The West Ferry Estate

The area immediately to the west of Harbinger School was one of the poorest of the Island, and was known for its slum housing.


“Cocoa Nut Fibre Manufactory”

Ingelheim Place (left) and West Ferry Road (foreground and right)

The Rev. Richard Free took charge of St Cuthbert’s Church in 1897, and stayed for a while at Ingelheim Cottages:

It was ‘a terrible old shanty, lacking every convenience’, and crawling with lice. Built as a corner-house on the intended Ironmongers’ Street, it had eight rooms on two floors, with an attic and box-room, and was distinguished by a clumsy bellshaped gable on the street front which gave it a quaint look, reminiscent of ‘a lifeboat station or ark of refuge’.

Ingelheim Place (Photo: Island History Trust)

Looking west along West Ferry Road towards St. Edmund’s, from outside the Vulcan pub. (Photo: Island History Trust)

The houses in and around Ingelheim Place were declared unfit for human habitation, some as early as before World War I, but due to the post-war financial collapse and subsequent housing crisis, Poplar Borough Council would not permit their demolition. However, when the river overflowed its banks in January 1928, and the area was heavily polluted by oil from local oil refineries, the council was compelled to take action, and sought help from the London County Council. Survey of London:

The LCC concluded that the houses on the south-western side of the road could be reconditioned, but proceeded, after some delay, to acquire and clear the properties on the northeastern side, mostly without recourse to formal clearance or compulsory purchase procedures.

The LCC designed an estate with eight blocks of flats, all according to a standard design it had employed throughout London, and all named after Merchant Navy training ships:

The first two blocks, Conway and Triton Houses, were opened in 1932.

The following photo shows the estate still in development:


The last block to be built was Arethusa House, opened in 1936.


The estate survived the war relatively unscathed, with broken windows and missing tiles being the worst damage as this post-war photo shows (the metal railings around the estate had been removed for salvage during the war).


The photo shows also the air raid shelter built in the yard between Conway, Akbar and Exmouth House; and the site of St. Cuthbert’s Church and the row of houses along West Ferry Road – all damaged beyond repair during the first night of the Blitz (and now the site of Harbinger School’s playground).

St. Cuthbert’s Church, with Harbinger School on the right, Cahir Street on the left

West Ferry Road, Arethusa House in the background

Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)

Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)

Survey of London:

In the late 1960s the Greater London Council carried out an extensive modernization scheme that included the installation of a bathroom for each flat. The number of flats per block was reduced from 24 to 16, except at Arethusa House, where the original 34 flats were converted to 31.





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9 Responses to The West Ferry Estate

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks, interesting.

  2. Bob hurr says:

    Great reading. So interesting and historic.

  3. Lynn Keane says:

    loved living in Triton House from 1976-1984, one of my daughters was born in my flat in 1978, so many happy memories

  4. mikepye says:

    Hi all

    Interesting. Of course Harbinger School was originally named British Street School and I believe my parents started their married lives in Ingelheim Place


  5. Tim Aldrich says:

    To Mike’s point, Mick, when was British Street renamed Harbinger and why? I’ve assumed that Harbinger was a ship (a cutter?) much as some other streets to the east were (Thermopylae, Hesperus etc) but it would be interesting to know. Thanks!

    • In the 1930s, Poplar Borough Council’s area included Bow, where there was (and still is) another British Street. Rather than have two streets with the same name, they decided to rename one. This happened to a lot of streets at the time – not only in Poplar but throughout London. British Street School was renamed Harbinger School at the same time. Harbinger was the name of a clipper.

  6. Tony Evans. says:

    Left Triton House when I was six to sunny Dagenham, out in the sticks.

  7. Malcolm Pettitt says:

    My Grandfather, William Pettitt , then aged 67, lived in 23 Triton House in 1939, and was an air raid warden when the blitz started. He was killed in an air raid while on duty, but I have never been able to find a trace of when exactly or where he died, or where he is buried. Can anybody help me to find out?

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