All Saints Poplar - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

All Saints Poplar

• All Saints' Church, Poplar is at Newby Place in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It was built in 1821-3 to serve the newly created parish.

• The true foundations had been laid 425 years earlier, when in 1396, the small village of ‘Popelar’ with Blackwall had been granted to the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of St Mary de Graces by the Tower of London and so came to be known as one of the Tower Hamlets in the parish of Stepney. The settlements provided some of the labour-force for the expanding City of London, including the militiamen at the Tower, as well as crops and livestock from the newly drained marshland. By the time the land was sold off to private families under Henry VIII, the Blackwall area had also established a thriving shipbuilding and repairing industry.

• Early baptismal records show that from the early 17th century just over half the fathers in Poplar were occupied in river or sea trades. In 1614 the spice traders of the East India Company set up their main shipyard at Blackwall with their headquarters in Poplar.

• At the beginning of the 19th Century, to escape the heavy duties levied on cargoes discharged within the City itself, massive capital expenditure was risked in the building of docks to the east of the City. In 1800 the West India Docks were dug out manually across the northern reach of the Isle of Dogs, principally by Irish immigrant labourers. The dock companies built the main road in 1803 between Aldgate and Poplar and in 1806 the docks were opened.

• A new wealthy class of merchants began to move into the area and in 1817 Parliament enacted a law which made Poplar a parish in its own right. A book sealed in the reign of George III, setting out the rights and responsibilities of the new parish, remains in the church archives. Among its pages is the remarkable statement “that the Rector retains the right to close off the East India Dock Road to prevent noise during the time of Divine Service.”

• The Poplar Vestry set about acquiring a suitable plot of land on which to build a parish church with adjoining graveyard and rectory. Of the 36 that were received, the design by Charles Hollis was chosen. The architect’s original scale model is on display in the Church. A relatively expensive church for the period, All Saints was built from granite and Portland Stone by the engineer Thomas Morris (whose grave lies outside to the north of the Church door). The initial budget was £20,000 but the whole project cost just over £33,000. The foundation stone was laid on 29 March 1821 by the Bishop of London.

• The elegant steeple is about 160 feet high and the tower supports a peal of ten bells, originally supplied at a cost of £1,060 and still rung by the church's bell ringers.

• Inside the Church there were grand galleries on all sides, and a pulpit which could be cranked up and raised in height for the benefit of large congregations. Above the original organ there were additional galleries to accommodate the children of the Poor Law Institute. After the sudden collapse in 1866 of some major City investment banks leading to a swift demise of the local shipyard industry, followed by the great cholera epidemic in the same year, the gentry began to vacate Poplar for the healthier climes east of London leading to demise in the wealth of the area.

• During the Second World War bombs constantly damaged the Church building, although this did not dissuade hundreds of people from using the crypt as an air-raid shelter. Late in the war, however, a V2 rocket devastated the building, destroying the east end and bringing down the roof. Post-war restoration in the 1950s saw the removal of the galleries and the placing of a new organ gallery at the west end. Structurally, the roof had to be supported by a high steel grid, masked by four substantial pillars and the plaster-covered beams in the ceiling. The Churchyard was re-landscaped and totally refurbished with a grant from the Heritage Lottery in 1999. • The church was designated a Grade II Listed building on 19 July 1950.


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