E14 is Poplar but also covers the Isle of Dogs, including Canary Wharf. As such it contains the huge contrast from post war social housing to flash offices of banks and other multinational companies, but there are some reminders of an older time.
We start our walk at Poplar Post Office at 22 Market Square in the heart of the Chrisp Street market area. Our first stop is here.
Stop 1: Chrisp Street Market
This was redeveloped in the 1950s and reminds me so much of Crawley New Town where I grew up and which has many shopping parades that looks rather like this.
It has a market area covered over by a later overall roof.
The shops are basic and at the cheap end of the range, but there are almost no chain stores here.
Within the market area is this mini museum called “Lansbury Micro Museum” which celebrates the development of this estate, which when it was being planned went by the glamorous name of “Neighbourhood Number 9”. Sadly it has been closed when I have been there, so I cannot vouch for the contents.
Neighbourhood Number 9 is better known as the Lansbury Estate, named after George Lansbury, local MP. The original part of this was designed to showcase post war reconstruction as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain.
It has a rather wonderful clock tower which dates from this time, and originally had open staircases and a public viewing platform. Sadly these are now closed, no doubt due to vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
The clock tower and the older part of the shopping area were designed by Frederick Gibberd. One of his first buildings was Pullman Court which we saw in SW2. He became the chief architect for Harlow New Town and went on to design the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool.
If you head out of the shopping area by the Clock Tower, then turn left (Chrisp Street) and then right (Willis Street). Go straight ahead and through the delightfully named “Brownfield Estate”.
You can see our next stop ahead.
Stop 2: The “Goldfinger” towers
We now come to some housing blocks which were designed by Hungarian born architect Erno Goldfinger in the late 1960s, whose home we saw in NW3.
Here we have three different solutions to the issue of separating the lifts and services from the residential bits of the building. The first we see is the 15 storey Glenkerry House.
Here the lift tower is put to the side at one end of the tower. It has an external balcony only every third floor.
Then we have Carradale House, completed in 1969, where we have the service tower in the middle with residential bits either side.
And finally we come to the 27 storey Balfron Tower, dating from 1967, where the service tower is at one end. The access to the flats is only every third floor, so the front door next to yours will be a flat above or below you. This arrangement meant fewer stops for the lifts and in theory you were more likely to meet your neighbours as the balcony would be busier than if each floor of flats had its own separate access.
This is one of the best examples of 1960s Brutalist architecture. And if you think you have seen this before, well we did see its younger sister, the Trellick Tower by Westway in W10. Here Goldfinger had learned from the Balfron Tower – in particular Trellick Tower has three lifts rather than two which means the residents are less likely to suffer a complete loss of lifts – if one goes out there are still two to take the strain.
Two years ago I was lucky enough to be involved with the National Trust doing tours of the area including the flat in Balfron Tower where Goldfinger stayed. I wrote about this on my other site. Here is the link if you would like to read more of the story of this fascinating building and the National Trust opening in 2014.
Walk alongside the Balfron Tower. You will see the slip road between the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach and the East India Dock Road on your left and ahead is East India Dock Road which you should cross over. Turn right and go a little way along. Then head into the housing estate to your left. Beyond the thin veneer of new building is another iconic social housing estate.
Stop 3: Robin Hood Gardens Estate
Here we have the sad sight of Robin Hood Gardens estate. This is slightly later than the Goldfinger buildings, having been finished in 1972. It was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson who were advocates of the idea of the building as a street. The layout of this estate is two massive blocks with high level walkways and bedrooms looking inward onto a green space, so as to protect the residents from the noise of traffic on the nearby main roads.
The resulting estate has its fans but also its detractors.
Today it is rather forlorn with most, if not all, of its occupants having moved out. This estate is destined to be redeveloped, whereas the Goldfinger towers have been or are being renovated.
Curiously there is a sign showing that here was a Millennium Green (We saw one of these in New Southgate).
Not sure that this green has much of a future unless it gets revamped and swept up into the new development.
Now retrace your steps to East India Dock Road and turn left. Pass by All Saints Church and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station of the same name. Our next stop is on the left.
Stop 4: Poplar Baths
This massive building was built by Poplar Borough Council in the early 1930s as public baths.
It does look more like a factory, but impressive nonetheless. The side street has the name “Poplar Bath Street” which does show rather a lack of originality.
Outside is a statue of a man called Richard Green.
Richard Green (1803 – 1863) was a shipowner and philanthropist. Son of shipbuilder George Green, he entered the business which specialised in ships for whaling and the East India Company. He had a concern for the welfare of his ships’ crews and this led to his large contributions to the Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum, the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital and the Poplar Hospital. He was popular and this is I guess why there is this statue to him.
If you look closely at the dog, you will see his right ear is missing, Apparently this is because a boy got stuck behind it when climbing the statue and it was damaged in his rescue.
Now continue along East India Dock Road. By the by across the road was George Green School (now part of Tower Hamlets College)
He was Richard Green’s father and had founded the school in 1828. This building though dates from the 1880s with a clock tower added in the 1920s.
Our next stop is on the left.
Stop 5: Poplar Park
This was originally called Poplar Recreation Ground and was created by the Poplar Board of Works in 1866 on the site of a group of East India Company Almshouses.
It has this unusual monument just in from the road.
This commemorates 18 children who were killed nearby by a German bomb in June 1917.
Little did the local population know that just over 20 years later bombing of this area would be so commonplace that there was no way such events could have this kind of monument.
Head out of the park to the left of the monument and turn right in the rather lovely old side street (Woodstock Terrace) dating from the 1850s. Our next stop is on the right (but you will also have seen this from the park)
Stop 6: St Matthias Old Church
This church has an interesting history.
According to the architectural fount of all knowledge, Pevsner, this started as a chapel built in the 1650s, modelled on the now lost Broadway Chapel in Westminster. It became a parish church in 1866 when it was remodelled and given a Kentish ragstone exterior.
There is a little plaque on the wall as you approach the church.
This signifies a stop on the Poplar Heritage Trail – it is actually stop 7 on a trail of 13 stops. Here is a link:
This trail runs from St Vincents estate in Limehouse to Blackwall steps in Virginia Quay. There are 13 plaques which highlight points of historical significance and celebrate the rich diversity of Poplar and Tower Hamlets. Each plaque was developed with the help of the community during free events and workshops.
I am not sure they thought through the design of these plaques very well as they are really hard to read. The writing is etched into the metal of the plaques and does not stand out. Plus the picture is quite small.
Go to the end of Woodstock Terrace and turn right into Poplar High Street. Just at the corner by the way is a rather lovely high Victorian building, which is being renovated at present.
This was built by the Poplar Board of Works in 1869/70.
Our next stop is just next door on the right.
Stop 7: Meridian House (115 Poplar High Street)
This modest little building is, according to Pevsner, the surviving part of an alms house development by the East India Company and was the Chaplain’s house. The East India Company acquired this land on the north side of the High Street in 1628 and this house was the centrepiece of what Pevsner calls “an almshouse composition of 1801-02”. This presumably extended up to where the park now is.
Curiously the building is now called Meridian House. I know we are close to the Greenwich meridian here so I checked exactly where it goes. I was slightly disappointed to find that it actually goes somewhat to the east of this spot.
Here is a link if you should ever want to check whether somewhere is actually on the meridian.
There are more Tower Hamlets College buildings on the left and just after them is an access to Poplar DLR station. Go down there.
Stop 8: Poplar DLR station
As you approach the station you get a good view of the Canary Wharf development over the tracks.
And here is a view from the station platform.
Canary Wharf is a business district employing over 100,000 people. It vies with the traditional City of London as a major financial centre. The tower at the centre (known as One Canada Square) was built in 1991 and was the tallest building in the UK, until it was overtaken by the Shard in 2012.
Canary Wharf was built on the old West India Docks and takes its name from No. 32 berth of the West Wood Quay of the Import Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of Fred Olsen Lines for the Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade. At their request, the quay and warehouse were given the name Canary Wharf.
And from the bridge you can see the tangle of lines here as they cross over the Limehouse Link road. The Limehouse Link was built between 1989 and 1993 at a cost of £293 million and was at the time by far the most expensive road scheme per mile ever built in Britain. I suspect it still holds that record.
Then looking away from Canary Wharf you see the main depot for the DLR.
Poplar was one of the original stations on the DLR. The initial system opened in 1987 with just two routes, from Tower Gateway or Stratford to Island Gardens. Most was elevated on disused railway viaducts or new concrete viaducts, whilst the stretch from Poplar to Stratford was a disused surface railway line.
The trains were fully automated, controlled by computer, and needed no driver. But there is a staff member on hand checking tickets, making announcements and controlling the doors. This staff member could take control of the train in case of equipment failure and emergencies.
The junction at the centre of the original lines is just over the Limehouse Link road from Poplar. It was originally a flat triangular junction, which was known as the Delta junction. As part of the 1994 extension to Beckton, one side of the original flat triangular junction was replaced by a grade separated junction. Poplar station was rebuilt to give cross-platform interchange between the Stratford and Beckton lines. East of Poplar station a new grade separated junction was built where the Stratford and Beckton lines diverged.
In the early 2000s it was decided the trains needed to be expanded to three cars and as part of an upgrade to allow three-car trains, strengthening work was necessary at the Delta Junction. The opportunity was taken to have further grade separation to eliminate the conflict on Stratford and Bank services. A new grade-separated route from Bank to Canary Wharf was created in 2009 but it bypasses West India Quay station because of the gradient needed to get the line under the Stratford route. However trains run on the old route in the evening when there are fewer trains.
Retrace your steps to Poplar High Street where you turn left. Our next stop is just on the right.
Stop 9: Will Crooks Estate
I am stopping here not because there is anything particularly special about the estate buildings.
Rather it was to mention Will Crooks (1852 – 1921). He was another local politician and he was known for his campaigning work against poverty and inequality.
He was elected to the London County Council (LCC) for Poplar in 1892. On 3 August 1895, he opened Island Gardens, which is the south end of the Isle of Dogs (and which is in E14 but sadly too far to go from here). He also campaigned for the first Blackwall Tunnel, and as Chairman of the LCC Bridges Committee in 1898, he was instrumental in the building of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels (which were completed in 1902 and 1912 respectively). He continued on the LCC until 1910.
In 1900 he became the first Labour mayor of Poplar, and in 1903 he was elected to Parliament as MP for Woolwich. He remained an MP until a few months before his death in 1921 apart from a short period in 1910.
He is commemorated in this mural which sadly is imprisoned behind bars.
Just as we leave the Will Crooks Estate there is an unusual survivor in terms of street signs.
Most of the signs round here have been replaced with ones with the Tower Hamlets name and logo. But this one is from the predecessor borough here and I guess it survived because it was set back off the road on the side of a block of flats.
Continue walking along the High Street.
Stop 10: The White Horse
At the end of Poplar High Street is a statue of a White Horse on a column.
This is a reminder of a pub which stood hereabouts. It originated in the 17th century and was last rebuilt in the 1920s, according to Pevsner. I assume the pub was lost in the Blitz.
Keep walking straight ahead, following Cycle Superhighway Number 3.
Cross the road and go under the DLR. Ahead you will see some remnants of the old dockyard.
Stop 11: Dockmasters House and West india Dock warehouses
Here we have a Dock office building which started off as a single storey building in 1804 which was remodelled and enlarged by Sir John Rennie in 1827.
Across the way is a range of early 19th century warehouses which formed part of the West India Dock.
Today they have been repurposed as restaurants, offices and as an outpost of the Museum of London.
Also just here is an interesting panel from when the construction of these docks was started in 1800.
I like the end part which says:
Which under the favour of GOD shall contribute
STABILITY, INCREASE AND ORNAMENT
Now just go a little further into the dock area. Look back and you will see the other side of the warehouse range.
But our next stop is to your right.
Stop 12: Cannon Workshops
The domed building was a guard house built 1805 for the dock’s Military guard. The other old buildings ahead were built by Rennie in 1825 and were stores and workshops.
Today they are small business units. The buildings were converted in 1980/81 as one of the Port of London Authority’s early attempts to introduce new employment opportunities in the docks after they had closed in 1980. They could hardly have foreseen how much of the old West India Docks would eventually develop as a financial centre. That would have just been unthinkable back in 1980.
So that brings us to the end of the E14 walk where we have heard about some East India Company connections, seen some of the post war housing redevelopment of Poplar and dipped into the brave new world of Canary Wharf with a sprinkling of old dock buildings.
We are close by to West Ferry DLR station. To get there retrace your steps back to Cycle Superhighway 3 and turn left. Follow this to the station trying not to get run down by speeding cyclists.