Postcard of the month - #55 - December 2004


On the 2nd March 1821 the foundation stone of All Saintsí Church, Poplar, was laid by the Bishop of London. 

The foundations of Poplar itself was laid down some 425 years earlier in 1396. When Poplar was founded by Cistercian monks from the Abbey, St Mary Graces, which stood near the Tower of London in East Smithfield. The Hamlet of Poplar became one of the Tower Hamlets in the Parish of Stepney. As a Tower Hamlet it had a duty to provide, in times of need, a number of trained militia for the defence of the Tower of London.

However Poplar will always be associated with the East India Company that set up its main shipyard and headquarters at Blackwall in 1614, with shipbuilding and the Docks. The population of Poplar grew steadily throughout the centuries. But with the coming of the West India Dock in 1803 and the East India Dock in 1805, the growth in population accelerated. It was clear to all that the expanding population needed a Church of its own.

In 1817, Parliament made Poplar a Parish and the new Parish Council set about looking for a suitable site for a Church, Graveyard and Rectory. The land owned by Mrs Ann Newby: a house, garden and field, was seen as suitable and purchased. All Saintsí Church was designed by Charles Hollis. Built by Thomas Morris, a local builder, he used the architectís scale model to build the Church. This impressive scale model is displayed in the Church. Built of Portland Stone and granite, the Churchís portico has Ionic columns. They are "surmounted by a facade of more Corinthian style". The elegant steeple rises to a height of 160 feet and contains a peel of ten bells. The Church cost £33,999 to build, raised from local rates and loans from John Stock and George Green, the famous local shipbuilder. These loans were later taken over by the West India Dock Company on more generous terms. All Saintsí Church was consecrated 3rd July 1823.

In the 1890s All Saints was influenced by the High Church style associated with the Oxford Movement. In the 1920s, the Church moved back to more simplified rituals. Also in the 1920s and 1930s it was caught up in political activities of Poplar, especially the Rent Strikes led by George Lansbury and other Poplar Councillors.

Throughout its history All Saints has played an important part in the affairs of the local community. This was never more true then during the Two World Wars. In the First World War, the Church held the funeral service for the Poplar school children killed in the Gotha raid on London in 1917.  During the Blitz of the Second World War, the Crypt became a community air-raid shelter. Being near the docks, Poplar was a prime target for Hitlerís bombs. The Church received some bomb damage but the surrounding area was devastated. Later in the War a V2 rocket destroyed the east end of the Church and brought down the roof. In the 1950s a major restoration of the Church was undertaken. The Church galleries were removed and the organ replaced. A new roof was constructed, supported by a huge steel grid and four large pillars.

To meet the needs of the local community the Crypt was converted into a Community Centre in 1989. The 76 bodies found in the Crypt were reburied in the East London Cemetery. With seminar rooms, a conference hall, well-equipped kitchens and disabled access, the Crypt provides valuable facilities for the local community. Also, the Crypt is available for hire.

Information from an All Saints pamphlet - "Welcome to the Church of England Parish of All Saints, Poplar

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