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Poplar is a historic, mainly residential area of East London, England, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) east of Charing Cross. Historically a hamlet in the parish of Stepney, Middlesex, in 1817 Poplar became a civil parish. In 1855 the Poplar District of the Metropolis was formed, which also included Bromley and Bow. The district became the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar in 1900 which was abolished in 1965. The district centre is Chrisp Street Market. Poplar contains notable examples of public housing including the Lansbury Estate and Balfron Tower.
Architecturally it is a mixture of 18th and 19th century terraced houses and 20th century council estates. There is evidence the district is undergoing gentrification, thought to be due to its close proximity to the major business centre of Canary Wharf and nightlife of Shoreditch and Brick Lane.
St Matthias Old Church is located on Poplar High Street, opposite Tower Hamlets College. It is next to Poplar Town Hall – which has mosaic detail – and Poplar Bowls Club, which is part of Poplar Recreation Ground. A recently re-opened sports centre called The Workhouse stands on the site of Poplar Workhouse, where local politician Will Crooks spent some of his earliest years (a nearby council housing estate is named after him).
The Metropolitan Borough of Poplar was the location, in 1921, of the Poplar Rates Rebellion, led by the Mayor, George Lansbury, who was later elected as leader of the Labour Party. As part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, a new council housing estate was built to the north of the East India Dock Road and named the Lansbury Estate after him. This estate includes Chrisp Street Market, which was greatly commended by Lewis Mumford. The same era also saw the construction of the Robin Hood Gardens housing complex (overlooking the northern portal of the Blackwall Tunnel) – designed by architects Peter and Alison Smithson – and the similarly brutalist Balfron Tower, Carradale House and Glenkerry House (to the north) – designed by Ernő Goldfinger. Other notable buildings in Poplar include Poplar Baths, finally closed in 1988, which local campaigners hope to get redeveloped.
In 1998, following ballots of the residents, Tower Hamlets Council transferred parts of the Lansbury estate and six other Council housing estates within Poplar to Poplar HARCA, a new housing association set up for the purpose of regenerating the area. The following year, tenants on further estates voted to remain with the Council. However, after a lengthy consultation of all Council estates in Tower Hamlets begun in 2002, most estates in Poplar did transfer to Poplar HARCA, East End Homes and other landlords between 2005 and 2007.
Although many people associate wartime bombing with The Blitz during World War II, the first airborne terror campaign in Britain took place during the First World War. Air raids in World War One caused significant damage and took many lives. German raids on Britain, for example, caused 1,413 deaths and 3,409 injuries. Air raids provided an unprecedented means of striking at resources vital to an enemy's war effort. Many of the novel features of the war in the air between 1914 and 1918—the lighting restrictions and blackouts, the air raid warnings and the improvised shelters—became central aspects of the Second World War less than 30 years later. The East End of London was one of the most heavily targeted places. Poplar, in particular, was struck badly by some of the air raids during the First World War. Initially these were at night by Zeppelins which bombed the area indiscriminately, leading to the death of innocent civilians.
The first daylight bombing attack on London by a fixed-wing aircraft took place on 13 June 1917. Fourteen German Gotha G bombers led by Squadron Commander Hauptmann Ernst Brandenberg flew over Essex and began dropping their bombs. It was a hot day and the sky was hazy; nevertheless, onlookers in London's East End were able to see 'a dozen or so big aeroplanes scintillating like so many huge silver dragonflies'. These three-seater bombers were carrying shrapnel bombs which were dropped just before noon. Numerous bombs fell in rapid succession in various districts. In the East End alone 104 people were killed, 154 seriously injured and 269 slightly injured.
The gravest incident that day was a direct hit on a primary school in Poplar. In the Upper North Street School at the time were a girls' class on the top floor, a boys' class on the middle floor and an infant class of about 50 students on the ground floor. The bomb fell through the roof into the girls' class; it then proceeded to fall through the boys' classroom before finally exploding in the infant class. Eighteen students were killed, of whom sixteen were aged from 4 to 6 years old. The tragedy shocked the British public at the time.
Connections with London's docks
Poplar also contains several Seamen's Mission buildings, reflecting the area's long-standing connection to London's docks which for so many years gave the area employment. The largest original mission stood on Hale Street, but the current mission stands on the north side of East India Dock Road. Having fallen out of favour as a Mission, the building became the local headquarters of the Gas Board (testament to which is the gas fired streetlights to the rear of the property); it then became a working men's club before it was finally converted into executive apartments.
Another smaller Seaman's Mission building is located at the east end of Follett Street, in the St Frideswide's Mission House Conservation Area, called Christ Church House. This was built in 1898, the first stone being laid by the Rt. Hon. Sir John Robert Mowbray Bart MP. Although most of Follett Street was destroyed by the First World War bombings, this building survived and has now been converted into six apartments.
Many other notable buildings that survived the wartime bombings have been converted into apartments, suggesting that Poplar is joining other parts of East London in being gentrified. A good example is the old Spratt's factory.
In addition to the Seamen's Mission buildings, Poplar Hospital for Accidents opened in 1855 on the north side of East India Dock Road, with the main intention of treating injured dock workers. It suffered bomb damage in 1941 and was closed in 1975. The building was demolished to make way for private housing in 1982.
- John Mucknell, "The King's Pirate" (born 1608, lived in Poplar after he married)
- Will Crooks MP, social reformer and first Labour Mayor in London; the Will Crooks estate on Poplar High Street is named after him
- H. M. Tomlinson, travel-writer and journalist, author of The Sea and the Jungle (1912)
- Tommy Flowers, designer of the first programmable electronic computer
- Angela Lansbury, Hollywood actress, and granddaughter of George Lansbury
- Harry Redknapp, current manager of Queens Park Rangers, formerly of Bournemouth, West Ham United, Southampton, Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs. Father of Jamie Redknapp, the former Liverpool captain
- Neil Banfield, coach at Arsenal F.C.
- Teddy Baldock, "The Pride of Poplar", Commonwealth Boxing Bantamweight Champion 1928–30
- Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife author
Film and music
The 1974 film Fly A Flag For Poplar is a documentary about Poplar and the people who live there, seen in their day-to-day lives and organising their own local festivals. Poplar today is looked at in the light of the past, the importance of the labour movement in the beginning of the century, highlighted by the great strikes and events of 1921 when the Poplar Council went to prison.
The BBC series, "Call the Midwife", is set in Poplar in the 1950s.
According to movie website IMDb, locations around Poplar have been used in the following feature films;
- 1984 (1956)
- 28 Weeks Later (Woodstock Terrace and Balfron Tower)
- A Fish Called Wanda
- The Da Vinci Code
- The World Is Not Enough
- To Sir, With Love
Balfron Tower has been featured in various other music videos, films and television programmes.
|Isle of Dogs
The nearest tube station is Canary Wharf.
- Air Commodore Lionel Charlton, "The Air Defence of Britain", Penguin Books, London, October 1938
- Saint Frideswide's Mission House Conservation Area
- 'East India Dock Road, North side: Poplar Hospital, Nos 305-479 (dem.) and All Hallows' Church', in Survey of London: volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs (1994), pp. 147-153. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
- Teddy Baldock, 'The Pride of Poplar'
- Fly a Flag for Poplar (1974), Time Out magazine. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
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- Poplar photographs in the Local History Library