RepositoryArchives
Ref NoL/PMB
LevelFonds
TitleRecords of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar
Date1894-1966
DescriptionScope and content:
The cumulative record of the activities and decisions of the Metropolitan Borough may be found in its departmental records and in the minutes and papers of its committees. The departmental records document the work of the Borough's chief officers and their support staff; the records of the various committees document the work and decisions of the elected members of the Borough. There is much overlap as the chief officers reported to the committees.
Extent997 items
AdminHistoryMetropolitan Borough of Poplar
The Metropolitan Borough of Poplar was a local authority in the former County of London for the area of Poplar, which running north-south comprised the districts of:
- Bow
- Bromley St Leonard
- Poplar
- Blackwall
- The Isle of Dogs

The following statistics were gathered at around the time of the Borough's creation::
- Area: 2,333 acres
- Population (1896): 169,267
- Rateable value (1899): £746,854
- Number of MPs: 2

Origins and purpose
The Metropolitan Borough of Poplar was created in 1900 under the terms of the 1899 London Government Act. The Act replaced the old system of governance based mainly on vestries, which had developed from the civil role of ancient parishes, and district boards. Across London, 28 new borough councils were created consisting of a mayor, aldermen and elected councillors, supported by salaried officers and departmental staff headed by the town clerk, treasurer, borough engineer and surveyor - all key local figures in their day.
The new Metropolitan Borough replaced the Poplar District Board of Works, itself made up of the following parish vestries:
- St Mary, Stratford Bow
- St Leonard, Bromley
- All Saints, Poplar

The Borough was initially divided into 14 wards for electoral purposes: Bow - North, West, Central and South; Bromley - North-West, North-East, Central, South-West and South-East; Poplar - North-West, East and West; Millwall; and Cubitt Town. The first elections to the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar were held in late 1900. The Borough was initially financed from a general rate of businesses and residents; however, loans for part-financing services and facilities were obtainable from a central government department rather than from the London County Council (LCC) which had been established in 1888.

The Metropolitan Borough of Poplar was abolished in 1965 as part of a major reorganisation of local government in London that followed the passing of the 1963 London Government Act; Poplar joined the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green and Stepney and became a district in the newly created London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which officially came into being on 1 April 1965.

Activities
The Metropolitan Borough inherited a number of functions from the previous system of district board-based local government, which was supposed to have made provision for, among other things, services and facilities relating to:
" - regulating the sanitary conditions of houses, including the power to condemn and close insanitary dwellings
" - the acquisition and demolition of condemned houses
" - rules governing the letting of premises in lodgings and tenements
" - the acquisition of land for the provision of public lodgings and tenement houses for the poor
" - street paving and lighting
" - the provision of public baths and wash-houses
" - the provision of public libraries
" - cemeteries and other works relating to public health
" - the provision and maintenance of open spaces and other public amenities

Over the 65-year history of its existence, the Metropolitan Borough expanded the scope of its functional remit to take in numerous other matters, including, but by no means limited to:
- electricity supply
- electricity generating stations were situated at Glaucus Street and Watts Grove, Bromley-by-Bow, and
supply commenced as early as 1900. Offices and showrooms were latterly at 208-12 East India Dock Road,
with additional showrooms at Electric House, Bow Road. The Borough handed over responsibility for
electricity supply - and, it would seem, all of its own records - to the nationalised London Electricity Board
in 1948.
- street maintenance and improvement, including scavenging
- the removal and disposal of refuse
- local museums
- maternity and child welfare services
- the registration of births, deaths and marriages
- the inspection of sanitary conditions in factories, dairies, shops selling food, slaughterhouses and seamen's
lodgings

Key activities, events and personalities
Between 1900 and 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar saw some key developments and events which are of local, regional and national importance. The Borough played an important role in the development of Labour Party politics, and even bequeathed the word 'Poplarism' to the English language: 'Poplarism', which may still occasionally be seen in print today, is used to describe political campaigns in which local government is pitted against central government. Among some of the key personalities connected to the Borough, and important events to have occurred were:
- 1909: the Port of London Authority begins to manage the London Docks as a unified commercial concern
- Millwall FC leaves the Isle of Dogs in 1910, having been founded by workers at J. T. Morton's canning and
preserve factory in 1885
- October 1912: Sylvia Pankhurst opens the East London branch of the Women's Social and Political Union at 198
Bow Road
- February 1913: Sylvia Pankhurst begins the Bow campaign with a speech, followed by smashing the windows of
funeral directors Selby & Son
- 13 June 1917: Upper North Street School suffers a direct hit during a German air raid - 18 children were killed
- George Lansbury: first Labour mayor of Poplar 1919; MP for Bow and Bromley 1910-12, 1922-40; leader of the
Labour Party 1932-35
- 1921 Poplar Rates Rebellion: 30 Labour councillors jailed in a protest over the iniquity of the system of poor law
rates; the 30 included five women councillors:
- Nellie Cressall née Wilson: working-class suffragette who helped found the East London Federation of
Suffragettes; first woman mayor of Poplar 1943-44
- Arabella Susan Lawrence: some-time member of the London County Council (deputy chairman 1925-26);
twice elected as MP for East Ham North - the first woman elected to represent a London constituency
- Minnie Lansbury née Glassman: suffragette and Poplar alderman; Minnie developed pneumonia while in
Holloway Prison and died on 1 January 1922
- Jennie Mackay
- Julia Scurr née Sullivan: member of the East London Federation of Suffragettes and founder member of
the United Suffragists
- 1931: Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi stays at Kingsley Hall in Powis Road in Bromley-by-Bow while in London to
negotiate the future of India with the British government; he is feted by local people
- December 1938: Poplar Town Hall opened - one of the first town halls in the country built according to modernist
architectural principles
- 1939-45: the whole Borough suffers heavy bombing during the war
- 1947-56: gradual construction of the Brunswick Wharf Power Station by Poplar Borough Council for the British
Electricity Authority
- 28 November 1951: footballer 'Ivor' (real name Ivan) Broadis, born on the Isle of Dogs in 1922, makes his debut for
England against Austria; he went on to win 14 caps and score eight goals. Ivor served in the RAF in WW2 and
was the oldest surviving England international until his death on 12 April 2019
- 1951: construction of the famous Lansbury Estate as part of the Live Architecture Exhibition of the Festival of
Britain begins in Poplar and Bromley-by-Bow
- 1960s: after a brief period of resurgence after the war, the decline and closure of the London Docks begins to
gather pace, the end hastened by containerisation

Addresses
The still-extant and now Grade II-listed 'old' Poplar Town Hall (117 High Street, Poplar) was built with some difficulty over the period 1869-70, to the designs of local architects Arthur and Christopher Harston of the East India Dock Road. The building - which cost some £7600 and was built by Mr A. Sheffield of the East India Dock Road - housed the main offices of the Poplar Board of Works, the predecessor municipal body to the Metropolitan Borough. The old Town Hall was inherited and used by the Borough for some 35 years, but in the 1930s a new building was required and the commission was first awarded to the architectural practice Culpin & Bowers. This partnership was dissolved before construction began, however, and Ewart Culpin (a Labour member of the London County Council) and his son Clifford took over; the latter took the lead on the project and drastically revised the original plans. The new Town Hall on Bow Road was opened by George Lansbury to considerable publicity on 3 December 1938. The building was sold by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 2011; it is a Grade II listed building that bears striking modernist and art deco influences.

Sources
- F. G. Brewer, A Century of London Government: The Creation of the Boroughs (London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1934)
- Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, London's Town Halls (1998)
- Albert Bassett Hopkins, The Boroughs of the Metropolis (London: Bemrose and Sons, 1900)
- William A. Robson, The Government and Misgovernment of London (London: Allen and Unwin, 1939)
Related MaterialAlso held are records of successor London Borough of Tower Hamlets (L/THL) and also predecessors.

See diaries and papers of William Benson Thorne (1878-1966), librarian (P/THO).

See photograph album presented to Councillor Edgar Lansbury at the meeting of the Council of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar held at the Council Offices on November 9th 1922 (P/MIS/478).

Most printed material such as the Metropolitan Borough's annual reports, brochures and handbooks, together with relevant maps and plans are in the Local History Library. For maps and plans of the Metropolitan Borough boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * - i.e. LCM* - to search across these formats].
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