POPLAR is an area of East London that re-emerged from the ashes of the Blitz to help host the Festival of Britain in 1951. As part of London’s Docklands, much of Poplar was destroyed in the war.
In 1951 its new Lansbury Estate, named after local hero George Lansbury, who’d led the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935, was chosen as the site of the festival’s Live Architecture Exhibition, designed to demonstrate the power of architecture and town planning to transform the country in the post-war years.
Chrisp Street Market, a legacy of the festival, with its distinctive clock tower, was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, and remains to this day one of London’s most vibrant street markets.
Along with a group of fine buildings clustered along the East India Dock Road, it forms the heart of this solidly working-class neighbourhood.
There is the classical beauty of All Saints Church, the Art Deco magnificence of recently reopened Poplar Baths, the statue of local shipowner and philanthropist Richard Green, and a new library called the Idea Store, designed by architect David Adjaye who was knighted at new year.
Poplar, with its estates of social housing, stands just a few hundred yards north of Canary Wharf’s gleaming towers.
Private developments such as New Providence Wharf on the Thames opposite the O2 arena, and London City Island, on a bend in the River Lea, have been sold mainly to incomers and investors, but two large estate regeneration schemes will have a greater impact on local people. The rebuilding of the Aberfeldy Estate in East India Dock Road will take place in six phases over the next 10 years.
A 10-year campaign to save the estate, which dates from the early Seventies, was supported by renowned architects Lord Rogers, the late Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi and Toyo Ito. However, it finally failed last year when housing association Swan got the go-ahead for demolition. Robin Hood Gardens will be replaced with 1,575 new homes over the next 10 years.
There are also plans afoot for the regeneration of Chrisp Street Market. Both the market itself and the Festival of Britain architecture will be retained but joint venture developers Telford Homes and Poplar Harca propose the creation of 650 new homes and a new supermarket, along with a much-needed cinema.
Small enclaves of Victorian terrace houses feature around All Saints and St Matthias Churches, but Poplar is dominated by former “right to buy” flats on social housing estates. Some of the cheapest homes in Zone 2, these are popular first-time buys. Brutalist Balfron Tower, designed by Erno Goldfinger, is to become luxury flats in a venture between Poplar Harca housing association, Telford Homes and Londonewcastle. Other luxury schemes include New Providence Wharf, with a three-bedroom penthouse in Providence Tower on sale for £3.2 million.
Who rents here?
Poplar has a wide selection of one- and two-bedroom flats in new developments, many of which have been snapped up by buy-to-let investors and are popular with Canary Wharf employees who can easily walk, cycle or take the DLR to work.
Postcode: E14, the Poplar postcode, includes Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs.
Best road: Woodstock Terrace, a fine street of early Victorian three- and four-storey flat-fronted houses off Poplar High Street in the St Matthias conservation area, offers a glimpse of what Poplar looked like before it was almost completely obliterated in the Blitz.
Up and coming: The whole of Poplar represents value for money.
DLR stations are at Westferry, Poplar, Blackwall, East India, All Saints and Langdon Park, with City and Canary Wharf trains. Canary Wharf Crossrail station opens at West India Quay in December next year, with a more direct link to Poplar and 39-minute services to Heathrow from December 2019. All stations are in Zone 2. An annual travelcard to Zone 1 is £1,296.
Shops and restaurants:
Local shops are found along Poplar High Street and East India Dock Road. Chrisp Street is the area’s famous market, with a major makeover in prospect. Il Bianco Italian restaurant in Biscayne Avenue near Blackwall station recently opened and The Island Grocer is a grocery store, espresso bar and deli restaurant at London City Island. Fatboy’s Diner is an American-style diner at Trinity Buoy Wharf, where there is also Bow Creek Café, with a river view. For a more extensive range of shops and restaurants, residents head for Canary Wharf or Westfield Stratford City.
There are two nature reserves at the mouth of the River Lea where it loops before meeting the Thames – Bow Creek Ecology Park in Bidder Street and East India Dock Basin Nature Reserve in Orchard Place. Bartlett Park, which backs on to Limehouse Cut, is Poplar’s largest park, and improvements are being funded by a new housing development on its boundary.
Leisure and the arts:
The nearest cinemas are Cineworld in West India Quay and Everyman in Canary Wharf. There is a street art trail at Trinity Buoy Wharf, the arts quarter that includes London’s only lighthouse, and every weekend between 11am and 5pm, the historic lighthouse lamp room is open for Longplayer, a spectacular sound installation using Tibetan “singing bowls”. Poplar Baths Leisure Centre and Gym, in the former Thirties-built public bath house in East India Dock Road, was restored and reopened last summer after nearly 30 years to provide a local council-run swimming pool.