RepositoryArchives
Ref NoW/TUC
LevelFonds
TitleRecords of Trinity United Reformed (formerly Congregational) Church, Poplar
Date1825 - 1976
DescriptionClick the PDF icon to browse descriptions to this collection in PDF format.
Extent1 box, 34 files, 39 volumes and 106 items
AdminHistoryTrinity United Reformed (formerly Congregational) Church was one of a number of institutions in Poplar founded with the support and benefaction of George Green, shipbuilder, of the Blackwall Yard, a prominent local Congregationalist with non-denominational sympathies. Green, in his accounts calls the chapel the sailors' chapel, until its opening as Trinity Chapel, and it was acknowledged that it was intended to attract seamen from the locality, especially his own sailors' home nearby, as well as the shipwrights in his employment. Nevertheless, for a number of years the congregation included much of the local middle classes. With its large and elegant classical frontage in a combination of Grecian and Italian Renaissance styles, positioned to directly front onto the main East India Dock Road, this highly expensive chapel building came to dominate its East London streetscene at a time when chapel architecture in the East End elsewhere was generally low-key. The original church was built in 1840–1 to designs by William Hosking (1800–61), Professor of Architecture at King's College, London. The builders were Thomas Rider & Son of Southwark and the City, and the cost was about £5,495 without fittings. This and all attendant costs were paid by George Green. Additionally he paid some £1,180 for the chapel site to Jonathan Ellerthorpe, a solicitor and estate-developer hereabouts, who had acquired it ten years earlier, as well as £630 for the chapel's burial ground.

At its inauguration in 1841, the chapel was said to accommodate some 1,000 or 1,100 worshippers. Very soon, however, enlargement was necessary and an extension about 15ft deep was made at the north end in 1846, permitting a higher-level gallery to be made there (possibly over a ground-floor schoolroom). The accommodation was raised to 1,500. The chapel as extended in 1846 was probably not much changed before its destruction in 1944. The minister's house was built to Hosking's designs at the same time as the chapel, but on the other side of the road.

The first Congregational minister at Trinity Chapel was the Rev. George Smith (1803-1870), Secretary of the Congregational Union of England and Wales. Probably the most noteworthy and influential twentieth century minister was the Rev William Dick (minister from 1924 until 1942). In an area of enormous deprivation Trinity became, under Dick's inspired leadership, a beacon of hope for the dispossessed and downtrodden. The church's efforts to help improve the lives of the local population, already struggling before being hit by 'the blitz', were seen as an integral part of its Christian mission. The church and halls were open seven days a week from 9 am to 10.30 pm with a wide range of clubs and activities in operation. For people who would not come to the usual Sunday church service he established the PSE (Pleasant Sunday Evening) in the George Green Hall. A night shelter for homeless men was also estabnlished. In 1935 a holday home for tired church members was established at Nutley in Sussex. Unfortunately, being located in the heart of industrial and commercial land-uses in the East End of London, Green and Hosking's magnificent chapel was destroyed in the bombing of East London in 1944 by a direct hit from a flying bomb which completely destroyed the church. The church moved into the disused Poplar Board of Guardians offices in Upper North Street which were used for the next six years. The chapel's replacement, on the same site at the corner of East India Dock Road and Augusta Street (Annabel Close) - the New Trinity Congregational Church or Trinity Congregational Church - formed part of the Exhibition of Live Architecture for the Festival of Britain, 1951, at the Lansbury Estate development (named after the well-known local politician and Labour Party leader). The church was re-built somewhat experimentally in what was then considered a bold and very modern post-war style, using new materials such as concrete, and new building techniques. Social work continued to be a priority for the church community.

Plans for the new Trinity Congregational Church to replace the old bombed church were drawn up by Cecil C. Handisyde and D. Rogers Stark and were dated October 1949. It has since come to light that Stark secured the commission through his father, a church member, and used his position on the LCC to have the church included in the Festival's building programme. Some exchange of land between the London County Council (which developed the Lansbury Estate area) and the church authorities was needed before the new church and manse and the Council's own development plans could proceed. The foundations of the church had been laid by September 1950, making it possible to hold an open air dedication service. Although the building was substantially complete for the Festival exhibition, it was not officially opened until 29 September 1951. The estimated cost of erecting and furnishing the church was £80,000, towards which the War Damage Commission contributed £49,000, while the Congregational Union of England and Wales contributed a further £15,000. The architects were required to provide a very light and airy church capable of seating up to 400 people (only just over a quarter of the capacity of the old church), but so arranged as to provide comfortable accommodation for a smaller congregation when necessary.
The roof is suspended from an exposed, reinforced concrete portal frame, which provides the main structure. The tower contains the ship's bell from the old Trinity Church. The new church had to continue the role of a community and social centre for the area and so a two-storey, flat-roofed club-room block, was included. Such a strikingly modern building was bound to cause some controversy. Punch thought the church looked like 'an unfinished ball-bearing factory'. However in 1998 the church achieved Grade II listing for its special historical and architectural interest.

There had long been a close friendship between the church and the Presbyterian Settlement at 56 East India Dock Road. Following the destruction of the latter early in the War, the Presbyterians were invited into Trinity to continue their work. This connection was further developed in the early 1960s with the Presbyterians again worshipping in Trinity Church. 1972 saw the constitution of the United Reformed Church (the union of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England) and the name of the church changed to Trinity United Reformed Church, Poplar.

The new church had been built in the belief that the congregation would continue to thrive and even expand, but as numbers dwindled it became increasingly difficult to maintain the buildings. In 1974 talks began between the United Reformed and Methodist church authorities with a view to the Poplar Methodist Mission linking up with Trinity URC and in 1975 a plan was agreed. Trinity would lease the premises to the Methodists who would sell their church and with the proceeds would pay for the renovation of Trinity. In June 1976 (on Trinity Sunday) the first joint service was held. The new title for the church was initially Poplar Methodist Mission, Trinity Church.
Related MaterialRecords of Poplar Methodist Church [W/PMC]
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