Old Poplar Town Hall - Poplar High Street, Poplar, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.538 W 000° 00.934
30U E 707095 N 5710649
Quick Description: This building was constructed in 1870 and served as Poplar Town Hall until 1938 when a new town hall was built in Bow.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 11/25/2012 3:10:29 AM
Waymark Code: WMFRVX
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member lumbricus
Views: 1

Long Description:

The building was constructed as Poplar town hall and was used for that purpose from 1870 to 1938. The only signage to indicate that it was a public building is a cartouche over the main entrance door with the initials 'PWB' that stands for the Poplar Board of Works.

The building is Grade II listed and the entry at the English Heritage website [visit link] tells us:

"Dated 1870, built on a corner site with octagonal tower capped by finialed copper dome holding the corner. Stock brick with Portland stone dressings and some polychromy in a High Victorian free Gothic with some Venetian detailing. Two storey wings abutt the corner tower, that to north along Woodstock Terrace taller and of more Venetian inspiration with coupled and quadrupled groups of tall narrow windows divided by granite foliate copped shafts, to the piano mobile and with deep stone bracketed eaves cornice to steep hipped slate roof. The west wing has a steep gable end slate roof with gabled dormers and stone coped gables. The corner tower has more ornate detailing with bracket cornice and pierced work parapet over first floor; dog toothed eaves cornice to dome and with gablets to alternate narrower faces. Shafted portal with carved archivolt and spandrels. Vermiculated dwarf walls support cast iron area railings terminating in pedestals, those flanking doorway surmounted by Gothic shaft cast iron lamp standards."

The British History website [visit link] gives further information about the building:

"The Board of Works building at the corner of the High Street and Woodstock Terrace was erected in 1869–70. It contained the board-room and offices of the Poplar District Board of Works and subsequently of the Poplar Borough Council, until 1938.

The District Board met for the first time in December 1855 and early in the following year it took a 21-year lease of No. 291 East India Dock Road, which had been erected as an excise office and was suitable for adaptation for the Board's use.  There was increasing pressure on the available space, however, and as the Board could terminate the lease in 1870, it was decided early in 1867 that alternative accommodation should be provided. A plot of ground, 112ft from north to south and 60ft wide, at the south-eastern corner of the East India Company's land acquired in 1866, was set aside for the purpose and £5,000 was fixed as the upper limit for the cost of the new building.

The process of selecting a design from the 43 competition entries attracted the attention and aroused the ire of the architectural press. Because the architects of the three designs which were awarded premiums all had a connection with the Board, there was some suspicion of favouritism. But fears on this score were somewhat allayed by the fact that the majority of the other designs were 'so horridly bad as to deserve no attention whatsoever'. The manner in which the designs were assessed was also questioned, on the grounds of ability. The Board itself prepared a short list of ten designs which was submitted to the referee for his selection of the three prize-winners. The Building News expressed the view that 'No one would expect to find in a Poplar Board of Works a brain capable of making the difference between Westminster Abbey and the Strand Musick Hall' and went on to criticize, in the strongest terms, the judgement of the architectural referee, Sancton Wood. The Builder found the elevation of the winning design 'terribly ugly' and recommended that the Board should pause 'before they perpetuate it in brick and stone'. The Board did pause, for it was divided on the final decision, and a motion to reverse the order of the first two placed designs was only narrowly defeated.

The architects of the winning design were Walter Augustus Hills (c1834–1917) and Thomas Wayland Fletcher (1833–1901) of Bow, both of whom had previously held the post of Assistant Surveyor to the Board, (fn. c) and second were Arthur and Christopher Harston of the East India Dock Road, a partnership which went on to have a considerable local authority practice. After more than a year, during which nothing was resolved, the two firms were invited to submit a collaborative design. This they duly did, and it was accepted. The arrangement which they came to was that Fletcher should be responsible for the specifications and quantities, and the Harstons for the drawings, but because Fletcher was ill for several weeks, his task was also carried out by the Harstons.

Selection of a contractor from the 22 firms that submitted tenders was apparently a much easier task than choosing the design, for the sum of £7,330 tendered by Baker & Constable of Holloway was £560 below the next lowest figure, although it was £490 higher than the architects' estimate and £2,330 above the initial figure set by the Board. Baker & Constable began work in April 1869 and stopped four months later because of a dispute with the architects, chiefly about the quality of the materials which were being used. Conciliation proved to be impossible and the contractors did not resume work on the site. Indeed, they instituted legal proceedings against both the architects and the District Board, but subsequently absconded. Tenders were invited for the completion of the building; that of Crabb & Vaughan of Kingsland for £5,159 was accepted. The firm later complained that it had 'lost a considerable sum' on the contract.

The building was ready for use by October 1870, the fabric having cost almost £7,600, of which £2,300 had been paid to Baker & Constable. Furniture and fittings added a further £577. Some additional costs had been incurred, most notably £500 in opposing Baker & Constable's suits, and the estimate had apparently risen to £9,000. The architects' commission was assessed upon £10,000, however, and that may be taken to be indicative of the total expense.

The hall was designed in a mid-Victorian free Gothic style. It is built in yellow malm brickwork, with Portland stone strings and dressings and polished granite shafts at the main doorway in the octagonal corner tower and the board-room windows. The focal tower attempts to reconcile the two wings of unequal length on the difficult corner site, but it is not entirely successful because it causes the northern wing to stand at an angle to the street line and boundary wall. The tower has a finialed copper, formerly zinc, dome surmounted by a pinnacle. The Board's monogram and the date of erection are featured on either side of the doorway. The boardroom was designed to be big enough to be used for public meetings and social events, as well as the Board's meetings. A gallery at its northern end could accommodate 100 people and a music licence was obtained soon after the building was opened. The domestic accommodation was placed on the second floor of the western wing, which has gabled dormers.

Some flaws in the design soon became apparent. Before the building was occupied, the Medical Officers of Health pointed out that the laboratories were not ideal, being badly lit from the windows and the larger one not having a fireplace or indeed access to a chimney. The early meetings of the Board showed that the acoustics of the board-room were such that 'whenever anybody spoke, the reverberation was so excessive as to make the speaker almost incomprehensible'. The use of hangings may have helped with this problem. A further difficulty was that the chimney near to the octagon in the west wing was so close to it that, when the wind was south-westerly, an eddy was created, causing the chimney to smoke to such an extent that the Assistant Clerk's room and the other two rooms which it served were 'at times uninhabitable'. The use of zinc for the covering of the octagon had been questioned when the building was under construction, and by the late 1890s it was wasting so badly that parts of it had become detached during high winds. Re-covering with copper was contracted to R. Fox of Salmons Lane in 1899 for £185.

In 1900 the building passed to the Council of the newly created Metropolitan Borough and some alterations were made to the office accommodation. It later became apparent that extra space for the drawing office staff was required and in 1925 an extension was erected for that purpose at the northern end of the building, at a cost of £618. In 1938 the building was superseded by the new Poplar Town Hall at Bow. Soon afterwards it was adapted for civil defence purposes. War damage repairs to the building, which were executed in 1949–50, cost £3,189.

The building was used for a variety of purposes after the Second World War until, in 1985–6, it was adapted for use as a district housing centre for the Borough of Tower Hamlets's Directorate of Housing. The alterations included the insertion of a mezzanine at first-floor level in the former board-room, the removal of the 1925 extension at the northern end of the building and the restoration of that elevation. A contract was awarded to Walter Llewellyn & Sons on their tender of £337,350. A further £180,000 was later provided for the treatment of the extensive dry rot discovered within the building, and also to cover the cost of other unforeseen repairs to the roof and windows. The housing centre opened in 1987."

Name: Old Poplar Town Hall

117 Poplar High Street
London, United Kingdom

Date of Construction: 1870

Architect: Walter Augustus Hills and Thomas Wayland Fletcher

Web Site for City/Town/Municipality: [Web Link]

Memorials/Commemorations/Dedications: Not listed

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