley by Bow

For an area that has been through so much pre and post war development, the original industrialisation of the area and wartime bombing, it is remarkable that Bromley Hall has survived.

Although having been through many changes, the building can trace its origins back to the end of the 15th century when it was built as a Manor House, later becoming a Tudor Royal Hunting Lodge. The site is much older as it was originally occupied by the late 12th century Lower Brambeley Hall, and parts of this earlier building have been exposed and are on display through a glass floor in the building.

Bromley by Bow

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site has a few photos of Bromley Hall. The first dates from 1968 and shows the hall, apparently in good condition, but surrounded by the industry that grew up along the River Lea.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01 288 68 5683

The photo highlights the impact that the A12 has had in the area. The above photo was taken from Venue Street, a street that still remains, but in a much shorter form. Everything in the above photo, in front of Bromley Hall, is now occupied by the six lane A12.

An earlier photo from 1943 showing Bromley Hall. The windows have been bricked up, I assume either because of loss of glass due to bombing, or as protection for the building.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_288_F1262

Bromley Hall is Grade II listed and has been open during Open House London weekends and is well worth a visit.

Further along is another example that this area, now isolated across the A12 was once a thriving community. This imposing facade is of Bromley Library, built between 1904 and 1906.

Bromley by BowBromley Library was one of four libraries in Poplar. The others being Poplar Library in the High Street, Cubitt Town Library in Strattondale Street and Bow Library in Roman Road. These libraries were open from 9 in the morning till 9:30 in the evening, and in 1926 almost half a million books were issued across the four libraries.

The Bromley Library building is now Grade II listed. It closed in 1981 and after standing empty for many years, the old library building has been converted into small business units.

I walked on a bit further, then took a photo looking back up the A12 to show the width of the road.

Bromley by Bow

Bromley Hall is the building with the white side wall to camera, and the library is just to the left of the new, taller building.

There is a constant stream of traffic along this busy road, when I took this photo it was during one of the occasional gaps in traffic when a pedestrian crossing just behind me was at red. There are not too many points to cross the road, with crossings consisting of occasional pedestrian traffic lights and also a couple of pedestrian underpass.

Much of this lower part of the A12 widening between the Limehouse Cut and East India Dock Road was originally Brunswick Street. The following Collage photo from 1963 shows Brunswick Street before all this would be swept away in the 1970s for the road between the Bow Flyover and the Blackwall Tunnel.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_288_AV63_989

Before the road meets the East India Dock Road, there are additional lanes to take traffic under the A12 and across to Abbott Road to the east.

Bromley by Bow

Close to the junction between the A12 and the East India Dock Road is the Balfron Tower.

A whole post could be written about Balfron Tower, the flats design by Erno Goldfinger and built in 1967. Balfron Tower tends to generate either love it or loathe it views of the building. dependent on your appreciation of high-rise accommodation and concrete construction.

The recent past has also been controversial in the history of the building. Like many estates from the 1960s, Balfron Tower suffered from lack of maintenance, failing lifts, problems with plumping and anti-social behavior.

In 2007 the building was transferred from Tower Hamlets Council to the housing association Poplar HARCA. The transfer included a commitment for refurbishment of the building which required considerable work and cost.

Tenants were initially given the option to remain whilst refurbishment was carried out, or move to a new local property. Whilst a number of residents took up the option to move, a number of residents remained.

The remaining residents were moved out in 2010, the reason given being the difficulty of managing a significant refurbishment project along with health and safety issues whilst there are residents in the building. Initially there was an indication that the residents may have a right of return, however this option disappeared as work progressed, and the costs of building works grew.

The redevelopment work is being undertaken by a joint venture including Poplar HARCA, LondonNewcastle and Telford Homes. There will not be any social housing in the refurbished building and all flats will be sold at market rates.

A long hoarding separates the building from the A12 with artist impressions of the new Balfron Tower and the address of the website where you can register your general interest, or as a potential purchaser of one of the flats.

Bromley by Bow

Balfron Tower photographed in February 2019, clad for building work.

Bromley by Bow

A couple of years ago, I climbed the clock tower at Chrisp Street Market and photographed Balfron Tower:

Bromley by Bow

This is a development that will continue to be controversial due to the lack of any social housing and the sale of the flats at market rates. Another example of the gradual demographic change of east London.

To reach my next destination on the Architects’ Journal list, I turn into East India Dock Road. A terrace of 19th century buildings with ground floor shops runs along the north of the street and above Charlie’s Barbers there is an interesting sign:

Bromley by Bow

Interesting to have this reference to a north London club in east London. I put this photo on Twitter with a question as to the meaning and one possible reference is the boring way Arsenal use to play and results would only ever be one nil. I would have asked Charlie, if he still owns the barbers, however they were shut during my visit.

Bromley by Bow

A short distance from Charlies Barbers and across the East India Dock Road was my next location.

Site 56 – Early 19th Century All Saints, Poplar, With Contemporary Rectory And Terraces

Buildings seem to have a habit of surrounding themselves in scaffolding whenever I visit and All Saints, Poplar was certainly doing its best to hide, however it still looks a magnificent church on a sunny February morning.

Bromley by Bow

Poplar was originally a small hamlet, however the growth of the docks generated a rapid growth in population. The East India Dock Road was built between 1806 and 1812 to provide a transport route between the City and the newly built East India Docks.

Alongside the East India Dock Road, All Saints was constructed in the 1820s by the builder Thomas Morris who was awarded the contract in 1821.

The church survived the bombing of the docks during the last war until March 1945 when a V2 rocket landed in Bazely Street alongside the eastern boundary of the churchyard, causing considerable damage to the east of the church.

The church was designed to be seen as a local landmark along the East India Dock Road and across the local docks. The spire of the church is 190 feet high and the white Portland stone facing would have impressed those passing along the major route between City and Docks.

Burials in the churchyard ended in the 19th century and the gravestones have been moved to the edge, lining the metal fencing along the boundary of the church.

Bromley by Bow

The area around the church was developed during the same years as construction of the church. A couple of streets around the church now form a conservation area. These were not houses built for dock workers. Their location in the streets facing onto the church would be for those with a substantial regular income, rather than those working day-to-day in the docks.

This is Montague Place where there are eight surviving terrace houses from the 1820s.

Bromley by Bow

At the eastern end of Montague Place there is another terrace of four houses in Bazely Street. These date from 1845 and are in remarkably good condition.

Bromley by Bow

The church and two terraces of houses form a listed group and are part of a single conservation area.

A short distance further down Bazely Street is one of my favourite pubs in the area – the Greenwich Pensioner. The pub closed for a few years recently but has fortunately reopened.

Bromley by Bow

One of the problems of walking in the morning – the pubs are still closed.

I continued along Bazely Street to Poplar High Street, then turned south to the large roundabout where Cotton Street (the A1206) meets the multi-lane Aspen Way. This is not really a pedestrian friendly area, however I needed to cross under the Aspen Way to continue heading south for my next destination.

This photo looking towards the east, is from the roundabout underneath the flyover that takes the Aspen Way on its way to the Lower Lea Crossing.

Bromley by Bow

As with the A12 along Bromley by Bow, this area has been cut through with some major new multi-lane roads as part of the redevelopment of the docks.

A poster seen underneath the flyover alongside the roundabout.

Bromley by Bow

A poster that is relevant to a specific point in time. I was not sure who would see the poster as it is facing inwards, away from the traffic on the roundabout, and I doubt that many pedestrians take this route.

Emerging from underneath the flyover and the developments on the northern edge of the Isle of Dogs can be seen.

Bromley by Bow

Crossing over Trafalgar Way, and one of the old docks can be found. This is Poplar Dock looking west with two cranes remaining from when the dock was operational.

Bromley by Bow

The site is now Poplar Dock Marina and is full with narrow boats and an assorted range of other smaller craft. Poplar Dock opened in 1851, however the site had originally been used from 1827 as a reservoir to balance water levels in the main West India Dock just to the west. In the 1840s the area was used as a timber pond before conversion to a dock.

Poplar Docks served a specific purpose, being known as a railway dock. The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows Poplar Docks almost fully ringed by railway tracks and depots of the railway companies.

Bromley by Bow

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Again, the docks deserve far more attention than I can give in this post, so for now, I will leave Poplar Docks at their southern end and walk along Preston’s Road to get to my next location on the Architects’ Journal list.

Site 28 – Early 19th Century Dockmaster’s House, Now Empty

Those last two words must have been the reason for inclusion in the list. An empty building in the docklands in the 1970s would have been at risk, however fortunately the building has survived and this is the view when approaching the location along Preston’s Road.

Bromley by Bow

The Dockmaster’s House goes by the name of Bridge House and is now occupied by apartments available for short term rent.

The house is alongside the Blackwall entrance to the docks, a channel that connects the River Thames to the Blackwall Basin so would have seen all the shipping entering from the river, heading via the basin to and from the West India Dock.

Evidence of the historic function of the place can be found hidden in the gardens between the house and the channel.

Bromley by Bow

Bridge House was built between 1819 and 1820 for the West India Dock Company’s Principal Dockmaster. The entrance to the house faces to the channel running between docks and river, however if you look at the first photo of Bridge House taken from Preston’s Road you will see large bay windows facing out towards the river. This was a deliberate part of the design by John Rennie as these windows, along with the house being on raised ground would provide a perfect view towards the river and the shipping about to enter or leave the docks.

The Architects’ Journal in January 1972 were right to be worried about the future of Bridge House. Later that same year a fire destroyed the roof. The rest of the house survived and a flat roof was put in place.

The house was converted to flats in 1987 and a new roof to the same design as the original replaced the flat roof. The luxury flats did not sell, and Bridge House has hosted a number of temporary office roles before apparently now providing a short term let for flats which have been constructed inside the building.

The view from in front of the house. This side of the house is facing down to the channel that leads from the Thames to the Blackwall Basin.

Bromley by Bow

A view from the bridge over the channel showing the house in its raised position, overlooking the channel and to the right, the River Thames (although that view is now obstructed by buildings).

Bromley by Bow

Before continuing on down through the Isle of Dogs in my next post, I will pause here on the bridge over the channel between docks and river to enjoy the view.

This is looking west towards the original Blackwall Basin:

Bromley by Bow

This is looking east, the opposite direction towards the river with the Millennium Dome partly visible across the river.

Bromley by Bow

I really enjoyed this part of the walk, what could be considered an unattractive route, walking down from Bromley by Bow station is completely wrong. It is an area going through considerable change but there is so much history and so much to explore.

In my next post I will continue walking south towards the far end of the Isle of Dogs to find the remaining two locations from the 1972 issue of the Architects’ Journal.

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London Docklands – A 1976 Strategic Plan

There have been numerous studies over the years looking into how London should develop and that detail a vision and proposals for the future that are frequently very different to the past. Many of these proposals get no further than the written page, however it is fascinating to see how London could have developed into a very different city if some of these proposals had been implemented.

In the early 1970s, East London and the London Docklands were suffering from the closure of the docks, loss of industry and employment and the gradual exodus of people. The area had also never fully recovered from the significant damage of wartime bombing.

My posts on the 1973 Architects Journal issue covering East London have explored some of the original issues, and these can also be found in a strategic plan published in 1976 by the Docklands Joint Committee.

I found the 1976 publication documenting the strategic plan in a second-hand bookshop, having been originally from the Planning Resources Centre of Oxford Brookes University.

The front cover provides an indication of the type of change proposed for the London Docklands, from derelict docks and industrial buildings to housing and schools more likely to be found in the suburbs, rather than East London.

London Docklands

The 1970s were a decade of confusion in the development of the London Docklands.

Dock closure had started in 1967 and continued through to 1970 with the closure of the East India, St. Katherine’s, Surrey and London Docks. Although the West India and Millwall Docks would not close until the end of the decade, the future of these historic docks was clear due to their inability to support the rapidly increasing containerisation of goods passing through the docks. Development of docks at Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe were the future.

The area covered by the docks, the industries clustered around the docks, and the housing of those who lived and worked in East London was significant, running from Tower Bridge to Beckton where the River Roding entered the Thames.

The Conservative Secretary of State, Peter Walker was clear in his views that the task of development was outside the scope of local government, and as a result a firm of consultants, Travers Morgan were hired to investigate the possibilities for a comprehensive redevelopment of the area.

The proposals put forward by Travers Morgan in their 1973 report proposed a number of possible development scenarios which included office development, housing and even a water park, however their proposals had minimal input from those who still lived and worked in the London Docklands. The Travers Morgan report was opposed by the Trades Unions and local Labour authorities and the Joint Docklands Action Group was setup to coordinate opposition.

Labour took control of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973, and in the 1974 General Election, Labour formed a minority government. The Travers Morgan proposals were abandoned.

The Secretary of State for the Environment established the Docklands Joint Committee in January 1974. The objectives of the committee are summarised in the opening paragraph of their report:

“The overall objective of the strategy is: To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London’s Dockland becoming available for development to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London.”

The committee was comprised of representatives from the GLC and the London boroughs both north and south of the river that came within the overall boundaries of the docks (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham). The Government also appointed representatives to the committee and community organisations were represented through the Docklands Forum who had two members on the committee.

The proposals produced by the Docklands Joint Committee were very different to those of the earlier Travers Morgan study. Travers Morgan had identified a future need for office space, along with housing and retail, however the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee focused on what the existing inhabitants required and how their skills could best be used and therefore developed a future based on manufacturing and industry.

Another difference to the earlier Travis Morgan study was in the way that the Docklands Joint Committee aimed to involve and consult the local population of the docklands. Public meetings were arranged, a mobile exhibition of the proposals toured the area, and in the words of the preface to the proposals “every effort will be made to ensure that everyone affected has the chance to know what is being proposed, and why, and to make his or her views known.”

The Strategic Plan as a draft for public consultation was published in March 1976 with a request that comments should be sent by the 30th June 1976.

The plan was very comprehensive including the routing of roads, public transport, industry and housing. Four maps within the plan provided a summary of the Docklands Joint Committee’s recommendations for how land use across the docklands would transform over the coming years.

Docklands Development Phase 1 – Up To 1982

London Docklands

The first phase of docklands development would start to expand established district centres and new housing would be built in Wapping, around the Surrey Docks/Deptford area (expanding the existing Redriff estate) and new housing in the south-east quarter of the Isle of Dogs.

The development of large industrial zones would commence, centred on the Greenwich Peninsula and along the river to Woolwich, the areas around the River Lea and Beckton.

The targets of the district centres were:

  • Wapping could have about 20,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred round a supermarket, together with a health centre, although this might be in temporary accommodation;
  • On the Isle of Dogs the southern centre could have a shopping centre of about 60,000 sq.ft together with a health centre;
  • Surrey Docks could also have roughly 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred around a large supermarket together with a health centre;
  • The East Beckton centre could be the furthest developed, with around 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, a secondary school. health centre, and community centre

For transport, short-term improvements would be made to the North Woolwich and East London line along with improvements to bus services and existing roads.

Docklands Development Phase 2 – Up To 1986

The second phase of docklands development continues the work of the first phase with expansion of housing in Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, with substantial new housing in Beckton. The plan proposed that by the end of phase 2 development across the Surrey Docks would be complete.

The plan was rather vague on new transport projects, however by the end of phase 2, the intention that a new underground line from Fenchurch Street Station would have been extended to Custom House. The strategy document described this new underground line as:

“New tube line (River line) – The Docklands Joint Committee have endorsed the proposed route from Fenchurch Street to Custom House but there are two alternative routes from Custom House to Thamesmead, shown dotted, which are to be further examined.”

In the map below, the River line is shown as a line of wide and narrow dashes out to just north of the Royal Victoria Dock. Other diagrams in the report show the two options for extending the route on to Thamesmead, one via Beckton and the other option via Woolwich Arsenal.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 3 – Up To 1990

Phase 3 up to 1990 is where the major changes were implemented and would have resulted in a very different docklands to the area we see today.

Phase 3 included the filling in of the majority of the old docks, with the exception of the Royal Albert and King George V docks. The report does acknowledge that the ability to make these changes is very dependent on the future operations of the Port of London Authority on the Isle of Dogs and the Victoria Dock in Newham. This highlighted one of the key challenges for the Docklands Joint Committee in that they did not own any of the land across the docklands so the implementation of their proposals would be very dependent on large owners such as the Port of London Authority and the availability of significant funding.

Phase 3 aimed to address the lack of open space available to the residents of the Isle of Dogs and Poplar. In the north of the Isle of Dogs there is a new large area of green which the plan proposed as:

“The open space area not only provides space for playing fields for a secondary school associated with the district centre, but will also help relieve the deficiency of playing fields and open space in Poplar.”

Phase 3 would see the work in Beckton complete with new housing east of the district centre. In Silvertown and North Woolwich the release of land around the Victoria Dock would allow the extension of the Poplar and Silvertown industrial zones to the east.

For transport, phase 3 identified the possible route of a new road, the southern relief route (shown by the line of circles in the diagram below). The route shown would have involved two river crossings, complication by the need for opening bridges. The benefit of the route across the Isle of Dogs was, although dependent on the future of the Millwall Dock, it would pass mostly through vacant land. A disadvantage of the route was identified as the significant additional traffic the new road would feed into Tooley Street and the resulting addition to the congestion on the approach to Tower Bridge.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 4 – Up To 1997

Phase 4 completed the development across the docklands, however still with options for train and road routes.

In the Isle of Dogs, there would be further additional housing, however the main feature is continuous open space from the north, through the centre of the peninsula, to link up with Mudchute in the south.

In the Silvertown and North Woolwich area, there would be additional housing and open space to occupy the area once covered by the Royal Victoria Dock.

The map shows the route reserved for the proposed road, and the two options for extension of the proposed River line on to Thamesmead.

London Docklands

The map for phase 4 shows how different the docklands would have been if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee had been implemented.

By completion, the allocation of the 5,500 acres within the Docklands area would have been:

  • 1,600 acres for industry
  • 1,600 for housing
  • 600 acres of public open space and playing fields
  • 600 acres for community services and transport

The remaining 1,100 acres was assumed to be still held by the Port of London Authority (the Royal Albert and King George Docks), the Gas Corporation at Greenwich and Beckton and the Thames Water Authority, also at Beckton.

Although the report documented the considerable redevelopment of the whole Docklands area, the report also identified as a priority the need to retain many of the older buildings that could still be found across the area.

An appendix of the report listed 101 buildings that were a priority for retention. An extract from the appendix is shown below with one of the maps, and following a list of the buildings in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs area.

London Docklands

London Docklands

The number in the third column is the floor space, not a financial value.

The need in the report to list buildings that should be retained is similar to the 1973 Architects’ Journal on East London which also listed buildings across East London that were at risk. There was considerable concern that wholesale development of such a large area of land would include the destruction of many of the historic buildings that could be found across East London. Many of these had lost their original function which placed them at further risk.

Following publication, a number of problems were quickly identified with the proposals.

The emphasis on industrial and manufacturing space rather than office space did not align with the wider environment across the country with the gradual decline in manufacturing and the potential growth in financial services and wider service industries that was taking hold in London.

The Docklands Joint Committee had no real powers and no direct access to finance for the purchase of land and the implementation of the proposals. This was further complicated by the lack of local authority finance due to the economic conditions of the mid to late 1970s.

The Docklands Joint Committee was also intended to coordinate the response of the individual local authorities that covered the docklands, however all too often these local authorities acted in their own interest. Examples being the work of Tower Hamlets to relocate Billingsgate Market and to bring the News International print works to Wapping in the early 1980s.

The Docklands Joint Committee did try to bring in private finance late in the process, however this was opposed by some of the local action groups who did not agree to the use of private finance in the development of the area.

In the meantime, the people of the Docklands were getting more and more frustrated with the lack of action, endless studies and consultations, but no significant development. Jobs and people continued to leave the Docklands. When the Docklands Joint Committee report was published in 1976 the population of the Docklands was round 55,000 and by 1981 this had reduced to 39,000.

The House of Commons expenditure committee examined the work of the Docklands Joint Committee in 1979  and came to the conclusion that since the committee had been formed, very little had been done.

As well as coming in front of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee, 1979 was also the year of another event that would seal the fate of both the Docklands Joint Committee and their proposals when a Conservative Government was elected.

Michael Heseltine as the Secretary of State for the Environment created Urban Development Corporations, one of which would focus on the London Docklands as the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The objective of an Urban Development Corporation was stated in the  Local Government, Planning and Land Act:

“Shall be to secure the regeneration of its area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.”

The Conservative ideology was also that private rather than public money would fund and drive much of the development of the Docklands.

Financial deregulation would also drive the demand for a new type of office space consisting of large open floor trading areas with the space to install the complex IT systems and their associated cabling that was a challenge in the more traditional buildings of the City of London.

The Docklands would change beyond recognition over the following years. The London Docklands Development Corporation published a glossy summary of their work in 1995 titled “London Docklands Today”. To emphasise the degree of change, the publication included a few before and after photos, including these of Nelson Dry Dock, Rotherhithe:

London Docklands

London Docklands

And these of the West India Docks in 1982 and 1993:

London Docklands

London Docklands

The Docklands area today continues to develop. The Isle of Dogs seems to be a continual building site, however it could have all been very different if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee were not now just an interesting footnote in the development of London.

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The Lansbury Exhibition Of Architecture

The Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture is the final stop on my exploration of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

My apologies, but this is rather a long post, however the story of the Exhibition of Architecture held at the Lansbury Estate in Poplar is a fascinating subject, and as usual, I feel I am only scratching the surface, although I hope you will find this of interest.

For the majority of this post, I will take a walk around the Lansbury Estate, but first some background.

The London Docks, industry and density of population meant that much of the east end of London was a prime target during the last war with large areas in need of urgent reconstruction by the late 1940s.

On the 29th May 1946, the London County Council applied to the Minister of Town and Country Planning for 1,945 acres of Stepney and Poplar to be declared an area of comprehensive development under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

Of the total request, 1,312 acres were declared to be an area of Comprehensive Development which meant that development of the area could now be planned and implemented as an integrated project with zoning of space and allocation to specific functions such as shops, housing, schools etc.

The plans to redevelop the area were based on the 1943 County of London Plan which attempted to address many of the problems caused by the random and sprawling growth of London such as:

  • Traffic congestion
  • Large areas of depressed housing
  • Inadequate and badly distributed open spaces
  • Intermingling of industry with housing

The plans acknowledged that despite the way the city had grown, strong, local communities had developed and it was important that these were retained during future development.

Eleven new neighbourhoods were planned for the Stepney and Poplar area of comprehensive development, each would be developed as if it were a small town with the appropriate local facilities of schools, shops, churches and public space.

An Exhibition of Architecture was planned for the Festival of Britain and in 1948 the Council for Architecture, Town Planning and Building Research proposed that one of the neighbourhoods to be developed in Stepney and Poplar would be an ideal site to demonstrate the latest approach to town planning, architecture and building.

A neighbourhood in Poplar was chosen. Named “Lansbury” after George Lansbury who had a long association with Poplar, as the Poplar member for the Board of Guardians of the Poor, on the Poplar Borough Council, the first Labour Mayor in 1919 and until his death in 1940 he was the Labour MP for one of the Poplar divisions.

The Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture would show how town planning and scientific building principles would provide a better environment in which to live and work, and how this would be applied to the redevelopment of London and the new towns planned across the country.

The following Aerofilms photo from 1951 shows Poplar looking west towards the City. The East India Dock Road runs from middle left of the photo. Along the lower part of the photo, running from left to right is the old railway that ran from Poplar Station (located where All Saints is now), north through Bow and Old Ford stations. The DLR now occupies this route.

I have outlined in red the borders of the Exhibition of Architecture. Much of the site was still being developed by the time of the Festival of Britain, however the construction of some buildings was brought forward and a special exhibition area was constructed specifically for the festival.

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The following map is from the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture Guide. Turn this by 90 degrees to the right to match the layout of the photo above. The red arrows on the map show the recommended route for the visitor to walk around the exhibition and the map shows the type of buildings either constructed, in the process of construction, or planned for the future in order to show Lansbury as a single, integrated neighbourhood.

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The map gives the impression that at the time of the exhibition this was a fully finished site. Completion of many of the buildings had been rushed through ready for the start of the exhibition, however work on many others was still in progress and the exhibition site would not really reach a state of completion until the closure of the exhibition. A criticism at the time was that the route around the site was hard to follow with lack of clear sign posting and white direction lines on the ground not always being clear.

To explore the Exhibition of Architecture, I took my copy of the guide and via the DLR arrived at All Saints station ready to walk the same route as the Festival route in 1951.

My tour of the site started in the road to the left of the yellow block which included features 1 to 5. This was the Exhibition Enclosure, and was the first point on the tour – built specifically for the festival and hosting pavilions that would highlight the approaches now being used for town planning and building.

The Exhibition Enclosure included a Building Research Pavilion, a Town Planning Pavilion, a weather station (to show the relationship between changing weather conditions and building materials), along with one of the new types of crane that would soon be seen across London as reconstruction continued apace.

The Exhibition also included a “Gremlin Grange” in the Building Research Pavilion that highlighted what goes wrong when scientific building principles are not employed, such as:

  • Structural cracks and leaning walls – due to bad foundation design
  • External plaster coming off – because the mix contained too much cement
  • Damp rising up the walls – because there is no damp course
  • Leaning chimney stacks – often the result of chemical action on mortar joints
  • Fireplaces smoking – owing to bad design of chimney and flue
  • Tank leaking – because it lacks protection against frost
  • Cracks in walls – because poorly designed foundations have subsided
  • Bad artificial lighting – causing discomfort and eyestrain

The intention was to show that through the use of new design principles and building materials, the buildings across Lansbury would not suffer these gremlins.

The following photo is from the corner of Saracen Street and the East India Dock Road looking across to the area that was the Exhibition Enclosure. Buildings in line with the architectural style of the rest of Lansbury were built on the site following the closure of the festival.

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A model of the area shows the Exhibition Enclosure in the lower left of the following photo:

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I then walked to the open space marked as point 6 on the map – and centre right in the above photo.

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Point 6 is an area of open space in front of the new Trinity Congregational Church. Before the redevelopment of Stepney and Poplar there was a combined total of 42 acres of open space which averaged out at 0.4 acres per 1,000 people. The County of London plan proposed an increase to a standard of 3.6 acres per 1,000 people and across the Stepney and Poplar development area, an increase from 42 to 267 acres of open space was planned. We will see as we walk around the Exhbition of Architecture route how open space has been used across the development of Lansbury.

At the far end, we can see the tower of Trinity Congregational Church (point 7 on the map). Built on the site of an earlier church that was destroyed by bombing, the new church was designed by the architects Cecil C. Handisyde and D. Rogers Stark. The main structure of the church is of reinforced concrete with London brick covering the exterior of the tower.

The church today looks almost identical to the original architectural models:

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Rear view of the church from Annabel Close – the only change to the model of the church is from a double to a single row of windows on the building at the rear.

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The church was originally a Methodist Church, but is now a Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church.

The photo below shows the side view of the church buildings, again almost identical to the original model. The brick facing and large areas of glass are typical of post war designs used for public buildings.

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Back to the recommended route for the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture and after walking round the church, we can cross Annabel Close and walk into the playground marked 34 on the map.

The playground as it is today:

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Playgrounds were an important part of the open space policy and at the time of the Exhibition of Architecture were planned to include children’s playground rides and sandpits.

In the centre of the old playground are two highly reflective memorials to the Festival of Britain and George Lansbury. The memorial to George Lansbury is shown below and provides an overview of his work in politics, the pacifist movement, efforts to improve the lives of the poor, equal rights and votes for women, along with his long marriage to his wife Elisabeth and their 12 children (one of his grandchildren is the actress Angela Lansbury).

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Walking out of the old playground area, past the parking area for cars and into Duff Street and it is here that we first encounter the new homes built as part of the redevelopment of the area.

The following photo is looking up Duff Street towards Grundy Street with the two storey, terrace houses marked at point 10 on the map.

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Although almost the whole area of Lansbury is post-war new build, there are some buildings that remain from the pre-war period. On the map is a building at the end of Duff Street marked as number 12 – Public House (existing). The side of the pub can be seen in the above photo and the full view from Grundy Street is shown in the photo below:

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The pub was built in 1868 as the African Tavern, but changed name to the African Queen in the 1990s. The faded name board for African Queen can still be seen on the edge of the pub from Duff Street.  The pub closed in 2002.

Standing in Grundy Street we can see at each end two of the main features of Lansbury, to the west the Roman Catholic Church:

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And to the east, the tower at Chrisp Street Market:

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Continuing along the route from the exhibition along Grundy Street and these are the three storey terrace houses marked at point 13 opposite Duff Street. Again, the use of a large area of open space that opens out to the street, with the houses constructed on three sides results in a very different environment when compared with the high density housing that originally occupied the area.

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Walking along Grundy Street and here is the second set of three storey, terrace houses, also marked as point 13 on the map. This is Chilcot Close.

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The drawings for Chilcot Close were featured in the guide to the Exhibition of Architecture and show the buildings and central open space to be almost the same today. The drawings also show the floor plans of the mix of different types of accommodation in these terrace houses with a maisonette, one room and three room flats.

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Chilcot Close is an interesting example of where building names have retained the names of lost streets. The map extract below is from the 1940 Bartholomew Greater London Atlas and shows Grundy Street running along the centre of the map. Just above the letter N in Grundy is Chilcott Street. The street was lost in the post war rebuilding with the two sets of three storey houses now occupying this space, however the name of the street (less a T) has been kept as Chilcot Close. The fact that a street extended into this block of land shows the original density of building as houses would have run along Grundy Street and also all round Chilcott Street.

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Continuing to the end of Grundy Street, we come to the junction with Kerbey Street and it is here, at point 15 on the map that we find the Festival Inn. Thankfully still a working pub, as well as the name, the pub retains a link with the Festival of Britain by the use of the festival’s symbol by Abram Games on one side of the pub sign.

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The Festival Inn is on the edge of the Shopping Centre and Chrisp Street Market (point 16 on the map) which was core to developing the Lansbury community and to replace the original Chrisp Street market.

The Festival Inn replaced two nearby pubs, the Grundy Arms and the Enterprise. Although the pub sign still uses the festival symbol, there was originally a free standing pub sign consisting of a pole with at the top the model of a group of Londoners dancing around the Skylon – the Festival and London equivalent of a maypole. Unfortunately this has not survived.

Photos of the model of the shopping and market area are shown below. The area consisted of:

  • a large pedestrian area with space for the stalls of street traders along with permanent covered stalls allocated to traders in meat and fish
  • terraces of lock up shops running alongside the market and along a branch heading up to Cordelia Street
  • above the lock up shops were maisonettes, mainly two bedroom, but some three bedroom

The buildings lining the market are of London brick with reinforced concrete beams running along the top of the shops to support the maisonettes above.

At the edge of the market is a clock tower with steps running up the inside of the tower to a viewing gallery at the top. As well as photos of the model, the floor plans of the maisonettes can be seen below.

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View from within the market showing the pub at the left and the shops with the maisonettes above. This is the part of the market in the lower left corner of the photo above.

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The photo below shows the branch of the shopping centre / market looking down towards Cordelia Street. Again, still almost identical to the original model shown in the photos above.

This layout, with pedestrianised walkways between rows of shops with accommodation above would be the format for new town shopping centres and town centre redevelopment for decades to come.

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View looking to the north east corner of the market / shopping centre.

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The Chrisp Street Market replaced an earlier street market. Pre-war, Chrisp Street Market was the largest across Poplar and Stepney with 285 licensed stalls on the busiest day, the next largest was Middlesex Street Market with 262 licensed stalls. These were figures from 1939.

There were many other street markets across Poplar and Stepney and the following table shows the markets with pre and post war stall numbers. Interesting that for the majority of street markets they were smaller in 1951 than they had been in 1939 – reflecting the loss of housing and therefore population.

Stepney 1939 1951
Solebay Street 26 8
Burdett Road 60 36
Hessel Street 29 29
Burslem Street 16 9
Watney Street 200 150
White Horse Road 150 42
Salmon Lane 18 9
Wentworth Street 68 68
Goulston Street 100 148
Old Castle Street 40 60
Middlesex Street 262 262
New Goulston Street 30 42
Poplar
Chrisp Street 285 189
Devons road 39 12

The following photo shows part of the original Chrisp Street market:

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At the corner of the market, alongside Chrisp Street is the clock tower built as a key feature of the market. Running up the centre of the tower are two interlocking staircases built of reinforced concrete leading up to the viewing gallery and clock mechanism. The two staircases only met at the top and bottom of the tower so that those walking up would use one staircase and those walking down would use the second – a clever design to avoid congestion on the stairs.

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At the opposite corner of the market place to the clock tower, along Chrisp Street, is one of the new pubs, shown as point 15 on the map, built as part of the redevelopment.

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To continue the recommended route from the exhibition, walk back through the market and along Market Place and cut through to Ricardo Street.

Ricardo Street is lined along the south side with four storey maisonettes (point number 17 on the map). A mix of two to four bedroom maisonettes each with a living room, garden and clothes drying area with two storeys per maisonette. The upper level is reached along the balcony on the third floor that runs the length of the terrace.

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At the end of Ricardo Street, turn south into Bygrove Street and these three storey blocks line the street which comprise two storey maisonettes with a flat above on the top floor (number 20 on the map).

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The construction of these four and three storey buildings was to the same standard and consisted of foundations of mass concrete with piling where required, external walls of load bearing brick with London brick on the exterior facing. Fire resistant construction between individual flats and maisonettes along with sound insulation – all aimed at improving the safety and living standards of those who would be living in Lansbury.

Roofing was in Welsh Slate and windows were metal in wooden frames.

At the end of Bygrove Street we are back into Grundy Street and in position 22 on the map there is a row of 2 storey terrace houses.

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At the end of Grundy Street is the large Roman Catholic Church that was under construction at the time of the Festival of Britain. Replacing an earlier church, the new church had seating for 700 people as at the time, Poplar had a large Roman Catholic population and in the years immediately after the opening of the church, attendance would often reach 1,000 people.

The architect of the church was A. Gilbert Scott. The overall shape of the church was based on a Greek cross, and exterior of the building was faced with stone coloured bricks with the roof being covered in Lombardic styles tiles – a very different style to the rest of Lansbury and to the Trinity Church, which along with the central position of the church within the Lansbury estate made the church a key landmark within and from the outside of the estate.

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Now walk past the church and into Canton Street and in position 27 on the map are more two storey terrace houses. The opposite side of the road has buildings of recent construction which I will return to later.

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Follow the map and cut through into Pekin Street and there are more two storey houses, but of a different design. Point 30 on the map and described as “linked houses”. Not exactly terrace, rather semi-detached houses linked together by a smaller, two storey build.

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Now at the junction of Pekin Street and Saracen Street we can look across to the three storey flats marked as 32 on the map.

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Following the map and walking past these flats, a large, green space with mature trees (almost certainly planted at the time of construction) opens out. As can be seen from the photos, there is a good amount of open space, trees, hedges and grass across the Lansbury estate, with the level of green on the exhibition map showing the planners intention that there should be plenty of open space, gardens and grass across the estate.

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Having reached the open space we can see the tallest buildings constructed as part of the original development, the six storey flats shown at point 33 in the map.

The architect for these flats was Sidney Howard of the Housing and Valuation Department of the London County Council.

The six storey flats have lifts and each flat was equipped with a solid smokeless fuel fire and back boiler in the living room or bed-sitting room. This combination provided hot water to the bathroom, hand-basin and the kitchen sink.  The flats had a hot water tank in the linen cupboard providing an immediate supply of hot water. Electric power points were installed in each room.

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The recommended walk then passes through to Canton Street with the main exit and the bus departure point which was located at point 36. This has since been built over with later flats with a slightly different style but following the overall format of the estate.

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Rather than walk back to the Exhibition Pavilion as suggested by the recommended route, I decided to take a walk along some of the other streets in the Lansbury estate which were not on the exhibition’s recommended route.

This is the northern section of Saracen Street and shows the three storey buildings marked 28 on the map. These builds provided maisonettes and flats.

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At the end of Saracen Street is the junction with Hind Grove. This is the view looking back down Saracen Street and shows the proximity of this area of Poplar with the towers of the Canary Wharf development.

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The building on the corner is now the Hind Grove Food and Wine store but was originally a pub marked as number 15 on the map at the junction of Hind Grove and Saracen Street.

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This is the drawing of the pub from the exhibition guide (the caption references Hind Street, however in the 1940 Bartholomew map and on today’s maps the street is called Hind Grove).

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Follow Hind Grove along and this is now the view. In the exhibition map, the buildings marked at number 26 were on this site. This was originally the Cardinal Griffen Secondary School. a large school built as part of the overall development of the Lansbury estate.

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The Cardinal Griffen Secondary School was designed for the Archdiocese of Westminster and the London County Council by David Stokes, to accommodate 450 children aged between eleven and fifteen.

The school consisted of a gym, assembly hall, dining room, staff room, medical room, general class rooms and specialised classrooms for crafts and sciences. The school was constructed of a reinforced concrete frame and brick walls with large areas of glass to provide lots of natural light to the classrooms. Load bearing walls were kept to the outside of the structure thereby giving the freedom for future reconfiguration of the internal space of the school without the need for major building works.

The following extract from the exhibition guide shows the school  with the playing fields running along the edge of Canton Street.

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The school was renamed as the Blessed John Roche Catholic School in 1991 and closed in 2005 with new housing built on the site of the school and across the playing fields. This included the new building facing onto Canton Street mentioned earlier.

One school that is still here is the original Ricardo Street Primary School – now named the Lansbury Lawrence Primary School. Named after George Lansbury and Susan Lawrence, a Labour MP and member of the local council in Poplar at the time when George Lansbury was challenging central government by refusing to set a rate due to the unfairness of charging the poor.

The entrance to the Lansbury Lawrence Primary School on Cordelia Street is shown in the photo below. Designed by the architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardell, construction of the school consisted of a steel framework faced with concrete slabs along with London bricks. Large areas of glass provided plenty of natural lighting to the school as can be seen in the photo.

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The original model of the school is shown in the following photo and shows the long row of classrooms with large windows providing plenty of natural light. The entrance to the school shown in my photo above is in the top right corner of the model.

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That was the end of my walk around the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture site, but what was the outcome of the exhibition?

When the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture was being planned, expected visitor numbers were in the order of 10,000 to 25,000 a day, however by the time the exhibition closed the average daily attendance at the exhibition pavilions was 580. This low attendance should really have been anticipated:

  • there was very limited advertising for the exhibition and it had a low key opening
  • travel out to Lansbury was not that easy with a boat journey followed by buses being provided by the exhibition organisors
  • it was a specialist exhibition, probably only of interest to those in the architectural and building professions and the limited numbers within the population with an interest in architecture and the future of towns and cities
  • the Exhibition of Architecture in Poplar, could not compete with the excitement of the rather more central locations of the main festival site on the South Bank and the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea

The impact of the Lansbury development was also unpopular with many of the existing residents. A large number of people needed to be moved to allow for rebuilding to take place. By November 1950, 533 people had been relocated, however the London County Council policy was that people would be relocated to the next available accommodation. This meant that the original population of the Lansbury site could be scattered across London. This was made worse when the new Lansbury buildings were ready for occupation as priority was not given to original residents, rather Lansbury became part of the overall LCC pool of housing with residents being matched to accommodation based on availability and need.

The general view of the architecture at Lansbury was that it was “worthy but dull”. Whilst the estate consisted of buildings ranging from two storey houses up to six storey flats, the overall design was much the same and the use of the same coloured brick for the external finish to the majority of the buildings resulted in a lack of architectural diversity across Lansbury – this can still be seen walking the estate today, as shown in my photos.

Following closure of the Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury became just another of the many London County Council development sites, with construction of the wider site continuing for the following decades, filling in the area between the Market and the East India Dock Road, building north to the Limehouse Cut and west to Burdett Road.

The area was also hit badly during the 1970s and 80s by the closure of the London Docks. Unemployment and a growing backlog of maintenance work across the estate contributed to an environment where drug dealing and crime took hold across the estate. The Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (Poplar harca) was established in the mid 1990’s and a considerable amount of work has taken place since to repair and refurbish the existing housing stock, build new housing, address unemployment issues etc.

Many of the principles on show at Lansbury, such as the use of mainly low-rise housing and green space was used in the new towns that were being built across the country and walking through the market / shopping centre at Chrisp Street will show similarities with shopping centres at new towns such as Harlow.

As with the majority of London, time does not stand still for Lansbury and today the Chrisp Street market area is threatened with a range of new developments.

A much shorter post in the next couple of days will include some final information about Lansbury.

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