diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 15, 2018

Random Station: ALL SAINTS
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
DLR, zone 2
Hinterland: 0.3kmĀ²

When I proposed my Random Station feature, someone asked how I'd cope when a DLR station with a tiny catchment area rolled up. Here's where we find out. All Saints is hemmed in by Langdon Park 500m to the north, Poplar 500m to the southwest and Blackwall 500m to the southeast. That doesn't leave very much space to explore, only an approximate triangle with an area of barely 80 acres. So here are twenty places of interest closer to All Saints than any other station.

All Saints' Church
All Saints DLR is named after All Saints' Church. This striking building in Greek style is almost 200 years old, and was originally erected to support the growing community of merchants around the East India Docks. The interior isn't quite what it once was, but its ministry still thrives, and the surrounding churchyard is a rare haven of peaceful undevelopment.

Hope & Anchor
Hidden down Newby Place, this is a proper little East End boozer, by which I mean plain frontage, an unwelcoming set of doors and a bloke sat out front smoking a fag. Officially known as Jack Beard's at The Hope and Anchor, the place screens European football as and when, and hosts live bands with a nostalgic bent. This Saturday at 7.30pm it's The Aces, a vintage Essex four-piece who only play songs that have been number one in the charts.

The Greenwich Pensioner
Tucked away in neighbouring Bazeley Street, despite its south-of-the-river name, this pub has a bit more going for it. It's prettier (the Georgian stock brick frontage means it's listed), it serves rock solid deliverable food, and the interior is an open space with bar stools and a pool table. That said, I didn't get the feeling from the beery gentlemen lighting up outside that I'd be any more welcome inside.

Robin Hood Gardens
This seminal Seventies estate based on 'streets in the sky' is much beloved by concrete aficionados. Alas, starved of maintenance it became less beloved by residents, the inevitable outcome being that demolition is currently underway. One of the two gargantuan wall-like blocks is currently in the firing line, the southern end still boarded up and broken, the northern half already smashed to piles of rubble.

Blackwall Reach
What's replacing Robin Hood Gardens is more generic brick vernacular housing fare. Eventually there'll be 1500 flats rather than 214, the majority technically affordable, although by no means all of the previous residents will be able to move in. This major regeneration project could be a lot worse, but the corner already finished epitomises bland, and there's no way it'd merit inclusion in a list of 20 Interesting Places ten years hence.

Blackwall Tunnel Approach
Half of the roundabout where the Blackwall Tunnel emerges falls into my area under consideration, a key distribution point carving deep across the local neighbourhood. Loops of carriageway swirl down from the East India Road while vehicles swarm (or queue) below, as a cautionary reminder of what much of inner London might have looked like if the GLC's Ringway zealots had had their way.

Blackwall Tunnel Roundabout subway
This subway was dug beneath the A13 to help pedestrians negotiate their way, specifically to access bus stops located on the lower carriageways. Some municipal department went to a lot of bother to brighten it up, lining the walls with transport-themed tiling. And then TfL rerouted the 108, making Bus Stop L entirely redundant, and removing all need for anyone to use the subway. Maybe one day someone'll come and remove the map in the shelter which suggests the bus still stops.

Balfron Tower
It's Brutalist Heaven round here, because looming high over the A12 is Erno Goldfinger's iconic Balfron Tower. It's in no danger of demolition, but all previous residents have long been decanted, and work is underway to reimagine the interior. It'll be respectfully refurbished, of course, but news that the utility tower will soon contain "a cinema, a play room and a dining room" confirms that the intended future residents are the smugly privileged rather than the locally needy.

Giant Chihuahua
Yes, that's absolutely a four-storey dog, brightening up the end wall of a block of 60s flats in Chrisp Street. It was painted up the side of Kilmore House a few years back by artists Irony & Boe, adding a dash of canine quirk to the neighbourhood, and somehow managing to target the acceptable side of cute.

Chrisp Street Market
Chrisp Street Market was the UK's first purpose-built pedestrian shopping area, knocked up for the Festival of Britain in 1951. At its heart is a street market slotted under a glass-panelled canopy, selling lowkey general goods like rugs and kumquats six days a week to a mainly subcontinental clientele. Across the square an office of suited men are coordinating toned-down plans to introduce Your New Market Coming Soon, via An Exhibition, Keeping You Informed.

Chrisp Street Clocktower
Another FoB favourite, part of the architectural display designed to lure Festival attendees out to the East End, this rusting tower consists of two twin staircases rising to an observation deck beneath a giant brick-faced clock. Once it would have been free to access, but health and safety kicked in early, and these days the doors are only unlocked for Open House (or similar very special events). I take advantage every time.

The Festival Inn
Another Festival favourite, obviously, given the name, which replaced the Grundy Arms in 1951. Its interior is decked out with tip-top Trumans decor, including wooden panelling and a long brass bar inlaid with grid-patterned marquetry. Again there's no hint that gentrification has affected those boozing within - think bitter and crisps - as old school Poplar continues to keep the cocktail crowd at bay.

Idea Store Chrisp Street
Any other local authority would call this Poplar Library, but Tower Hamlets went out on a limb in 2004 and started opening Idea Stores instead. This one was designed by David Adjaye, essentially a glass box with green and blue striped panels, plus a clump of trumpets plonked in the square outside. The internal escalator may have been switched off to save money, but the interior is still a hive of activity, and its RIBA London Award seems well deserved.

George Green's School
George Green's started out as an educational establishment on Chrisp Street founded by a wealthy shipbuilder. This peculiar Victorian confection is its 1880s upgrade, complete with clocktower and inspirational religious quotation above the main entrance. Bob Hoskins scraped a single O Level here in the 1950s. All the students moved to a new site at the tip of the Isle of Dogs in 1978, and the building is currently occupied by Tower Hamlets College.

Poplar Recreation Ground Memorial
Although we associate air raids mostly with WW2, the greatest civilian loss of life in WW1 was due to a bomb dropped on Upper North Street School in Poplar in June 1917. A German Gotha, returning from a raid over the City, released high explosives which fell into the ground floor classroom where 64 infants were being taught, killing 18 of them and injuring more than 30 others. This elegant memorial, depicting an angel on a column of Sicilian marble, was paid for by public subscription.

Woodstock Terrace
A lot of modern Poplar is housing estates, replacing slums and bomb sites, but here and there some splendid streets survive. Woodstock Terrace is a one-sided row of 1840s townhouses, once one of the most respectable streets hereabouts, whose residents included two clergymen, three schoolteachers, a wine merchant and two master mariners. Its modern tenants enjoy convenient parking out front, a view across to the recreation ground, and a conveniently brief commute to Docklands.

Cottage Street
But the next street along, behind the fire station, is much more typical. Blocks of flats accessed via external walkways is generic Tower Hamlets style, here specifically stacks of maisonettes (with a more recent tower dropped in at the end). These residents overlook a brightly-coloured plastic playground, an attempt at a wildflower meadow and a separate fenced off area for squatting dogs.

Poplar Coroner's Court
London has eight coroners courts, one of which is this cottage-like building on Poplar High Street. I particularly like the GLC lettering by the door, and the old wooden sign reading "Entrance to Public Mortuary" on the front. Around half a dozen inquests take place here each week - today's are for 70 year-old David and 43 year-old Robert.

Poplar Baths
A Thirties replacement for a former East End bath house, this splendid building provided a multi-level entertainment space for the local population until 1988, when it closed and fell into disrepair. Against all the odds it's been restored and reopened, again with a swimming pool downstairs, but with the dance hall transformed into a sports hall, and of course a gym squeezed in elsewhere. Two years on, Poplar Baths' facilities perhaps aren't yet widely known.

All Saints DLR station
And finally back to All Saints DLR, or All Saints for Chrisp Street Market as the station nameboards have it. Prior to 1926 this was Poplar station, on the London to Blackwall Railway, but was repurposed and reopened for the DLR in 1987. It's one of a handful of stations to retain its original curved glass canopies (and, annoyingly, two-car southbound trains always stop at the far end of the platform, spurring a mad dash by everyone waiting back by the stairs). Its catchment area may be tiny, but it packs a proper punch.

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