Starchitects and glossy projects are celebrating Poplar once more — 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.
Now called Aberfeldy Village, this joint venture between Prime Place, part of builders Willmott Dixon, and local housing association Poplar Harca, will involve building 1,000 homes, a new health centre, shops, a public square and a linear park.
Blackwall Reach, close to Blackwall station, involves the controversial demolition of Robin Hood Gardens, designed by esteemed brutalist architects Alison and Peter Smithson.
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 Ernö 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.
Manhattan Plaza by Telford Homes, off Poplar High Street, has 170 one- to three-bedroom flats plus townhouses, being sold off-plan for completion late this year or early next.
Fifty homes are “affordable”, through Notting Hill Housing. One-bedroom flats start at £550,000, with two-bedroom flats from £680,000. Call 020 3538 0719.
London City Island, by Ecoworld and Ballymore on the River Lea, has 1,700 homes in multicoloured tower blocks. A new pedestrian bridge links the 12-acre site with Canning Town station.
The second phase of 417 flats launched last summer. Call 020 7118 0400. Leven Wharf by Vision Homes has 96 one- to three-bedroom flats in a nine-storey block overlooking the River Lea, ready for occupation in June. One bedroom from £495,000, two-bedroom flats from £560,000. Call Chase Evans (020 7723 1284).
Lansbury Square in Rifle Street, with one-, two- and three-bedroom flats by Bellway, launches in spring. Call 01689 886431.
Housing association Genesis has two-bedroom shared-ownership flats at New Providence Wharf in the Jessop building, full market price £444,250. Call 020 3468 4955.
Help to Buy will be available at Blackwall Reach in the spring when housing association NU living launches shared-ownership flats there. Call 020 3151 7049, or NU living on 020 3675 9933.
There is a plentiful supply of studio, one-and two-bedroom flats in Poplar’s new-build blocks.
E14, the Poplar postcode, includes Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs.
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.
Tower Hamlets is Labour controlled and Band D council tax for 2016/2017 is £1,196.85.
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 The Island Grocer, 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.
Poplar’s primary schools are all judged “good” or better by Ofsted.
Those rated “outstanding” are: Culloden in Dee Street; Bygrove in Bygrove Street; Manorfield in Wyvis Street and Cyril Jackson in Three Colt Street.
The “outstanding” local comprehensive school is St Paul’s Way Trust (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in St Paul’s Way, while the two other local comprehensives — Langdon Park (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Bright Street and Tower Hamlets College (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Poplar High Street — are both judged “good” by the education watchdog.
There are two local private schools: River House Montessori (co-ed, ages three to 16) off Marsh Wall in the Isle of Dogs, and Faraday School (co-ed, ages four to 11) in Orchard Place at Trinity Buoy Wharf.