Poplar, London

All Saints' Church, Poplar, London

In the early 1800s the West India and East India Docks were created to open up the Pool of London to larger shipping. At the time this was barely occupied swampy land but by 1811 the population had grown to 7,000 and by 1861 it had increased to 43,000. With the Docks came merchants and in 1817 it was decided that Poplar should become a parish all of its own (no longer one with Whitechapel and Limehouse and their squalid reputations). A site was found and purchased – the house, garden and land of one Mrs Ann Newby whose fate is unclear.

A competition was held for the design of the new church and Charles Hollis was chosen. He was a controversial choice as he worked for a prominent parishioner of Poplar. The West India Dock Company wrote a letter of complaint favouring another design, but it was pointed out that Hollis had used a pseudonym on his design (“Felix”) and so the decision would stand. Hollis’ original model is inside the church.

The Church was, for its time, inordinately expensive – budgeted at £20,000 but eventually costing just over £33,000. The foundation stone was laid in 1821 and two years later the church was consecrated. The Church is absolutely typical of London churches of this period, with a porticoed front, a “naval” look to it and the whole being faced with Portland stone.

Unusually provision was made inside the church for galleries to accommodate the children of the Poor Law Institute – one of the Beadle’s staffs used to keep the children in order is still on show in the Church. Behind the altar there once stood a stained glass window which was so denigrated at the time that the artists committed suicide – it was firstly covered by a curtain and then bricked up in the 1890s. By this time the great cholera epidemic of 1866 had swept through Poplar and the gentry quickly headed off to healthier climes leaving Poplar with an overwhelmingly poor populace. This turn of affairs continued through the Great Depression with many of the church’s fancier or more colourful features being removed.

The Blitz of World War II devastated the area around the Docks, Poplar included and a V2 rocket hit All Saints destroying the east end of the church and bringing down the roof. The church was only restored to use in the 1950s and this work seems to have been done cheaply as by the 1980s an appeal was launched to save the church from collapse, particularly the tower. It took until 1999 for the work to be completed.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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