Poplar is a historical, mainly residential area of East London, England, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) east of Charing Cross. Historically a hamlet in the parish of Stepney, Middlesex, in 1817 Poplar became a civil parish.
In 1855 the Poplar District of the Metropolis was formed, which also included Bromley and Bow. The district became the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar in 1900 which was abolished in 1965. The district centre is Chrisp Street Market. Poplar contains notable examples of public housing including the Lansbury Estate and Balfron Tower.
St Matthias Old Church is located on Poplar High Street, opposite Tower Hamlets College. It is next to Poplar Town Hall – which has mosaic detail – and Poplar Bowls Club, which is part of Poplar Recreation Ground. A recently reopened sports centre called The Workhouse stands on the site of Poplar Workhouse, where local politician Will Crooks spent some of his earliest years (a nearby council housing estate is named after him).
The Metropolitan Borough of Poplar was the location, in 1921, of the Poplar Rates Rebellion, led by the Mayor, George Lansbury, who was later elected as leader of the Labour Party. As part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, a new council housing estate was built to the north of the East India Dock Road and named the Lansbury Estate after him. This estate includes Chrisp Street Market, which was greatly commended by Lewis Mumford. The same era also saw the construction of the Robin Hood Gardens housing complex (overlooking the northern portal of the Blackwall Tunnel) – designed by architects Peter and Alison Smithson – and the similarly brutalist Balfron Tower, Carradale House and Glenkerry House (to the north) – designed by Ernő Goldfinger. Other notable buildings in Poplar include Poplar Baths, which reopened in 2016 having finally closed in 1988, after the efforts of local campaigners.
In 1998, following ballots of the residents, Tower Hamlets Council transferred parts of the Lansbury estate and six other Council housing estates within Poplar to Poplar HARCA, a new housing association set up for the purpose of regenerating the area. The following year, tenants on further estates voted to remain with the Council. However, after a lengthy consultation of all Council estates in Tower Hamlets begun in 2002, most estates in Poplar did transfer to Poplar HARCA, East End Homes and other landlords between 2005 and 2007.
Although many people associate wartime bombing with The Blitz during World War II, the first airborne terror campaign in Britain took place during the First World War. Air raids in World War I caused significant damage and took many lives. German raids on Britain, for example, caused 1,413 deaths and 3,409 injuries. Air raids provided an unprecedented means of striking at resources vital to an enemy's war effort. Many of the novel features of the war in the air between 1914 and 1918—the lighting restrictions and blackouts, the air raid warnings and the improvised shelters—became central aspects of the Second World War less than 30 years later.
The East End of London was one of the most heavily targeted places. Poplar, in particular, was struck badly by some of the air raids during the First World War. Initially these were at night by Zeppelins which bombed the area indiscriminately, leading to the death of innocent civilians.
The first daylight bombing attack on London by a fixed-wing aircraft took place on 13 June 1917. Fourteen German Gotha G bombers led by Hauptmann Ernst Brandenberg flew over Essex and began dropping their bombs. It was a hot day and the sky was hazy; nevertheless, onlookers in London's East End were able to see 'a dozen or so big aeroplanes scintillating like so many huge silver dragonflies'. These three-seater bombers were carrying shrapnel bombs which were dropped just before noon. Numerous bombs fell in rapid succession in various districts. In the East End alone 104 people were killed, 154 seriously injured and 269 slightly injured.
The gravest incident that day was a direct hit on a primary school in Poplar. In the Upper North Street School at the time were a girls' class on the top floor, a boys' class on the middle floor and an infant class of about 50 pupils on the ground floor. The bomb fell through the roof into the girls' class; it then proceeded to fall through the boys' classroom before finally exploding in the infant class. Eighteen pupils were killed, of whom sixteen were aged from 4 to 6 years old. The tragedy shocked the British public at the time.
In World War II, Poplar suffered heavily in the Blitz of that war, the Metropolitan Borough losing 770 civilian dead as a result of enemy action.
Balfron Tower has been featured in various other music videos, films and television programmes, as have various other locations in Poplar. According to movie website IMDb, locations around Poplar have been used in the following feature films:
A new Church Green was created in 2012 on the site of the former Blitz-bombed Catholic church, across the road from the current church designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott. It is open to the public during the day and public sculptures include:
The nearest tube station is Canary Wharf.
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