Reference NumberL/PBW
TitleRecords of the Poplar District Board of Works
AdminHistoryThe Poplar District Board of Works was the main unit of local government that managed the public health and sanitary conditions for the areas covered by the ancient parishes of All Saints Poplar, St Leonard Bromley and St Mary Stratford Bow, from 1855 until the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar in 1900.

The area governed by the Poplar District Board of Works was some 2335 acres, which broke down as follows:
- Poplar: 1164 acres (of which the Isle of Dogs comprised 608 acres)
- Bow: 563 acres
- Bromley: 608 acres

Other useful statistics:
- Population (1891):
- Bow: 40,370
- Bromley: 70,002
- Poplar: 56,317
- Number of houses (1891): 21,982 (inhabited); 1,817 (uninhabited)
- Rateable value (1897): £742,294

From 1832 to 1885, Poplar, Bow and Bromley formed part of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary constituency, which returned two MPs to Parliament; in 1885 both Bow and Bromley and Poplar became two single-member parliamentary divisions.

Poplar and Bow and Bromley each returned two members to serve on the London County Council (established in 1888).

Origins and purpose
For hundreds of years prior to 1855, parish vestries had met to discharge the business of both ecclesiastical and secular local government. The vestries were essentially committees of prominent householders and church officials and were so-called because meetings took place in the church vestry or sacristy (the room where the priest prepares for a service and where vestments and articles of worship are stored). This early form of local government in London and across the country was a fusion of ecclesiastical and civil functions which had evolved as the most practical means to meet the needs of the inhabitants as they arose.

A generalised system of local government, separate to ecclesiastical concerns, slowly took shape during the nineteenth century. The first concerted attempt to rationalise administration came in the form of the 1855 Metropolis Management Act. This Act created the pan-London Metropolitan Board of Works (the records of which are stored at the London Metropolitan Archives - ref: MBW), but also retained the ancient parish unit as a basis for local government. The 1855 Act provided for the election of a new type of vestry by the ratepayers of each parish; in the less densely populated parishes of London such as All Saints Poplar, St Leonard Bromley and St Mary Stratford Bow, these vestries - technically known as 'Schedule B Vestries' from that part of the Act in which they were listed - were invested with no authority apart from the power to elect representatives to a District Board. The Board was endowed with municipal powers under the 1855 Act. Poplar was one of the 12 new District Boards across central London created to govern and manage certain defined aspects of local affairs.

Under the terms of the 1855 Act, the Schedule B vestries elected a total of 619 members to serve on the London District Boards; more specifically, the three Poplar Board constituent vestries elected 48 members as follows:
- Poplar: 24 members
- Bromley: 15 members
- Bow: 9 members

This framework of local government in London remained unchanged until the Local Government Act was passed in 1894. This act together with a number of other so-called 'Adoptive Acts', such as Baths and Washhouses Acts, Burial Acts and Public Libraries Acts, enabled the District Boards to increase their powers. They could apply to the Local Government Board to take over the appointment, duties and liabilities of the overseers of the poor, and the powers of the Baths and Wash-houses Commissioners, Public Library Commissioners, Burial Boards and other local bodies. However, it appears that the Poplar District Board chose not to acquire any of these powers; the Public Library Commissioners for Bromley and Poplar, for example, remained under the control of each Vestry.

In its early years, the Board's chief officials were:
- Two Medical Officers of Health (one for the North District, one for the South District)
- Inspector of Nuisances (who also served as Sanitary Inspector)
- Surveyor (the first Board Surveyor, Robert Parker, was apparently not appointed until 1860)

A clerk to the Board, a clerk of the works and his assistant provided the necessary administrative support.

The staff establishment of the Board grew considerably over the years, and by 1900 some 30 officers and support staff were employed.

The Poplar District Board of Works was a sanitary authority, charged with keeping its defined area as healthy as possible. The Board had control and management of streets, roads and footpaths, and had to ensure that they were paved, cleansed, watered and lighted; the emptying of dustbins, removal of all refuse and the prevention of 'nuisances' caused by noxious trades also fell within the Board's remit. The early annual reports of the Board include a considerable number of letters and papers from the two Medical Officers of Health; these detail attempts to deal with the serious public health issues posed by the extensive industrial activities that characterised the area.

Over time, other responsibilities included dealing with 'unhealthy' dwellings and monitoring food standards (which included food analysis). By the time of its abolition in 1900, the duties, powers and functions of the Board were:
- Buildings - powers under the London Building Acts were almost entirely under the control of the London County Council (LCC) (created in 1888). However, the Board could initiate
proceedings where buildings had been erected beyond the general line of frontage without the LCC's consent
- Drainage - the Board had virtually complete power over construction and maintenance of local sewers and drains
- Housing - Part II of the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act conferred upon the Board the right of building inspection and the power to take proceedings before a magistrate seeking
the closure and demolition of houses deemed unfit for human habitation; the 1890 Act also enabled the Board to purchase and demolish buildings which were an obstruction to the
improvement of adjacent premises
- Public health - the Board possessed almost all powers under the 1891 Public Health (London) Act, including:
- The appointment of medical officers of health and sanitary inspectors
- The monitoring and enforcement of bye-laws relating to nuisances (defined as including 'offensive' ditches, cesspools, overflowing drains, the inappropriate keeping of animals,
ill-maintained factories, workshops and slaughterhouses and polluting chimneys)
- The building of hospitals and provision of related medical services
- The cleansing and maintenance of factories and premises of employment to ensure the health of employees
- Inspection of slaughterhouses, shops and premises found selling unsound or adulterated food, milk, drugs and other substances
- Proceedings in cases of buildings and premises deemed 'unfit for human habitation'
- Removal of refuse, cleansing of dustbins and streets, and the appointment of 'scavengers' (waste pickers) for the purpose
- Provision of mortuaries for the reception of dead bodies before interment
- Streets - the Board possessed all powers over making, maintaining, lighting, watering, cleansing and regulating the streets. However, the Board required the sanction of the LCC for the
temporary closing of streets for repairs, and for their naming. The LCC renamed and ordered the numbering of streets, the Board then carrying out their instructions in this regard
- Rates and borrowing - until 1894, the expenses of the Poplar Board of Works were met entirely by levying local rates on residents. The 1894 Equalisation of Rates Act was passed with the
intention of standardising the rates for sanitary and other purposes throughout London; the rate was limited to 6d in the £, with the result of extreme inequalities between rich and poor

By 1900 there were seven Board committees in existence to deal with this workload:
- General Purposes Committee
- Finance Committee
- Sanitary Committee
- Works Committee
- Staff Committee
- Building and Drainage Committee
- Electricity Committee: construction of the district's electricity station began in August 1899 (the Board had obtained a provisional order from the Board of Trade to supply electricity in 1893)

In November 1900 the Board was succeeded by Poplar Metropolitan Borough (collection reference L/PMB).

Between 1855 and 1900, Poplar saw some important developments and events. It is important to realise that the Poplar Board of Works was not involved with most of the following, but among some of the key personalities and major events to have occurred were:

5 July 1855: Poplar Hospital opened
1864: demolition of the famous Blackwall Masthouse built in the early 1790s
1866: Poplar Recreation Ground opened on the site of the demolished East India Company Almshouses
1868-1880: Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda, Isle of Dogs-based marine engineer and shipbuilder, serves as one of the two MPs for Tower Hamlets
1868: New Millwall Dock (32 acres of open water) opened by the Millwall Freehold Land and Dock Company
1870: rebuilding of Bow station, which later became the Bow and Bromley Institute and in 1887 the East London Technical Institute
5 March 1870: opening of the new South Dock section of the West India Docks - costs estimated at £500,000
1885: foundation of Millwall Football Club by workers at J. T. Morton's canning and preserve factory on the Isle of Dogs
June 1888: strike by match-girls at the Bryant & May match factory in Fairfield Road
1889: Will Crooks elected to the London County Council - Crooks was a member of the Poplar Union Board of Guardians and also one of the Vestry's Public Libraries Commissioners
14 August 1889: London Dock Strike begins
3 August 1895: Island Gardens public park opened
22 May 1897: opening of the Blackwall Tunnel, a LCC project; begun in 1892, 800 men were employed on the Tunnel's construction - seven deaths were recorded
1900: Will Crooks becomes the first Labour mayor of Poplar

The now Grade II-listed 'old' Poplar Town Hall at 117 High Street, Poplar, was built with some difficulty over the period 1869-70. The architects were Arthur and Christopher Harston of the East India Dock Road. The building cost about £7600 and was built by Mr A. Sheffield of the East India Dock Road. It housed the main offices of the Poplar Board of Works; it was subsequently used by the successor body the Board, the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar.

- F. G. Brewer, A Century of London Government: The Creation of the Boroughs (London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1934)
- [East London] Handbook and Almanac for 1896
- 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)
- Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, London's Town Halls (1998)
- Alfred Simmons, The History of the Parish of All Saints, Poplar (London: Thomas and Bouttell, 1870)
- Frederick Whelen, London Government (London: Grant Richards, 1898)
RelatedMaterialFor records of the successor body see Poplar Metropolitan Borough (collection reference L/PMB). These include some inherited records created under the Board.

Records survive for the Board's three predecessor constituent ancient parishes.

The civil 'local authority' parish records are held under:
- All Saints Poplar (ref: L/ASP)
- St Leonard Bromley (ref: L/BSL)
- St Mary Stratford Bow (ref: L/SMS)

The parochial place of worship records including parish registers recording baptisms, marriages and burials (for which digital versions are searchable on Ancestry) are held by London Metropolitan Archives:
- All Saints Poplar (ref: P88/ALL1)
- St Leonard Bromley (ref: P88/MRY2)
- St Mary Stratford Bow (ref: P88/MRY1)

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