East London Transport

History of Poplar East London

Poplar in London is perhaps best known at the moment as the setting for the popular Call the Midwife books and TV series. But, this area of the East End has a lot more history to it than that. It was the location for some of the worst damage inflicted on this area of London in both world wars and can even lay claim to being the home of the one of the most famous pirates of the 17th century.

The early history of Poplar

Like much of the East End of London, Poplar started out as a rural village or hamlet. Originally known as the manor of Popeler, the area was given to the Abbey of St Mary de Graces in the late 1300s by William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester. Later, it became the property of Charles II when he was invested as Prince of Wales.

Places to Visit in the East End of London – Poplar

Poplar East London Pub
Poplar East London Pub

As London grew over the years, areas like Poplar became more populated and industrialised. Poplar was the home of many docks, including the large East and West India dock sites and played a significant role in London’s life as a port. The area was home to many different sea-related industries, including warehousing, ship building and rope making.  The East India Company built the area’s church in the 1650s. Originally called the Poplar Chapel, this church is now called St Matthias Old Church and operates as a community centre.

The Poplar Pirate

In the 1600s, an unlikely pirate, John Mucknell, lived in Poplar. He was originally born in Stepney but moved to the area with his wife after they got married. Originally a commander serving on a ship for the East India company, Mucknell became known as the “King’s Pirate”, as during the English Civil War, he sided with Charles I in his fight against the Puritans.

Mucknell seized the ship under his command and started life as a pirate, disrupting trade around the English coast. He banded together with other local pirates on the south coast of England and flew the flag of the King on his ship.

The Poplar Rates Rebellion

The borough of Poplar was home to the famous Poplar Rates Rebellion in 1921. Rather than being a major rebellion, this was a protest against property taxes. It was led by George Lansbury with the support of the local council. Lansbury had been the Mayor of Poplar and would later become the leader of the Labour Party.

Like many East End London boroughs, Poplar was relatively poverty-stricken at this time. The Poor Law rules meant that the borough itself had to manage issues like unemployment and poverty with no support or funding from central government. The only way that local councils could do this was to raise money from charging property rates.

The problem was that poor boroughs like Poplar had to charge high rates to raise the necessary money, which residents and local business people just could not afford to pay. Richer boroughs could charge lower rates to raise the same sums of cash, even though they had little need of the money compared to areas like Poplar.

The rebellion started because people thought that all rates should be charged equally and that poor areas such as Poplar should not be penalised for having poverty problems. It included a protest procession of 2,000 locals and eventually other boroughs said that they would join forces with Poplar if things did not change. An Act of parliament ultimately took note of local feeling and changed the system to make it fairer to all areas.

Poplar in the Wars

Poplar suffered from bomb damage in both the First and Second World Wars. Due to its proximity to the docks, Poplar and the rest of London’s East End suffered badly in the Blitz during the Second World War and was badly damaged by a number of V1 and V2 raids. However, the area was also affected badly during the First World War. Initially, the Germans used night-time Zeppelin raids to bomb the docklands areas, causing some damage to Poplar and killing some civilians.

The worst incident of the First World War happened in June 1917 with the first daytime attacks on London. A fleet of Gotha bombers came over London from Essex, dropping shrapnel bombs. One bomb hit a primary school in Upper North Street, killing 18 children and badly injuring around 40 others.

Poplar and Call the Midwife

Recently, the BBC has brought post-war Poplar back to life in its Call the Midwife TV series. Based on the books by Jennifer Worth who actually worked as a midwife here in the 1950s, the series recreates the conditions of much of the East End after the war and highlights some of the social conditions that the people of Poplar had to contend with.

55 thoughts on “History of Poplar East London”

  1. I recently bought an old classic car, in the history file that came with the car, it’s first owner was Dr JC Verbrugge, in a hand written letter/note from his son in law, it states Dr Verbrugge came to England as a refugee during the first World war, he set up a medical practice in Harley St and one in Poplar. During the General strike (1926?) he was so respected for his work the dockers guarded his car whilst other cars had been attacked and damaged during riots. Dr Verbrugge lived in Blackheath and after the second World War retired to Rissington.

  2. My grandfather n all my great uncles all born in Blackthorn street Poplar .They were called Lewis n my grandmothers were called Honney I believe i still have relatives in east end .Any info would help ot photos Thanks

  3. My nan was Ellen Alicia DAVIS (Nell) born 1910 & came from Isle of Dogs married Thomas Hoiles (from Gravesend, Kent).My mum Joyce Beatrice Hoiles was born (1930) in Stewart Str. (siblings David, George, Thomas, Johnny & Michael) at some point they all moved to Gravesend.

    My nan had many siblings:- Sisters Maud nee DAVIS who married Sidney Russell (also from Gravesend, Kent), & Mary DAVIS who married Tim Fitzgerald & lived in West Ferry Road, brothers George DAVIS, Tom DAVIS plus others. My Great-nan (Nan’s mother) was known as Lottie nee Lowther. Can’t remember any other street names but they were a well known family on Isle of Dogs.

  4. My Mum (Irene) was born in Baisley Street Poplar, her Mum was Louise Horsborough and Dad Matthew Horsborough (secretary to Clement Attlee) involved in politics for some years. I don’t know too much about their lives, parents didn’t say much back then. I would love to know more. Do these names ring any bells?

    Many thanks.

  5. My family were the Wells and Savage families from Poplar and Stebendale Street, Isle of Dogs. Does anyone remember them. Thank you.

  6. I was an deck officer with Frank C Strick, a shipping company that used to berth at either the East India or West India Dock together with City and Elerman Shipping Company. Strick line used to run mainly to the Persian Gulf. I joined my first ship the M.V. Farsistan (after completing my pre-sea training in Warsash School of Navigation) in one of the aforementioned Docks back in 1963 and I clearly emember a local pub named “The George”, where the ship’s officers used to go for a pint or two whilst the ship was berthed in the area. Can Anyone remember these ships?

    Guy Bechard. (Capt).

    1. My apologies, I should have said at the very beginning of my message “I was a deck officer…” and I also mis-spelt the Shipping Company’s name that should read “City and Ellerman”.

      “Guy” Bechard (Capt).

      1. Gaetan Be hard Mauritius

        I should have added that the physical address of Frank C Strick was:-
        12 -20 Camomile Street, London EC3.

        “Guy” Bechard (Capt).

  7. My Grandfather worked for Milns, Cartwright and Reynolds in Poplar during WWII – my father visited the area a few years ago but couldn’t remember an address. Any thoughts ?

  8. My grandfather lived in Lodore Street in 1922 when he married my grandmother. Has anyone any idea what he might have lived in then as I understand it is now nothing like it was then. A photo of that time would be wonderful, has anyone got any ideas where I could look for this. Thank you.

  9. My great grandfather, Frederick Goddard, died of smallpox in 1876. He lived at Grundy St. Poplar but I can’t find any record of where he was buried.

  10. Always interesting as my forebears lived Poplar area
    I visited local Pub but no help.
    Local roads and streets replaced by motorways
    Doing Genealogy I want to know more
    Please help me
    Thank you Muriel Dick nee CRAIGIE, NZ

  11. Christine Humphries

    Can any one help. my great uncle lived in poplar and I have just heard he had a shop ?? the name was Snowey Eke he had a son John and twins Sidney and don’t know the little girls name would have been about 1929/30s

  12. My family worked in the glass factory in Poplar then migrated to New Albany Indiana then to Kokomo indiana all the while working in glass factories. They were the Robert Patterson Gammans and Susan Mercer family’s. They lived in the All Saints area and also Hackney. The family’s migrated down from Scotland, to Liverpool, Cumberland, Cockermouth, Workington then to Poplar.They left England around 1865 or earlier.

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