More Streets of Poplar

© Prebendary Arthur Royall

Place Names and Street names are part of our cultural and linguistic history. They are an important link with our past, they anchor our present to those who have gone before in the life of the area in which we have an interest. Apart from anything else they are often intriguing in themselves, some are what A.D.Mills is his dictionary of London Place Names calls ’linguistic fossils’, these of course make us want to unearth their origins.

Cockney Ancestor 84 published in Autumn 1999, contained an article of mine “The Streets of Poplar” which seemed to be of interest to a number of people, so I now venture to offer a second helping hoping that it will be equally acceptable. All the Streets and Places mentioned are within the boundaries of the old Municipal Borough of Poplar which was created in 1900 from the three parishes of Bromley St. Leonard, Bow and Poplar.

BOW originally known as Stratford became Stratford atte Bow to distinguish this village which was in Middlesex from the Essex Stratford on the other side of the River Lea. The Bow came from the old English word meaning “arched bridge” is reputed to have been built by Queen Maud in the 13th century. The Village had it own church in 1311 but it did not become a parish, independent of Stepney until 1719. It is said, that to be an authentic Cockney ,you have to be born within the sound of Bow Bells. The bells referred to are not those of Bow in East London, but of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside in the City of London. In the 16th & 17th centuries Bow derived part of its living from the unloading of grain brought down the River Lea from Hertfordshire.

BROMLEY ST. LEONARD was the most ancient of these parishes taking its name in part from the Benedictine Convent named for that saint and built around 1100 AD. The name Bromley it seems originates from the word meaning “a woodland clearing where brambles grow”. It is thought that the Convent of St. Leonard was, in the mind of Chaucer, the place where his Prioress, in the Canterbury Tales learnt her French. From the end of the 18th century the parish was more commonly known as Bromley-by-Bow. POPLAR was historically the junior of the three parishes that made up the new Municipal Borough in 1900. Together with Blackwall it was hamlet of Stepney until it became independent in 1817. It probably took its name from the trees that would have flourished in the marshland nearby. The ability of Blackwall to cater for ocean going ships and also it shipbuilding facilities marked out the hamlet as a place of first class importance long before it became a parish.

Several streets derive there names from an association with the Convent of St. Leonard Bromley by Bow. PRIORY STREET is built on part of the site of the old Priory which was dissolved in 1535. Likewise St. Leonard’s Street and St. Leonard’ Road lead to the Priory.

Many individuals are commemorated in the street names of any district, many of them being former local landowners, notable residents of former times, national heroes and others. Among those whose memory is preserved in this manner in Poplar are a number of clergymen . DRIFFIELD ROAD along which ran the boundary with Bethnal Green is named for the Reverend G.T. Driffield who became Rector of Bow in 1844. The population of Bow was at that time 7,000 and rising rapidly. The Rector was convinced that a church was needed in North Bow, finding great difficulty in raising the money necessary, he took the rash step of transferring to the building account a large sum from the endowment of his own living and later of borrowing £2,000 on the security of his own life insurance. The Church of St. Stephen was built and Mr. Driffield’s self sacrifice caused him to live in straitened circumstances for the remainder of his life. The new church was situated in TREDEGAR ROAD on a plot of land given by Lord Tredegar formerly Sir Charles Morgan who is also commemorated by several street names over the border in Stepney.

ADDERLEY STREET is a reminder of the Reverend and Honourable James Adderley who was the Priest in Charge of St.Frideswides, Poplar 1888-1893. It is said that he came to Poplar like a whirlwind, his social conscience involving him in activities considered by many in the hierarchy to be dangerously radical. He excelled in outdoor preaching and speaking, this he did frequently at the Dock Gates and not always on religious themes. At St. Frideswides he had succeeded his brother the Honourable Reginald.

Nearby BAZELEY STREET commemorates Poplar’s second Rector, The Reverend Thomas Bazeley 1839-1860.

KITCAT TERRACE, the name always makes me smile, runs alongside the railway line where it crosses Bow Road is named after the Reverend Henry Kitcat who was Rector of Bow 1903-1921. During his incumbency the Parish Hall was built at end of this street.

PARNELL STREET has no Irish connection, as I once imagined it had, but recalls the first Vicar of St. Stephens, North Bow 1857-1851.

Lax of Poplar was the long serving Minister of the Poplar Methodist Mission in the East India Dock Road (1903-1937) who was Mayor of Poplar 1918-19 he is rightly recalled by LAX STREET. He wrote an account of his work in an autobiography “Lax of Poplar". He deserved to be commemorated in a bigger road, for Lax Street was not large enough to be shown on most A to Z maps.

Prebendary Phillip Bartlett who served as Vicar of St. Saviour’s, Northumberland Street for almost forty years is recalled by BARTLETT PARK. He came to the parish in 1919 a notable Anglo-Catholic Priest of the old school. He was generous (some would say too generous) to parishioners in need, having substantial private means.

Not far away a second Park carries the name of another local Vicar. LANGDON PARK and the adjacent LANGDON PARK SCHOOL are named for The Reverend S.Langdon (1925 –1943). One of Father Langdons daughters was the first woman doctor in General Practise in Poplar and was held in high esteem.

COBORN ROAD and COBORN STREET recall one of Bows most generous benefactors Priscilla Coborn a wealthy widow. She provided money for the support of seamen’s widows and it was her generosity that provided for the foundation of the Coborn Girls School that was situated in the Bow Road until sadly together with the Coopers Company School it moved in the 1970’s into Essex. The name Coborn enjoyed widespread fame of a popular kind in late Victorian days when it was adopted by a Music Hall artist named Colin McCallum as his stage name. As Charles Coborn he was Top of the Bill for many years, and is credited with having imortalised two particular popular songs Two lovely Black Eyes and the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. Before the road was built up it was known as Berribinder Lane.

OLD FORD upstream from Bow was an early crossing of the River Lea, the lowest point on the river where it was possible to cross regularly on foot. It was thought to be the point used by the Romans making their way from the City to Colchester. After Bow Bridge was built was built this ford quickly fell into disuse.

ROMAN ROAD follows the Roman route from London to Colchester which used the Ford. For several generations of East Londoners, Roman Road has provided a busy and lively Street Market. To Go up the Roman was for the people of North Bow an indication that you were going to the Market. OLD FORD ROAD approached the Ford along a line further North which also led to the Hamlet that grew up around it.

Why I wonder, should a road in Bow, formerly Mary Street be renamed BLONDIN STREET in commemoration of the acrobat and tightrope walker who in 1859 crossed the Niagara Falls on a tight rope and later repeated this feat pushing a wheelbarrow. Perhaps when he came to London he enjoyed the status of a folk hero.

BROMLEY HALL ROAD is close to Bromley Hall the Manor House of the Lower Manor, this house existed as early as the 12th century. The present house was entirely remodelled in the later half of the 18th century. In my days in Poplar it was part of the garage in Brunswick Road where I bought my petrol, inside the house were some fine moulded plaster ceilings. MANORFIELDS SCHOOL like the houses in Uamvar Street and others around it was built on fields belonging to the Lower Manor of Bromley.

On June 11th 1664 Samuel Pepys accompanied by his wife. feeling in need of some fresh air, took a ride into the countryside his first stop being at Bow. It seems likely that it was the day of the annual Fair which continued to be held until the mid-nineteenth century. The ground on which the fair was held was crossed by a road which later became FAIRFIELD ROAD and along which Pepys and his wife would have continued their journey to Old Ford and Hackney.

MILLWALL the western portion of the Isle of Dogs acquired its name from the Mills (at least seven of them) which stood on the river wall in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were pumping mills which helped drain the low lying land. The mills were removed when industrial development took place along the riverside in the nineteenth century. It was here in Russell’s Yard that the Great Eastern was built and launched. The Millwall Football Club founded in 1885 played on several grounds in the area until it crossed the river in 1910.

CUBITT TOWN an area on the south east corner of the Isle of Dogs was developed by Thomas Cubitt and his brother James in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The new houses were needed to accommodate the growing number of workers in the newly established shipyards, docks and factories in the building of which the Cubitts were also involved. This development was in contrast to the other Cubitt building operation carried out on the Grosvenor estate in Westminster, known as Belgravia.

THE MUDCHUTE the open space on The Isle of Dogs was so named from the dumping of mud pumped out from the Millwall Dock during its construction in 1871 and afterwards.

SAUNDERS NESS is the name of a portion of the foreshore of the Thames at the south-east corner of the Isle of Dogs from which the name of Saunders Ness Road is taken. From this road the ISLAND GARDENS front the river giving a fine view of the former Royal Naval College, Greenwich directly opposite. Occupying a site facing the river is the well know public house is the Waterman’s Arms (formerly the Newcastle Arms) which in the swinging sixties was a celebrity spot. Today The George Green School which began life in the East India Dock road in occupies a site between Saunders Ness Road and MANCHESTER ROAD. Nearby GLENGARNOCK AVENUE takes its name from a former steelworks in the area. GLENGALL GROVE and ROAD recall the Second Earl of Glengall born in 1794 who married the daughter of William Mellish an extensive land owner on the Isle of Dogs.

CUBA, MANILLLA, HAVANNAH and MALABAR STREETS in the North West corner of the Island recall the East and West Indian trade connected with the adjoining Docks.

The name COLD HARBOUR at the North West corner of the Isle of Dogs is one which first appears on maps in 1617 as Coleharbor. It is a name often associated with parts of a river used for accommodating coastal vessels and noted for providing few amenities ashore. Fortunately by the time I was Rector of Poplar it provided excellent facilities in the well known riverside public house The Gun.

The Place and Street Names of the area contained within the old Municipal Borough of Poplar like those other parts Greater London are of all kinds and periods. They recall both noble and more modest landlords, historical events, buildings of all kinds no longer standing and illustrate something of the social history of the past. These names need to be jealously preserved, if they are lost then so often is part of our fascinating local history. The Streets of London may not be paved with gold as many were lead to believe, but they are paved with much that is of interest.

The Streets of London. S. Fairfield. Macmillan 1983.

The London Encylopaedia. Weinreb & Hibbert 1984

London Place Names. A.D.Mills. Oxford.

Streets in the Borough of Poplar. Poplar B.C. 1957.

Survey of London Vol XLIII

© Prebendary Arthur Royall

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