Our walk today started at Poplar Baths, a recently restored 1930’s swimming pool and moved into Chrisp Street Market, the hub of Neighbourhood Number 9 or the Lansbury Estate, a showcase 1951 housing estate which was the Live Architecture Exhibition of the Festival of Britain in London.
The estate was designed to replace bomb-damaged and substandard housing in the post-war years and to create a whole new, well-planned and well-built neighbourhood for the local community with a shopping centre, schools, churches, green spaces and public art.
When the Lansbury Estate was planned, there was full employment in the local area and no immediate question mark over the future of the London Docks, hence planning was for housing for families and the whole age range, including London’s first new nursery school and first old people’s home, innovative school and church designs, notably Lansbury Lawrence Primary School with its striking Peggy Angus mural and the Catholic Church of St Mary and St Joseph designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott. Father Keith gave the group a warm welcome and let us climb the 120 steps up to the roof from where the views of East London, Canary Wharf and the City were outstanding.
As the docks declined in the 1960’s, many local families were tempted to move out of London to the New Towns of Harlow and Stevenage and the estates around the expanding Ford works in Dagenham. 10,000 jobs and an equal number of residents left Poplar when the docks closed in the 1960’s and 70’s, bringing many economic and social challenges. The regeneration of the area into the business district of Canary Wharf in the 1980’s was often thought to exclude local people, with its focus on banking and trading. However, the area continues to be a vibrant, mixed community with new housing still in great demand.
The Lansbury Estate is also the location of the Mayflower School on Upper North Street where, exactly 100 years ago on 13th June 1917 the first bomb to be dropped from a fixed-wing plane fell on the school, killing 18 young children. It had a huge impact on the people of Poplar who would later endure heavy bombing in the Blitz. Having seen the school, we went to the memorial in Poplar Park where, by great good luck, we met a group of descendants of the victims of the tragedy being interviewed for a news programme and the organiser of the reunion told us about the centenary events. The anniversary will be commemorated this week with a visit from the Queen to the school and to a service in the church of All Saints Poplar with the German Ambassador and local people.
Our visit ended back along East India Dock Road, the link road from the City to the East India Docks, before arriving back at Chrisp Street Market.
The Victoria and Albert Museum recently opened a micro-museum in Chrisp Street Market and are involving the local community in the history of their area and helping it to look to the future as a cultural quarter is planned for the Olympic Park in the coming years. The spirit of the Festival of Britain still lives on in Neighbourhood number 9!
Our thanks to Fran for a an excellent walk, well planned and full of interest, in an area previously unknown to many of us. It provided a real insight into 1950s planning.