The following the shows the boundaries of the Samuda Estate on an 1890 map.
The large ‘Shipbuilding Yard’ was originally established in 1852 by Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda (1813-1885), one of the earliest and most successful builders of iron and steel steam-ships. His obituary in the proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers described him thus:
JOSEPH D’AGUILAR SAMUDA was born in London in 1813, and early became a pupil of his elder brother, Jacob Samuda, with whom he entered into partnership as an engineer in 1832.
The firm were at first principally engaged in marine-engine building, but in 1843 shipbuilding was added to the business; and from 1842 to 1848 ho was engaged in carrying out, on the Kingstown and Dalkey, Croydon, South Devon, and Paris and St. Germains lines, the atmospheric railway on the plan of his elder brother and Mr. Samuel Clegg.
From 1851 he occupied himself almost exclusively in iron and steel shipbuilding, and constructed a large number of vessels for most of the principal navies and leading mercantile companies. Amongst them may be mentioned the “Thunderbolt,” the first armour-cased iron vessel built; the “Prince Albert,” the first iron-clad cupola ship built; and the “Mortar Float No. 1,” the first iron mortar vessel built.
More recently he built two very fast steel vessels, the “Albert Victor” and the “Louise Dagmar,” each 1040 tons burden and 2800 H.P. with a speed of 18.5 knots per hour, for the Channel service between Folkstone and Boulogne; and subsequently the “Mary Beatrice” with a speed of 19 knots per hour.
Of late years the principal part of his work was the construction of armour-clad vessels, the most recent being the Brazilian turret ships “Riachuelo” and “Aquidaban.”
In 1860 he assisted in the formation of the Institution of Naval Architects, of which he was subsequently a Vice-President.
In 1864 he became a Member of this Institution.
In 1865 he entered parliament as member for Tavistock ; and in 1868, and again in 1874, he was elected to represent the Tower Hamlets.
He died on 27th April 1885 at the age of seventy-one.
Survey of London:
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The original yard was a plot of 370ft frontage to the Thames with a drawdock adjoining to the north, taken from December 1852 at £538 per annum. Samuda Brothers were pioneers in their use of steel in shipbuilding, gaining a reputation for constructing warships, steampackets, and other special-purpose craft of iron and steel. Expansion was an almost inevitable consequence. In 1860 the yard was extended to the north and west to meet Manchester Road and Davis Street, and a smaller, irregularly shaped plot to the north of the drawdock was added in 1862, giving Samuda a combined riverside frontage of over 500ft. According to P. Barry, by 1863 Samuda’s Yard was producing nearly double the output of the other London dockyards combined. Many of Samuda’s orders came from emerging foreign naval powers such as Germany, Russia and Japan, and the specialized nature of their merchandise enabled the firm to survive the 1866 financial crash and the subsequent decline in Thames shipbuilding.
Samuda’s firm was rolled up after his death, and the wharf was taken over by the Haskin Wood Vulcanizing Company, specialists in the ‘vulcanizing, seasoning, or preserving of wood’ who operated there until c1912.
An industrial area, but there were already some well-established residential streets at the time – Davis St, Samuda St and Stewart St – as well as the grander houses along Manchester Rd.
Predictably, sadly, as with all my posts about Island neighbourhoods, World War II changed everything. The area was particularly badly hit, including two V-1 (Doodlebug or Flying Bomb) strikes on Samuda Wharf.
In the 1950s, the LCC bought up the former Samuda’s Wharf, and other land from Poplar Borough Council. It would be their later form, the GLC, who developed the area and the estate subsequently became part of the Tower Hamlets council housing stock.
The estate was designed by Sir John Burnet, Tait & Partners, architects; and construction was carried out from 1965 by Tersons Ltd of Finchley. In spite of difficulties with old timber piles and mass-concrete foundations on the site of Samuda’s Wharf, the estate was opened in 1967. Total cost of construction was £2,879,424.
The estate comprises four and six-storey blocks arranged around central traffic-free squares, some connected by covered bridges:
- Ballin Court, named after Louise Sakina Ballin wife of Joseph d’Aguilar Samuda
- Yarrow House, named after Alfred Fernandez Yarrow (1842–1932), an engineer who set up Folly Shipyard just north of Samuda’s Yard.
- Pinnace House, named for a type of light boat carried on ships.
- Reef House
- Hedley House, named after Joseph Hedley, one time partner of Alfred Yarrow
- Talia House
- Halyard House; a halyard is the rope used to raise or lower sails
- Dagmar Court
And of course, the 25-storey Kelson House.
Survey of London:
The blocks are arranged around a series of traffic-free squares and they are sited to give most dwellings a southerly or westerly aspect. Halyard, Hedley, Pinnace, Reef, Talia and Yarrow Houses, together with Ballin Court and Dagmar Court, are four- and six-storey blocks of flats and maisonettes, faced with aggregate-concrete panels and mottled, dark-red brick. Some of the blocks are connected by covered bridges, while two of the four-storey blocks contain bedsitter and one-bedroom flats for old people.
To the riverside, Kelson House is a 25-storey block of maisonettes, faced in aggregate-concrete panels. It is of the ‘scissors’ type developed in the early 1960s by a team in the LCC Architect’s Department, headed by David Gregory-Jones, Colin Jones and Ian Hampson. Such blocks were intended to give greater flexibility and economy than the existing LCC dwelling types – in particular by placing all living-rooms on one side of the building, and by providing a central corridor, which avoided the need for access-balconies. The somewhat complicated layout, ultimately derived from Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1947–52), is best described ‘by comparison with a pair of half-opened scissors, the handles representing the bedroom levels, the blades the living levels and the pivot the bathroom level’.
The bedrooms are, therefore, a full storeyheight above or below the living-rooms, with the sanitary accommodation in between. Each dwelling is approached either up or down half a flight of stairs from the access corridor. A separate tower contains lifts, escape-stairs and other services, and is linked to the main block by bridges leading to the access-corridors.
422 of the 505 dwellings completed by 1974 had individual oil-fired boilers and radiators. This was a novel diversion for council housing: giving residents control over their energy consumption instead of everyone contributing to a central energy provision.
Survey of London:
Because of competing demands for space on housing estates, underground garages were adopted in several schemes completed by the GLC in the later 1960s and first half of the 1970s, although they were expensive. They were built … on the Samuda Estate (where 200 garages and 31 motorcycle stores were provided in a large semi-basement area).
The (semi-)underground spaces have since reputedly become areas to avoid, the terrain of drug-users and vandals. Meanwhile, conflicts exist between residents and the housing corporation, the successor of the council as manager of the housing, and in particular concerning the neighbourhood community accommodation. An estate the size and configuration of the Samuda Estate is not tenable without its communal facilities, unless you plan to confine people to their homes and talk not of ‘community’. But hey, what do I know?