|St Matthias Churchyard||Tower Hamlets|
St Matthias Church started life as the East India Company's Poplar Chapel, built between 1650-54 at the site of the Company's Almshouses in Poplar. It may have been the first place of worship in the area. After the Company's property transferred to the Crown in 1858, the church then served the new parish of St Matthias. Due to declining congregations, in 1976 it was decided to close the church, which subsequently became neglected, the building and its churchyard vandalised. It was restored and re-opened in 1993 and is now used as a community centre. The overgrown churchyard has been cleared and laid out as a garden, and contains a number of significant monuments.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2011
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.stmatthiascommunitycentre.com
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
St Matthias Church, September 2011. Photo: S Williams
Click photo to enlarge.
St Matthias Church was formerly known as Poplar Chapel and was built by the East India Company between 1650-54, although the foundations had been laid in 1639. The oldest church in Poplar, it may have been the first place of worship in the area. It was built at the site of the East India Company's Hospital or Almshouses on Poplar High Street, which were established in 1628 to provide for disabled seamen of the Company. The Almshouses were rebuilt in 1798-1806 as separate groups of buildings north and south of a rectilinear open space. Founded in 1600, the East India Company established its shipyard at Blackwall to the south, and this led to the growth of the small hamlet of Poplar particularly when the West and East India Docks were built in the early C19th. East India Dock Road was built between 1806-12 and public buildings, shops and houses were built along Poplar High Street. In 1858 the East India Company property was transferred to the Crown and in 1866 Poplar Chapel was consecrated as the new parish church of St Matthias within the parish of All Saints. The East India Company almshouses to the north of the church were demolished in 1866 and the site laid out by the MPGA and MBW as Poplar Recreation Ground, now renamed Poplar Park (q.v.).
The old chapel had been rebuilt in 1776, although it had been in urgent need of repair in 1709 following damage in a storm of 1703. When it was consecrated as a parish church some changes were made to the building, including alterations to the bell-turret and external walls were clad in Kentish rag stone, the restoration undertaken between 1870-76 by William Milford Teulon. However, the church ceiling retained the coat of arms of the East India Company and there are a number of memorials connected to the Company. The timber of seven pillars supporting the room may have come from East Indiamen. The area had begun to decline by the 1880s and in 1899 Poplar Metropolitan Borough was created, encompassing the parishes of Bromley and Bow, with a new Town Hall built on Bow Road.
In 1958 St Matthias church was treated for death watch beetle but it had survived WWII bombing. However, with declining congregations in the parish, which also included All Saints and St Anne's Limehouse (q.v.), the decision was taken to close St Matthias in 1976. Empty for some time, the neglected church and churchyard suffered vandalism, but the building was eventually restored in 1990 with funding from the London Docklands Development Corporation and English Heritage. St Matthias Conservation Trust was then established to maintain the church and the building is used as a community centre. The church retains much of its churchyard, which to the north abuts Poplar Park, the boundary between the two modern metal fencing. Until the early C21st the churchyard's historic monuments were largely hidden beneath Japanese knotweed and other vegetation but it has now been cleared by a small group of volunteers. Headstones have been moved to the perimeter of the garden, areas of grass and numerous spring bulbs planted, and paths laid out. Listed tombs have been provided with information panels.
LBTH 'St Matthias Church Conservation Area Character Appraisal', 2007