TitleRecords of the Parish of All Saints Poplar and former Hamlet of Poplar and Blackwall
Date1705 - 1902
DescriptionCivil parish local authority records relating to the maintenance of the parish and its people.

The records include minutes of inhabitants, trustees and vestry. The rate books, and early 1821 and 1831 Census records produced by the parish (series reference: L/ASP/E/8) are key resources for tracing individuals in the parish. The collection also includes poor law records including workhouse registers. Also held are records relating to surveyors and highways, watch, treasurer and public baths and wash houses.
Extent564 items
AdminHistoryThe parish of All Saints, Poplar was created in 1817 by an Act of Parliament. It succeeded the hamlet of Poplar and Blackwall, one of the constituent hamlets of the parish of St Dunstan's, Stepney, taking over its boundaries unchanged. The hamlet contained 1,158 acres, comprising Poplar, Blackwall, and the Isle of Dogs.

Poplar and Blackwall was administered in the same way as the other hamlets which made up the extensive parish of St Dunstan's. It contributed a proportion of the parish's vestrymen and officers, and a share of the rates. It also had its own administrative structure, which consisted of a churchwarden, two overseers, a constable and a number of other officers, all of whom were chosen at the Meetings of the Inhabitants, a body of ratepayers which had the power to levy a separate rate for disbursement within the hamlet.

The size of St Dunstan's vestry fluctuated, as some hamlets separated from it to form independent parishes and new ones were created in response to population growth. Poplar and Blackwall was considered as a potential parish on several occasions between 1650, when separation from St Dunstan's was recommended in a report produced by Parliament's surveyors of church lands, and the creation of St Matthew's, Bethnal Green, in 1743, which marked the end of the process of parish creation in London until Poplar achieved independence in 1817. The closest that the hamlet came to achieving separation followed the establishment of the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches in 1711, and by a scheme devised by the Commissioners in 1727. With the completion of Poplar Chapel in 1654, the hamlet had a building which could readily be adapted as a parish church. On the other hand, it was a relatively poor hamlet, and it had a comparatively small population of only 2,250 in the early eighteenth century, well below the notional figure of 4,750 for each new parish upon which the scheme for the Act of 1711, which established the Commission, was based.

A further problem was the uncertainty over the right of presentation of the minister, for although the East India Company had come to act as patron, on the basis of its contribution to the minister's stipend, the legality of its claim was uncertain and led to disputes with the inhabitants when they were presumptuous enough to attempt to nominate their own candidate. This doubtful situation was further complicated when the advowson of Stepney parish was purchased by Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1710, for it thereby acquired the right to nominate the minister of the Chapel. The Company reacted by negotiating with the college for permission to make every third nomination, and in practice it was the Company which continued to present the minister (the college later claimed to have acquiesced in the arrangement because it did not itself have the means to provide a stipend). The ratepayers' limited abilities regarding the maintenance of the minister were further weakened because holders of ground in the Isle of Dogs were exempt from contributing towards that cost, an arrangement that presumably originated during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when there was a chapel on the Island.

The hamlet's administration came under increasing pressure following the construction of the West India and East India Docks and the City Canal in the first decade of the nineteenth century, which produced a larger population and greater numbers of poor. The workhouse became increasingly inadequate to hold the numbers of paupers requiring indoor relief. On the other hand, extra revenue was available from the rates paid by the dock companies, and by the City Corporation, as proprietors of the canal.

The administrative arrangements were still based upon the Bishop of London's Faculty of 1662 regulating the Stepney vestry, and in 1813 the leading inhabitants, perhaps conscious of the weakness of their position, obtained an Improvement Act placing the administration of the hamlet on a more secure footing. The terms of the Act related chiefly to the power to levy rates and make contracts, the administration of the property of the hamlet and the workhouse, poor relief, the maintenance of the highways and sanitary arrangements. The two dock companies and the City Corporation were allotted a total of 58 nominated places on the body of Trustees, who were empowered to implement the terms of the Act, and the chairman and secretary of the East India Company were also entitled to serve as Trustees. The largest number of Trustees came from amongst the residents of the hamlet, for at least 150 residents either rented property worth £30 per annum or were assessed at £18 or more per annum for the poor rate and thereby qualified to act as Trustees, and a further 10 nonqualifiers were chosen annually by the inhabitants. Because of the continued growth of population and rising property values, the numbers of Trustees increased, from c220 at the passing of the Act in 1813 to c450 by the 1850s.

With the administration of the hamlet more securely established and the number of potential communicants having far outstripped the accommodation available in the Chapel, it was a logical step for the inhabitants to seek full parochial status. The problems which had arisen a century earlier were not now insurmountable and the various interests were reconciled, with comparatively little difficulty. Brasenose's rights to the advowson were acknowledged, the rector, clerk and sexton of Stepney were compensated for their financial losses and the agreements of the Bishop of London, the East India Company and the East India and West India dock companies were obtained. By an Act of Parliament of 1817 the hamlet was replaced by the parish of All Saints, Poplar. The Act established a vestry, with identical qualifications to those applicable to the body of Trustees, and the other trappings of parochial administration. It also made provision for the appointment of a rector and a lecturer, and for the erection of a church and a rectory.

The Trustees' administrative functions were eroded by Peel's Act of 1829 which created a police force in London and thereby removed their role of watching the streets, and the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1837, which transferred responsibility for poor relief to the Board of Guardians of the newly formed Poplar Union, consisting of All Saints', St Leonard's, Bromley, and St Mary's, Stratford Bow. The Trustees opposed the Union, partly because it combined Poplar, which was a riverside parish, with two parishes to the north without frontages on the Thames, and which were less densely populated, in 1841 having only a half of the population of Poplar.

Despite those objections, the same combination of parishes was adopted for the Poplar District Board of Works, created by the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855. This provoked even fiercer resistance from the Trustees, both on the grounds of the incorporation of Poplar with Bromley and Bow, and the imposition of a more restricted franchise in the election of the members of the District Board than that which applied in the choice of Trustees. Furthermore, although Poplar still had an absolute majority on the Board of Guardians, the 1855 proposals allotted it only one half of the members of the District Board. It was argued that Poplar's size and rateable value were sufficient for the parish to retain a separate status within the terms of the Act, but the point was not conceded.

The Act of 1855 removed from the Trustees their responsibility for paving, drainage, lighting and other functions comprised under the general heading of 'improving', yet the Improvement Act remained in force. Their authority thereafter was essentially the power to make and collect the rates, the upkeep of their property and the appointment of various officers.

The Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 established a new vestry in Poplar, empowered to elect the parish's 24 members of the District Board of Works. It also took over the electoral functions of the existing vestry and Meeting of Inhabitants in respect of the choice of parish officers and the ten co-opted Trustees. Its other duties were chiefly concerned with certain powers regarding the highways and the management of the public baths and library. The parish vestry established in 1817 remained in being, shorn of many of its original functions and now concerned only with such parochial affairs as the church rate, the appointment of organist, lecturer and vestry clerk, the election of one of the churchwardens - the other was nominated by the rector - and maintenance of the rectory.

When the Metropolitan Board of Works was replaced by the London County Council in 1889 the District Boards and Metropolis Local Management Vestries continued unaltered, but they were abolished in 1900 by the terms of the London Government Act of the previous year. The boroughs created by that Act included the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar, which covered virtually the same area as the District Board of Works had done. The 1899 Act rendered obsolete the residual powers held by the Trustees under the Improvement Act of 1813, and that Act was duly repealed in 1901, but did not affect the compulsory church rate (which was 'probably the last rate of the kind in the Metropolis') and that was abolished by a separate Act in 1903. Poplar contained 35 per cent of the population and 44 per cent of the gross rateable value within the new borough, and its five electoral wards contributed 15 of the 42 members of the Borough Council (there were also seven co-opted aldermen). Anomalies between the three constituent parishes in such matters as the levying of the rates created some difficulties, and so in 1907 a new civil parish of Poplar Borough was created by the merger of All Saints', St Leonard's, Bromley, and St Mary's, Stratford Bow.

[The foregoing administrative history is adapted from the section, "Administrative History" in Chapter 1 of the Survey of London vols XLIII - XLIV Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, the Parish of All Saints (Athlone Press, 1994).]
Related MaterialFrom 1855, many of the civil 'local authority' functions of the parish were inherited by the Poplar District Board of Works (ref: L/PBW).

For burial and monumental inscriptions relating to Poplar Chapel before it became St Matthias' Church (see P/MAS/2/1 and P/MIS/475-476).

The parochial place of worship parish records for All Saints, Poplar and St Matthias, Poplar including parish registers recording baptisms, marriages and burials are held by London Metropolitan Archives (collection references: P88/ALL1 and P88/MTS).

Digital copies of the parish registers are available to search on, the online database of family history records.
Access StatusOpen
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