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Theatres and Halls in Poplar, East London

Queen's Theatre - Hippodrome Theatre - Old Town Hall - New Town Hall - A Boy from nowhere - About Poplar

 

The Queen's Theatre, 275 - 279, Poplar High Street

Formerly - The Queen's Arms Palace of Varieties / Oriental Music Hall / Albion Theatre / Queen's palace of Varieties / Queen's Theatre of Varieties

Queens Theatre Poplar in 1959  from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994

Above - The Queen's Theatre Poplar in 1959 from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994.

Poster for the Queen's Theatre, Poplar for March 3rd 1924 - Courtesy Stephen WischhusenThe Queen's Theatre, Poplar was designed by the respected Theatre Architect, Bertie Crew, with an auditorium on three levels, Stalls, Circle, and Gallery, and a capacity of 1,360.

The Theatre opened in 1898 but the site it was built on went back much further than that. The Queen's Theatre was in fact a reconstruction of the former Albion Theatre which had been built in 1873, and this itself was built on the site of a former Music Hall originally known as the Queen's Arms Palace of Varieties and Public House, and by the 1860s Grimes' Oriental Music Hall.

Right - A Poster for the Queen's Theatre, Poplar for March 3rd 1924 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

In 1873 the Music Hall was demolished and a new Theatre designed by the architect Jethro T. Robinson, and called the Albion Theatre, was constructed on the site. The foundation stone for this Theatre was laid on Thursday the 4th of September 1873 by Mrs F. Abrahams. During the ceremony J. T. Robinson said that the new Theatre would be 'constructed to accommodate about 2,000 persons'. The Proprietor of the new Theatre, Mr. F. Abrahams, had formerly been running the Oriental Music Hall for some six years before he was able to purchase it and prepare it for its demolition and rebuilding as a grand new Theatre.

The proposed dimensions of the new Albion Theatre were stated in an article in the ERA of 7th September 1873 as follows:- 'Auditorium, 60 feet long and 53 feet wide; stage, 60 feet and 40 feet; height from pit-floor to ceiling, 35 feet; height of building, 63 feet; length, 115 feet, including bars at the back.' The article went on to say that:- 'There are to be three dressing rooms next the stage; and three entrances from the High-street, denoted by one large archway, 18 feet wide by 20 feet high. The elevation will be in the Oriental style. A grand flight of stone stairs, 8 feet wide, and seen from the street, will lead up to the first circle. There will be 10 private boxes, on the first circle tier, and 6 on gallery tier. The pit will accommodate 900; the first circle, 500; stalls, 350; gallery, 800 to 1,000. The front of boxes, circles, and ceiling will be elaborated decorated in the Oriental style. The house will be lighted by five large star lights suspended from the ceiling, and a large ring will be placed round the ceiling in open ornamental work for ventilation. The entrances and exits are arranged to meet all requirements. The contractors for the works are Mr Charles Wheeler (bricklayer and mason), Watson (carpenter), and Messrs Pashley and Co. (decorators).' - The ERA, 7th September 1873.

The Albion Theatre had a fairly short life of just 25 years and had reverted in name to its original roots as the Queen's Palace of Varieties by 1890 when Arthur Lloyd and his Company performed there.

Not much later than this, in 1898, the Theatre was entirely reconstructed by the respected Theatre Architect, Bertie Crew, with an auditorium on three levels, Stalls, Circle, and Gallery, with 4 boxes either side of the proscenium, and a lower capacity than the former Theatre of 1,360. The new Theatre opened, still under the ownership of F. Abrahams, as the Queen's Theatre of Varieties in 1898.

A Ticket for a Benefit for the Thames Lighterman Tom Pocock at the Queen's Palace of Varieties, Poplar in the Theatre's opening year for August the 26th, 1898 - Courtesy TAB collection (Terry Barrett).

Above - A Ticket for a Benefit for the Thames Lighterman Tom Pocock at the Queen's Palace of Varieties, Poplar in the Theatre's opening year for August the 26th, 1898 - Courtesy TAB collection (Terry Barrett).

Queens Theatre Poplar in 1930  from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994 By 1910 the Theatre was in use mainly as a Cinema but with some live productions still being staged occasionally. In 1922 the Theatre was remodeled, again by Bertie Crew, and went back to being a full time live Theatre again.

Right - The Queen's Theatre Poplar in 1930 from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994.

The Theatre was remodeled yet again in 1937, this time by Thomas Baddock, and continued live productions, apart from a closure during the war between 1941 and 1942, until its final closure in 1958.

The Theatre then stood empty and unused until its demolition in 1964.

You may be interested to note that the Queen's Theatre, Poplar appears in the 1950 Robert Newton Film "Waterfront," which was fictionally based in Liverpool.

Arthur Lloyd and his wife Katty King, and their Comic Company performed their sketch 'Her First Appearance' at the Queen's Palace of Varieties Theatre, Poplar in April 1890. A review for the evening's entertainments, from The Stage of April 18th 1890, follows:

 

The production of Her First Appearance by Mr. Arthur Lloyd, Miss Katty King, and Company at the Queen's Palace of Varieties, Poplar, is a conspicuous success, and Messrs. F. and M. Abrahams are to be congratulated upon having secured this drawing card. Another judicious selection on the part of the management is the engagement of Miss Dora Fielding, whose popularity is testified to by flattering reception accorded her on appearing to sing. Her pleasing style and appearance captivates the audience, and her efforts are most warmly received. Dress is a very potent factor in success of a serio-comic, and Miss Dora Fielding possesses several of the most bewitching costumes we have ever seen, each of which shows off her handsome figure to full advantage. The Herberte combination in sketch Secrecy play well together, and meet with rounds of applause. Madeline Roser gives a smart ventriloquial performance, and receives the recognition she deserves. The Sisters Lovell, a couple of dashing duettists, gains much applause. Mr. Will Atkins contributes several character songs of the right sort in a masterly manner and is well applauded. Miss Carrie Joy sings and dances her way to favour very quickly. Mr. Arthur Lloyd's comic singing is much appreciated. The Brothers Griffiths keep the audience in roars of laughter. To find such a laughter-provoking pair as the Brothers Griffiths would be a hard task. Miss Carlotta Davis is in great favour here, her pleasing turn being well appreciated. Mr. Charles Osborne contributes capable entertainment. Dale and Clarinder are successful, and the Lentons are well received. The Musical Director, Mr. Walter Loosley provides some very enjoyable music during the evening, and Mr. Frank Estcourt is a capital "chair."

The Stage April 18th 1890.

 

A visitor to this site, David Mitchell, has very kindly sent in some of his memories of working in Poplar's Queen's Theatre. He writes:- 'As a boy I worked at The Queen's Theatre during the war as a spotlight lad. I was only 13 so I worked quite illegally. In my book "A BOY FROM NOWHERE," parts of which are reproduced below, I write about The Queen's and tell of those glorious Saturday evenings way back in the 1930s when the street artists entertained the queues of people waiting to go in - including us little urchins who sat on the pavement opposite munching our pennyworth of chips and watching our free show! The atmosphere of those evenings was quite magical. It is essentially a story of a boy born to a poor family in the slums and backstreets of the East End Docklands and how I was fortunate enough despite having all the cards stacked against me, to rise in the world and live a wonderful life of travel and adventure way beyond my wildest dreams.

A selection of programmes for the Queens Theatre, Poplar for 1951 - 1954, all with hand written notes inside about the performers and their performances.

Above - A selection of programmes for the Queen's Theatre, Poplar for 1951 - 1954, all with hand written notes inside about the performers and their performances.

I witnessed the house being brought down 3 times at The Queen's. The first when I was working there as spotlight boy and this occasion was brought about by a chap called VAN LUIN. It was wartime and his act was a mixture of yodeling and impersonations. It was a good act but he finished with Winston Churchill's famous wartime speech: WE SHALL FIGHT ON THE BEACHES etc etc. With total nationalistic verve every man, woman, and child, and even we stage hands at the back, stood and cheered until we were hoarse. The Queen's was almost demolished that night in 1941-2!

Poster for the 'Circus Rosaire' at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in the 1950s.  - Courtesy John Earl.The next was a chap with a dark skin - he looked as if he came from India. He was a singer - but he sang BEGIN THE BEGUINE in a way that nobody in that theatre that night had ever heard it sung - and once again the whole house erupted into a frenzied clapping and cheering. It's a pity - but I can't recall his name.

Left - Poster for the 'Circus Rosaire' at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in the 1950s. Quite where all the animals were housed when not onstage is anyone's guess - Image Courtesy John Earl.

On the third occasion I was in the Army and came home on leave. This would be around 1946. Things had very much improved by now and my mother & father had adopted the habit of visiting The Queen's every Tuesday evening. On this occasion they asked me to accompany them. I asked who was on and they told me it was KATE CARNEY! I had heard of her of course - she was one of the real old timers. We took our seats in the stalls and at some point my mother nudged me and pointed to our right where the Saloon Bar was separated from the audience by glass panels. There was a short lady, with bright orange hair, surrounded by Cockneys in their suits and dresses with pearly buttons. The ladies had great exaggerated hats with plumes. They had come to worship their old darling of years ago. Well, the time came for Kate's act and she strolled on to the stage to a rapturous reception. She then opened her mouth to sing - but all we heard was a kind of croaking noise! The poor old lady's voice had long gone. Never mind - the audience lapped up everything she threw at them and begged for more. I witnessed then how a trained artist, who knew her job inside out, could hold an audience in the palm of her hand in a way that was fascinating to behold. They do not make them like that anymore - I know of no-one today who could do that. Well, her act came to an end and I think she finished with one of her old favourites ARE WE TO PART LIKE THIS BILL?

But the audience would not let her go. They clapped, they cheered, they stamped their feet and demanded that Kate give them 'just one more'. As I recall she gave them several more before finally retiring from the stage and I really thought the old place was going to collapse with the noise being made by the audience. Nobody wanted to go home! I was a young chap of 18 and, to be frank, I was quite mesmerised by the experience.'

Text in quotes above was kindly sent in by David Mitchell. An extract from David's book 'A Boy From Nowhere' is reproduced below.

 

Extracts from A Boy From Nowhere by David Mitchell.

David Mitchell's 'A Boy From Nowhere' And then of course we came to The Queen's Theatre & Music Hall. On the opposite side to the theatre was a great favourite for all - the local fish and chip shop where you could buy a handsome piece of fish for tuppence and a good portion of chips for a penny; total cost of a substantial meal would therefore less than 2p in today's money. Mostly we kids had to be satisfied with just the chips - fish was only for the grown ups, but sometimes they would give us a taster!

Right - David Mitchell's 'A Boy From Nowhere' - Available from Melrose Books or online from various distributors. More information on David's own website here. Or click the book to buy it at Amazon.co.uk.

Just past the fish 'n chip shop was a public house, The Ship, which was always full at the weekends - but not exactly empty during the week either! As the story goes it was said that The Ship was bought for his parents by Teddy Baldock, a Poplar boy who rose to become the Flyweight or Bantamweight Champion of the World in the 1930's. I am told the Baldock family had very little before Teddy became famous and so were very happy then to be grandly regarded as landlords of The Ship. I knew Teddy personally and would often have a chat with him whilst supping a pint in his pub. Sadly, Teddy himself became a victim of drink, as sometimes happens, and from time to time he made a nuisance of himself to the extent that his family threw him out. He deteriorated to a level of which he would have been thoroughly ashamed when in his prime. I heard that his family did not want anything to do with him and he became almost a vagrant. He died, penniless. I believe he was found lying dead in the gutter somewhere near to Aldgate. What a tragic end to a fine athlete and a top sportsman. (For more information see here.)

Postcard depicting a selection of scenes from the play 'A Royal Divorce' performed at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in 1915 - Courtesy Steve KentfieldNow as the means of entertainment was very sparse in those days - it was only the cinema or the theatre, if your locality had one. We did, and The Queen's Theatre & Music Hall was of course a big attraction.

Left - Postcard depicting a selection of scenes from the play 'A Royal Divorce' performed at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in 1915 - Courtesy Steve Kentfield.

Details of the production, 'A Royal Divorce' performed at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in 1915 - Courtesy Steve Kentfield.To be sure of getting a good seat it was always better to arrive at the theatre early and join the queues. These queues naturally attracted the street entertainers and, if our mothers were in a good mood, they would allow us to go to the High Street on Saturday nights; not every week mind, just now and then because there was another attraction, which I have mentioned earlier, for on Saturday evenings silent movies or slide shows were held at our school, Wooolmore Street.

Right - Back of the Postcard above with details of the production, 'A Royal Divorce' performed at the Queen's Theatre, Poplar in 1915 - Courtesy Steve Kentfield.

Anyway, on the occasions we were given permission to go to the High Street we would beg or borrow a penny for a packet of chips, all wrapped in newspaper in those days and plenty of salt and vinegar, (we used to have a big debate as to which newspaper had the best flavour - my favourite was The Daily Herald because it was my Dad's newspaper!) and so our little gang of boys and girls would sit on the kerb opposite the theatre, munching away, and enjoying the entertainment supplied gratis free for us by the street entertainers. There we would be in a row cheering the good artists and boo-ing those we did not care much about.

As each act finished they would go along the queues with their hat or a small bowl and then make way for the next act. Our two favourites were, first of all, old Mutton-eye. We called him that because he had a funny eye. But he was there every Saturday with his bowler hat on and with his collapsible organ tucked under his arm. After he assembled his equipment, which he did remarkably quickly, he then played his organ, pumping away with his foot, and sang old, funny, music hall songs which made us laugh. My cousin, Joyce, tells me that sometimes his wife accompanied him and sang too but I truly can't remember her.

The second favourite act was either two men, or sometimes three, dressed in Egyptian clothing. They would sprinkle some sand on the roadway and then perform a very funny sand dance. They were very good. The other acts were mainly singers and some of those sang so well they should have been singing inside the theatre, not outside, for they were that good.

Queens Theatre Poplar in 1930  from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994 Of course this wonderful atmosphere of Poplar High Street on Saturday nights was not only magical for us kids, it was magical for everybody. There was excitement in the air and this was also sometimes added to when The Ship had to eject a drinker from the pub who had obviously had one over the eight and such people were either fighting mad and wanted to fight the whole world, or in a soppy sentimental state of inebriation in which case they wanted to sing DANNY BOY or NELLIE DEAN at the top of their voice. But in either case they too, in their way, contributed to Saturday nights in the High Street.

Left - The Queen's Theatre Poplar in 1930 from The 'Survey of London' published by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England 1994.

Eventually, the queues began to slowly disappear as they entered the theatre and the street entertainers would melt away as well as did the apple & orange lady, the roasted peanut man, and the chap who sold hot roasted chestnuts which were very popular on cold evenings.

Sometimes the entertainers, where suitable, would continue by performing their acts in the local pubs - if the landlord would allow it. But it was quite remarkable how quickly the High Street turned from the hustle and bustle and excitement of an hour ago into just an ordinary street and so people, including us kids, would gradually disappear into the gloom of the night.

Those were times which have now vanished into the past and we shall never see the like of them again I fear. As far as The Queen's, originally called The Oriental when it opened in the 1800's, is concerned, that too has gone. I will write a little more detail about the history of The Queen's below. The progress of television in many homes affected all theatres and The Queen's was closed in the 1950's and demolished and sold for development later on. Many stars of the past and the future appeared there; indeed it was the very first theatre in London in which our dear Gracie Fields appeared. It is true to say that before the advent of TV every town and city had one or more theatres or music halls like The Queen's and so throughout the country there were hundreds and hundreds of them. These were served by the revues or variety shows that traveled the country appearing usually for just one week and then moving on to the next venue. These shows were put together by entrepreneurs and agents who were responsible for booking the show tours and paying the artistes which, if it was a revue, consisted of the principal artist, usually a comedian, a couple of singers, or maybe a magician, a group of dancing girls; perhaps 17-20 people in total. If it was a variety show then that would consist of 6-8 individual acts with a compere introducing each one to the audience.

It was a wonderful nursery for talent and for budding artistes to hone their skills and learn the business of entertainment and, providing you had some evident talent, it was not too difficult to find a touring show that would accept you. In the days of the provincial theatre this 'theatrical nursery' produced a lot of famous actors and actresses who in later years appeared on TV to entertain the nation. Today we have no such nursery and so there are fewer places for up and coming stars of the future to develop and improve and I for one, but joined by many, believe this is a tragedy. But it was what they call "progress" and in my opinion is one of the main reasons why the quality levels or standards in entertainment have deteriorated so much these days and why there are fewer real stars than there were years ago. With the end of the music halls and provincial theatres there seems to be almost nobody around today who can hold an audience in the palm of their hands like the old stars. They had a kind of magical attraction. But then, they had the opportunity in those days to learn how to do that !

As far as the history of The Queen's Theatre is concerned, the first music hall on this site was licensed in 1865 and the performances took place at the rear of The Queen's Arms public house. An inn, The Angel, had occupied the site previously as early as 1765. The Abrahams family took over The Queen's Arms in 1863 and they were connected with the development and ownership of what eventually became The Queen's Theatre (originally called The New Albion and then The Oriental) for almost a century.

Hippodrome, Poplar during the Dock Strike of 1912  -  from 'Times Gone By' A photographic record of Great Britain 1856 - 1956 - Click for details of this TheatreApparently it was a "pub" theatre right up to the 1920's. It went through a bad patch in the late 1880's and early 1890's which was perhaps due to the poor economic conditions which existed then and the dock strike of 1889 could not have helped. But it survived and went on into the 20th century.

Right - The Poplar Hippodrome during the Dock Strike of 1912 - From 'Times Gone By' A photographic record of Great Britain 1856 - 1956.

It closed in 1956 but was purchased by a theatrical group which intended to re-open it within 18 months or so as a West End theatre in the East End. But sadly these plans came to nought and the site became derelict. It was eventually purchased by the London County Council in 1964 for development and for a very low price. Thus The Queen's was demolished and with it went a lot of treasured memories on the part of so many people, and also, certainly, the author. But in my heart of hearts I believe that the ghosts of the many stars who performed at The Queen's are wandering abroad - maybe seeking a heavenly opportunity to display their artistry as they once did on that stage many years ago !

I would like to mention that there was a little 'cubby hole' at the side of the stage was where the Stage Manager sat or stood and watched that everything was proceeding according to plan. On the wall of this cubby hole was a glass case containing signed photographs of many of the great stars of the past who had performed there - from Charlie Chaplin to Gracie Fields and many wonderful performers even before them. I often wonder what happened to that when The Queen's was demolished ? It must have been worth a tidy penny to any collector!

Extracts from 'A Boy From Nowhere' reproduced with kind permission from the author David Mitchell.

David Mitchell adds: 'I am sad The Queen's has gone and I have two questions: Firstly does anyone know what happened to the glass fronted case in the Stage Manager's cubby hole by the side of the stage? This had numerous cards signed by many of the old stars, including Charlie Chaplin. Florrie Ford, Kate Carney etc. Secondly, on my last visit some years ago I looked in vain for any plaque or anything which might tell visitors that here on this spot once stood The Queen's Theatre and Music Hall.

I am doubtful now that anyone is alive who might remember what happened to the glass wall case of signed cards by so many famous people. It must have been worth a lot of money to any collector and somebody must have recognised that before or during demolition. But I really do think that someone should request a plaque to be placed somewhere to show where the wonderful old place stood.' - David Mitchell.

Philip Storey replies: David Mitchell asks what happened to the cabinet in the stage managers office at the queens theatre poplar. Mr Abrahams, the owner, took it with him when he left. My father lawrence was a spot light man in the 50s at the Queens and my brothers and I would sit with the old fella while he was at work. Philip Storey.

Philip Storey also writes: Re Teddy Baldock, his nephew has a book being published about Teddy. To put the record straight Teddy died in Rochford hospital Essex and yes sadly he was a drunk and down on his luck but a cracking fighter and a very nice man. My old fella was a freind of his and I was just a slip of a boy when I met him and I feel privaliged to have meet such a man. Philip Storey.

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, East India Dock Road, Poplar

Formerly - The New Prince's Theatre / Prince's Theatre

The Hippodrome Theatre, Poplar in the 1920s - Courtesy Steve Kentfield.

Above - The Hippodrome Theatre, Poplar in the 1920s - Courtesy Steve Kentfield.

Hippodrome, Poplar during the Dock Strike of 1912  -  from 'Times Gone By' A photographic record of Great Britain 1856 - 1956The Poplar Hippodrome was built by Messrs Kirk and Kirk to the designs of the Architects Messrs Owen and Ward and originally opened as the New Prince's Theatre on Boxing Day, 1905.

The Theatre's auditorium was built on four levels, Stalls and Pit, Circle, Balcony, and Gallery, and had an overall capacity of some 2,500 people.

The Hippodrome's large stage was 60' wide by 41' deep.

Right - The Poplar Hippodrome during the Dock Strike of 1912 - From 'Times Gone By' A photographic record of Great Britain 1856 - 1956.

The Theatre was converted for Cinema use in 1925.

The Hippodrome was bombed during the Second World War and then eventually demolished in 1950.

The Hippodrome Theatre, Poplar after having been bombed in the Second World War - Courtesy Peter Charlton

Above - The Hippodrome Theatre, Poplar after having been bombed in the Second World War - Courtesy Peter Charlton

 

The Town Hall, Newby Place, Poplar

An extract about the Town Hall, Poplar from David Mitchell's book 'A Boy From Nowhere' is reproduced below.

I should also like to say a few words about the old Poplar Town Hall in Newby Place and what a magnificent building it was. On those very steps at the entrance, George Lansbury made many a fiery speech in defense of the poor and the working classes. But what I remember mostly were the Mothers Meetings which were held there. Sometimes my mother would take me with her when I was quite small and quite often they would arrange a small stage show. For some mothers that was about the only entertainment they ever got! These shows were very entertaining and I recall two main entertainers there. One was an older man we called "Uncle Ernie" and he sang funny songs from the music hall which amused the mothers who were, incidentally, ladies of all ages - they were just glad to have the opportunity of getting out of the house for a little pleasure.

The other chap, was named Jimmy Emms and he was a younger man who just loved to entertain. He just lived for any chance to perform. I shall always recall his imitation of Shirley Temple when she was just a tot. Jimmy would come on to the stage wearing a blonde curly wig and a short girly dress; with his hairy legs he had the mothers in fits of laughter, and me too! Jimmy was at one time quite sweet on my sister, Elsie, but nothing came of it. Pity, he was a very nice young man and very likeable.

I do not think these, or any other willing participants in these shows for the mothers, were paid for their services; if they were it would only have been a pittance. Years later on I saw "Uncle Ernie" performing in The White Hart pub on the corner of the High Street and Robin Hood Lane; he was still singing the same old songs. And I know Jimmy Emms used to delight in performing at people's private parties if he was asked; he certainly came to parties at our house. If I remember correctly, I believe his theme tune was "Music, Maestro, please"; back in the 1930's - a very popular tune at the time. Sadly, the Town Hall was badly damaged by a bomb during The Blitz; it remained as a shell for a time and was finally demolished either just before the end of the war or immediately after. I am not sure what stands in its place today.

Another who performed occasionally at The Old Town Hall was our own little angel from Prestage Street. Her name was Little Joanie Cruise and she was pretty and she sang and danced in a very cute and perfect way. She appeared not only at the Town Hall shows but also occasionally at The Queen's, in talent contests, and other places too. We all loved Little Joanie for she was the darling of the neighbourhood. She was invited to all the parties that were held in our district, lifted on to a table in the centre of the room, and there, with many watchful eyes upon her to see that she didn't fall, she would perform her act to rapturous applause from the whole room. We often spoke of and wondered if Little Joanie would have become a big star. Alas, it was not to be.

Extracts from 'A Boy From Nowhere' reproduced with kind permission of the author David Mitchell.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Town Hall Poplar, in 1879.

 

The New Poplar Town Hall

In his book 'The Face Of London' 1956, Harold P. Clunn writes: 'On the north side of Bow Road not far from Bow church is the new Poplar Town Hall, a plain red-brick building of five stories erected in 1938. It has no claim to distinction or beauty and is more suggestive of a warehouse than a public building.'

From 'The Face Of London' 1956 by Harold P. Clunn.

 

Poplar - From 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn, 1956.

The metropolitan borough of Poplar, between Limehouse and West Ham, was originally a hamlet of Stepney and obtained its name from the large number of poplar-trees that once grew there. Poplar Chapel, in East India Dock Road, is now the church of St Mathias, and is surrounded by four acres of lawns and shrubberies, including tennis-courts and greens. In 1866 it was made the church of the new ecclesiastical parish of St Mathias, and the exterior was then remodelled. Poplar Chapel was erected between 1650 and 1654 on land given by the East India Company and was rebuilt in 1776.

Street scene in Poplar 1912 - note the bills advertising Queens and Hippodrome Poplar - From  The British Century - Brian MoynahanArthur Lloyd is known to have performed in Poplar, East London 1879, 1890

After the construction of the East and West India Docks the population increased rapidly, and by 1841 Poplar already contained thirty thousand inhabitants. Its estimated population in 1948 was 74,760. To meet the shortage of church accommodation a new chapel was built in 1848 by the Wesleyan Methodists to accommodate 1,500 persons. St Stephen's Church, which is also in the East India Dock Road, was opened in 1867 and accommodates 950 people.

Right - Street scene in Poplar 1912 - note the bills advertising Queen's and Hippodrome Poplar

Poplar Hospital, in the same road, was opened in 1835, but has long since been rebuilt. It was badly damaged in the great blitz of 1940. The original building was the old Custom House at the entrance to the East India Dock gates. Branching southwards from this corner is the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel, opened in 1897 and built at a cost Of £1,500,000. It provides free communication for pedestrians and vehicles between Blackwall and East Greenwich. The tunnel is 6200 feet long but only about one-fifth of it is actually under the bed of the river.

The external diameter is twenty-seven feet and the internal twenty-three feet. The number of vehicles using the tunnel is upwards of one million per annum. Before the construction of the East India Docks, Mr Perry had already built a shipyard and a wet dock at Blackwall, capable of accommodating twenty-eight East Indiamen and sixty Greenland sloops together with storehouses and every convenience. The shipyard and appendages were afterwards purchased by Sir Robert Wigram and the dock was sold to the East India Company. Beyond the East India Dock is Bow Creek, where the River Lea flows into the Thames. Poplar High Street, which runs parallel to the East India Dock Road, is a long narrow street of shabby houses and shops practically all of which have been destroyed in the earlier air raids Of 1940. But a widening was begun at its western end before the war and two great blocks of flats were erected which have escaped destruction. These are Willis House on the north side and Dolphin House on the south side.

After passing Blackwall the East India Dock Road runs alongside the boundary wall on the north side of the East India Docks and leads to the wide new bridge over the River Lea, connecting Poplar with Canning Town, built in 1933 to replace the former narrow iron bridge.

This portion of the East India Dock Road was formerly quite narrow, but in 1908 the boundary wall of the docks was set back and the width of the roadway practically doubled in order to make room for the extension of the tramways of the London County Council from Blackwall to Canning Town. Here, on a large bombed site, new three-storied blocks of London County Council flats have just been completed, with their frontages turned away at right angles to the East India Dock Road. There is also a large five storied block which stands back at the top of a spacious courtyard. Shortly after crossing the River Lea we come to Canning Town Station opposite which is the narrow Victoria Dock Road, close upon a mile long, which leads to the Victoria Docks. In order to provide improved access to the Victoria and Albert Docks a wide new road called Silvertown Way was opened in 1934. This commences at Canning Town and provides direct access to the Victoria Docks without passing through the narrow and -congested Victoria Dock Road.

From 'The Face Of London' 1956 by Harold P. Clunn.