The Streets Of Poplar.

"The street-names of Greater London are of all kinds and of all periods, preserving old place- names or even field names, and ranging from the names of noble landlords, their relatives and possessions, to names of inns and inn-keepers, builders, battles and games, convents and theatres, men famous and obscure."

While some street names have no known history, others are full of interest, especially to the local historian and to researchers of Family History. I have a clear memory of an occasion when I was Rector of Poplar and had called in at a local primary school. The head mistress who I wanted to see, was "care-taking" a class during the temporary absence of the class teacher, "talk to them Rector " said she, seeking a break. "What about" said I ? "Anything" said she. Realising that the children would be living in houses near the school I spoke to them about the names of the streets in which they lived. A few days earlier I had quite by chance been reading about the original development of that area. "Who lives in Sussanah Street"? I asked for a starter. We were off, and for the next ten minutes I had the interest of the class, when the bell sounded for break I still had a little material in hand, but more research was needed. Thirty years have passed and it is only recently that I have returned to the subject!.

The area of Poplar bounded by the East India Road on the south, The North London Railway on the west, The Limehouse Cut on the north and the River Lea on the east contains a large number of Streets with Scottish names. These streets were built on the estate which had been bought by the McIntosh family in 1823. The initial letters of the street names spanned the alphabet from A to Z, from ABERFELDY and AILSA to ZETLAND. Other streets in this "tartan" patch include BLAIR CULLODEN, DEE, ETTRICK, FINDHORN, LEVEN, LOCHNAGAR, OBAN, SPEY and TEVIOT. The developer and builder was a Mr. John Abbott who is commemorated in ABBOTT Road the longest street through this part of Poplar.

A large portion of freehold the freehold land bought by Mr. Abbott from the McIntosh estate was formerly known as Bromley Marsh.

BRUNSWICK Road, which, for all but a short section, has now been swallowed up in the Northern Approach Road to Blackwall Tunnel, originally approached the Brunswick Dock. Based on the old well established Blackwall Yard, the dock was built in 1789 by John Perry, a noted ship-owner and builder, who was a staunch friend and supporter of William Pitt. The road was named as a compliment to the reigning Royal House. King George III paid a visit to the Blackwall Yard. Later this Dock was incorporated into the East India Dock system. BLACKWALL Way, in the dock land area of Poplar, is thought to take its name from the ‘black wall’, an ancient embankment of earth along this portion of the Thames. Or Blackwall could come from the "bleak wall," the bleak east wind sweeping over the river wall here.

Nearby Prestons Road which leads to the Isle of Dogs, was built across land belonging to Sir Robert Preston. COLDHARBOUR, runs parallel to the riverside and leads off Preston Road. It is so named for a house called Coldharbour in Blackwall, and thought to have belonged to Sir John Poultenay of Coldharbour, in the City of London’s, Upper Thames Street. This knight was Lord of the Manor of Poplar in the 14th century. Our Coldharbour boasts a popular riverside pub, "The Gun", which in the 1960-70s was a hostel favoured by the then Rector of Poplar!. Of more interest perhaps is the fact that Horatio Nelson is reputed to have had a house, No 3, in this riverside street. Also in Coldharbour was a wharf belonging in the 19th.c to the Managers of the Metropolitan Asylum District, the street leading to the wharf, was rather unimaginatively named MANAGERS Street. Sir Walter Raleigh had a house at Blackwall and RALEANA Street serves to remind us of this fact.

NEWBY Place in which stands the Parish Church of All Saints, the Rectory and at one time the Town Hall, was part of a plot of land consisting of a house, garden and field owned by a Mrs.Ann Newby. The Vestry had advertised for a building site and had been offered three. The road originally opened out of Poplar High Street and was not carried through to the East India Dock Road, until the church was completed in 1823.

MOUNTAGUE Place on the south side of the church was named after a Churchwarden and Treasurer of the parish.

BAZELEY Street (formerly part of Bow Lane)on the east side after The Revd. Thomas Bazeley who in the 1850s was the Rector. The Act of Parliament creating the parish, gave to the vestrymen power to "place or cause to be placed, bars or rails at the end of any street or place immediately leading or adjoining the said Parish Church to prevent noise during the time of Divine Service."

PLIMSOLL Street commemorating as it does Samuel Plimsoll, who was responsible for the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876 is a reminder of Poplar’s maritime links. The Plimsoll line painted on the hull of a ship indicated the safe waterline when loaded. This innovation greatly increased the safety of those who manned merchant ships.

ORIENTAL MANDARIN, MING, NANKING, PEKIN, CANTON Streets and AMOY Place are a reminder of Poplar’s old "Chinese" quarter, which centred on the WEST INDIA DOCK ROAD. In this, PENNYFIELDS was at one time a well known street. I was surprised to learn that this name was recorded as long ago as 1663.It is thought to have originated from what we might refer to as a peppercorn rent. However another theory is that it is a corruption of Pennygntons Fields, land owned by Isaac Penyngton, Lord Mayor of London in 1642.

ORCHARD PLACE has been referred to in an earlier article (CA ).Since then fuller information has come my way. Approached by LEAMOUTH Road, the origin of which name is quite obvious, the name it seems was taken from "Orchard House Inn". It became populated in the 1840’s when 100 two-storey cottages and several factories were built. Tides could flood the cottages up to the ninth stair level, and the banks had to be raised to overcome this inconvenience. The late Henry Wilks, in his study of the locality says "Bow Creek Junior School had 160 children on roll in 1932; 100 pupils bore the surname of Lammin, the rest were largely of the names Jeffries and Scanlan.

Many Poplar street names commemorate local land owners WADE Place, MORRIS Road and COTTON Street being examples of such. Some of these land owners were modest folk owning a very small piece of land, others like Joseph Cotton were people of substance. He was deputy master of Trinity House from 1803, a director of the East India Company 1795-1823 and chairman of the newly-formed East India Company.

The Parish of St, Gabriel, Poplar, bordered on the north by the Limehouse Cut has been described as a mean and dingy district with no visual amenities to alleviate its gloom. A strange area, I would have thought, in which to commemorate the founder of the Metropolitan Gardens Association, a society founded in 1882 to provide gardens and playgrounds in Inner-London. BRABAZON Street commemorates the Society’s founder who was Lord Brabazon the 12th Earl of Meath who was an Alderman of the London County Council in the last decade of the 19th c. Brabazon Street, was formerly named Walker Street. I wonder who Mr.Walker was ? There was an extensive re-naming of streets in inner London after 1856, when the Metropolitan Board of Works began to operate. Perhaps this was one of the changes made at that time. Not all the changes met with popular approval, later in the century some authorities and old local authorities changed their policies; personal names and others associated with the local history were revived for new streets.

In many urban areas early field names have been preserved when naming newly built residential roads, BROOMFIELD Street is an example of that in Poplar.

Any prolonged conversation about Poplar will inevitably produce a mention of CHRISP Street, which because of its street market in days past is at the heart of the district. East London had many such markets. Writing in his book " East London" Robert Sinclair says " In Chrisp Street, nearly opposite Poplar church, is a street market that is local and genuine. It lacks the degrading squalor of some of Bethnal Green’s week-end pavement huckstering, the entertaining Jewish oratory of Middlesex Street, and the visitation of the curious from other parts of London". Blocked with barrows and carts it was the lively shopping centre for South Poplar and the Isle of Dogs. Badly damaged during the war, the market was incorporated into the post war development named the LANSBURY Estate. George Lansbury was one of the greatest of the Labour champions of working class London. Chrisp Street itself was named after Sir Nicholas Chrisp or Crisp who lived at the nearby Bromley Hall manor house in the 17th. Century.

With the building of the EAST INDIA DOCK Road, Poplar High Street became a little used back street. When it was indeed the local High Street leading to Blackwall it was "a quaint straggling length of gabled houses, many built of wood, little gardens and trees in front of many of them, almost every second house an inn, beer house or place of refreshment". In this somewhat low profile High Street was St. Matthias Church the old East India Company chapel and also " a quaint building, Poplar Hospital, a home of refuge or hostel for the East India Company’s aged seaman." Much later at the narrow end of the street there was The Queens Theatre a very popular Music Hall and one of the last theatre buildings to survive in East London.

STAINSBY Road. Jerome.K.Jerome, the humorous writer who achieved instant fame with his novel "Three Men in a Boat", although born in Walsall grew up in this Poplar Street. Renamed in 1860 from Stainborough Road the name seems to have come from the fact that a Conant Stainsbury owned land along Burdett Road. Strictly speaking BURDETT Road is part of Stepney, but for me it has always seemed to me to be the natural western boundary of Poplar. The street was renamed in honour of Baroness Burdett Coutts, the Victorian millionairess and philanthropist and of her work for the poor of London.

GRUNDY Street has been a favourite with me ever since I learnt that cows were still kept behind a dairy in this street almost up to W.W.2 The origin of the name is as they say "uncertain". It is suggested that one Thomas Grundy of Poplar was working locally as a carpenter and joiner in the area in 1805 and may have begun the first houses in the street. I have been assured that cows were also kept behind a dairy in UPPER NORTH Street until the late 1930’s and my reliable informant told me that from time to time the animals were taken for a walk along the local streets!.

Many street names of Poplar speak of the district’s past history and of some of its former inhabitants, folk who in one way or another contributed to the life of the local community. I am sure that whenever re-development is proposed in any area, every effort should be made to preserve those old street names which speak of the past. They are part of our heritage. Likewise the naming of new streets, blocks of flats and estates should where possible have a local relevance. Family and local historians have a part to play in ensuring that this is so. In 1853 Dean Stanley of St. Pauls Cathedral told a lecture audience "London, to a student of History, instead of a mere collection of bricks and mortar, should become a book in which the history of the past is written in every street.’ Of course this goes for every town and not just London.


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

George Green’s School and its Surroundings. H.C.Wilks 1971

An Account of All Saints’, Poplar. Thomas Scott 1923.

List of names of streets and in the Borough of Poplar. Poplar B.C.1957

East London. Robert Sinclair. Hale 1950.

Blackwall. The Brunswick and Whitebait Dinners. Rosemary Taylor.1991.

English Place Names. P.H.Reaney. Routledge 1960.

© Arthur Royall.  May 1999.

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