About the Poplar Baths Project
There has been a public baths building on this site since 1852, shortly after the Baths and Wash-Houses Act of 1847. The current building, the former public baths, slipper baths and vapour baths is from 1934. It was designed by Harley Heckford and is Grade II Listed. It also stands on the English Heritage Register of ‘Heritage at Risk’.
Poplar was the first borough council in Britain to develop the idea for a low cost civic building and it stands above its contemporaries in architectural importance ‘One of the finest and best equipped baths of comparable purpose in this country.’ Architect and Building News 19 January 1934
It is the interior which gives the building its special interest, the idea of the stepped great glazed roof going back to the ‘Crystal Palace’, that of the hyperbolic concrete arch to the Orly Airport Hangers. These two ideas came together in exhibition design, in the Gothenburg Exhibition Halls (demolished) and the New Horticultural Hall, Westminster (grade II*).
The Grade II listing in 2005 by English Heritage, was achieved through strong community support as Poplar Baths has remained at the forefront of local interest since its relatively sudden closure in 1988. It formed part of the Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s election pledge in the 2010 Tower Hamlets Mayoral elections and since then, funding has been identified to take the project forward to provide residents with a first-class leisure facility in keeping with the building’s historic character, plus new homes and a youth centre.
The Dame Colet site occupies the south easterly corner of the junction of Ben Jonson Road and Stepney High Street in the Tower Hamlet Ward of St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green. On its southerly side the site backs onto the public pedestrian passageway Durham Row which also borders the beautiful churchyard and open green space surrounding St Dunstan and all Saints Church.
The development site is currently occupied by the two storey Haileybury Youth Centre and the single storey Dame Colet House which are both modern (c. 1960s) buildings. Together with some undeveloped areas and various outdoor activity pitches comprise the whole development site that is designated for the new Youth Centre and future housing.
The Parish Church of St Dunstan and All Saints to the north is a Grade I Listed building (from 29 December 1950) and its churchyard and associated iron railings, gate piers and gate are also separately Grade II Listed. The churchyard was made available for public recreation in 1887 and now acts as a focal point for the local community. The railings directly opposite the site form the boundary of the York Square Conservation Area (designated in January 1973 and extended in October 2008).
1. The church itself is described as ‘one of the most important parish churches in England’ in the Square Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Guidelines’
2. The historic setting of the church and public churchyard gardens are considered to be of ‘utmost importance’
3. Views of the trees ‘should be maintained and protected where appropriate, continuing historic ties
The site contains two substantial Poplar trees at the far south western corner adjacent to the junction of Durham Row Passage and Stepney High Street.