|Lansbury Estate||Tower Hamlets|
The Lansbury Estate was built in the 1950s as part of the LCC's post-war reconstruction of Stepney/Poplar to create a single community of 11 neighbourhood areas over a 30 acre site. Neighbourhood Area 9 was selected for the 'live architecture' component of the Festival of Britain in 1951, which became the first phase of the Lansbury Estate. An early instance of neighbourhood planning principles put into practice, the estate comprised low-rise housing; an open market square with shops, public houses and a clock tower; schools, churches and other amenities. Landscaping included amenity green space between housing, street trees, a communal garden and two small enclosed garden 'squares'.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2014
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Trinity Gardens and Trinity Church, Lansbury Estate, September 2011. Photo: S Williams
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The Lansbury Estate was built from the 1950s as part of the reconstruction of Stepney/Poplar to create a single community of 11 neighbourhood units over a 30 acre site. The land was first developed from the 1820s but prior to this had been used for market gardens and pastureland and was known as Poplar Fields. By the 1860s it was densely covered with working class housing, with little open space; in the C19th there were two markets, Randall's Market, which closed soon after 1870, Chrisp Street becoming the main market. The area suffered severe bomb damage in WWII due to its proximity to the docks although a few buildings and terraces remained, including the early C19th terrace at 14-26 Upper North Street. This large-scale dereliction led to the LCC's post-war plans for redevelopment of the area, influenced by the then current New Town principles advocated by Patrick Abercrombie and others.
The first phase of building at what became the Lansbury Estate was undertaken as the 'live' architecture contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was an instance of neighbourhood planning principles put into practice, and the first part of the Abercrombie 'County of London Plan' of 1943 to take shape. The Lansbury estate provided some 400 2- and 3-bedroom housing units accommodating up to 1,500 people. With its low-rise housing units, shopping centre, schools, churches and other facilities, as well as landscaped spaces, it was regarded as the future of social housing, with Lewis Mumford commenting in 1953 that its design was based on 'the social constitution of the community itself, with its diversity of human interests and human needs'. Chrisp Street Market Square was the country's first pedestrianized shopping centre and within it the Clock Tower, completed in 1952, provided a viewing platform from where the surrounding estate could be viewed.
It was architect Frederick Gibberd who proposed the 'live' architecture exhibition as a component of the Festival of Britain, an idea approved by the Festival Council in 1948. As there was no appropriate site near the South Bank where the main Festival was taking place, areas that were designated for redevelopment were reviewed, as a result of which Neighbourhood Area 9 in the LCC's Stepney/Poplar Reconstruction Area was selected. The estate was undertaken by the LCC's Valuer's Department in collaboration with Festival authorities and different private architects, the latter designing some 80% of the area with Geoffrey Jellicoe, Peter Shepherd, Graham Dawbarn and Edward Armstrong designing the central housing area. Judith Ledeboer designed what was the first purpose-built old people's home in London, Lansbury Lodge, which opened in December 1951 but since demolished in 1995 after a fire. Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall designed Susan Lawrence School, which was already open by May 1951, and was much admired by Festival visitors. Frederick Gibberd designed the shopping centre with its large open space, iconic Clock Tower, shops with maisonettes above, covered market and public houses.
Poplar Metropolitan Borough, working with the LCC and Festival landscape architect Frank Clark, was largely responsible for street furniture and planting throughout the estate. This included street trees, one of which was planted by the Queen, as well as green spaces between housing such as between Gladstone, Grenville and Overstone Houses, Hopkins and Russell Houses, and Playfair, Northcote, Colborne and Spearman Houses. There were also hard-landscaped spaces such as Pekin Close and smaller garden enclosures such as those overlooked on three sides by terraces of Elizabeth Close and Chilcot Close off Grundy Street, designed by Jellicoe, which echo London's garden squares. A row of lime trees is adjacent to Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall's primary school on Kerbey Street, now renamed Lansbury Lawrence School. This and the Elizabeth Lansbury Nursery School, which opened in 1952, had interior tiling by ceramist Peggy Angus, who had taught at North London Collegiate School (q.v.). The materials used in buildings and paved surfaces here and elsewhere on the estate demonstrate the care paid to such detail, with the selection of English materials a particular interest of Rosenberg.
Two churches were built on the estate, the monumental St Mary & Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which was completed in 1953 and designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott, one of the first churches to be funded by the War Damages Commission. It replaced an earlier Catholic church to the north that had been destroyed by bombing, its site built over by the Cardinal Griffin School, which opened in 1951 designed by David Stokes, its site now being redeveloped by Bellway Homes. Trinity Congregational Church, destroyed by a V2 rocket, was rebuilt by Cecil Handisyde and T Rogers Stark in 1951, later becoming a Methodist church. Handisyde and Stark were also responsible for the design of the adjacent communal public gardens now known as Trinity Gardens, which originally had a small pool that has since been filled in.
The LCC planning team included not only architects, planners, landscape architects and surveyors but also for the first time a sociologist, Margaret Willis. The Festival comprised the permanent buildings on the new estate, albeit not completed by 1951, including a number of show units, and a temporary exhibition in a tented site on the corner of East India Dock Road and Upper North Street. It opened on 3 May 1951 and attracted 86,646 visitors, including George VI and Queen Elizabeth, by September when it closed. Further housing by the LCC completed the estate although this was generally higher rise, with blocks of 3 to 6 storeys arranged around landscaped areas. The estate is named after George Lansbury, who was Labour MP for Bow and Bromley in 1910-12 and again from 1922-40, a former Mayor of Poplar, becoming leader of the Labour Party in 1932. He was an active campaigner for social equality, supporter of the suffragette movement and a pacifist. The Lansbury Estate is now owned and managed by Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association).
On 1 April 2014 a grove of 10 elm trees and a black poplar, together with poppy seeds, were planted in Trinity Gardens in memory of 18 schoolchildren at Upper North Street School who died as a result of a WWI bomb on 13 June 1917, one of the first bombing raids, which was aimed at the nearby docks. The school was originally on the site of the park. The trees were donated by the Conservation Foundation and planted by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, members of the Royal British Legion and pupils from nearby Mayflower Primary School. Shortly after they were planted 4 of the trees were stolen, but are to be replanted. The Black Poplar, Britain's rarest native timber tree, gave the borough of Poplar its name. As recorded by John Gerard in his famous Herbal of 1597, black poplars grew abundantly in the Thames marshes that occupied most of what is now Tower Hamlets. For a number of reasons, these trees no longer reproduce naturally in Britain, so their conservation relies on planting more of them. In addition to this tree in Trinity Gardens, four were planted early in 2014 in Poplar Recreation Ground (q.v.). As part of the implementation of the Local Biodiversity Action Plan, a further 15 will be planted across the borough in autumn 2014.
Open House information sheets; Elain Harwood 'Lansbury' in 'Twentieth Century Architecture 5: Festival of Britain' ed Elain Harwood and Alan Powers, The Twentieth Century Society, 2001; LBTH 'Lansbury Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 2007; East End Life, 21-27 April 2014.