A Brief History of Castalia Square

Castalia Square was built on the site of the area bounded by East Ferry Road, Roserton Street, Galbraith Street and Castalia Street (itself named after a famous hospital ship).


Originally, much of this area was dominated by St. John’s Church, Vicarage, School and Hall – all built around 1870,

St. John’s Church from Castalia St.

St. John’s Church (Mission) Hall (Photo: Island History Trust)

The corner of Castalia St. and Galbraith St.

1928, outside the gates of St. John’s School (Photo: Island History Collection / Mrs Wisewell)

Castalia Street also had a couple of houses close to its corner with Galbraith Street.

Graham’s Cottages, Castalia Street (Photo: Island History Trust / Maud Choat (nee Whiteman))

Galbraith St. 1935 (Photo: Island History Trust / Mrs. M Wisewell)

As is the case with at least half of the blog articles I write about the Island, World War II changed everything. By Island standards, this area was particularly badly hit, as this c1950 photo shows. The church is shown as still standing, but it had been so severely damaged in 1941 that it had by this time been abandoned. Virtually all other buildings were gone, to be replaced by prefabs. Only the hall was still in use (see below).


Galbraith Street area – with St. John’s Church in the background.

Derelict St. John’s Church

So serious was the extent of the damage in the area that Poplar Borough Council decided to clear it all, and build public housing on what they officially named ‘St. John’s Estate’ (does or did anybody else call it that?), centred on a new shopping and communal area known as ‘Castalia Square’.

Demolition c1950. East Ferry Road looking towards Manchester Road, with St. John’s Hall on the right.

Corner of East Ferry Road (foreground) and Roserton Street (right)

Looking north from Castalia Street

Construction in Castalia Square. c1952

The positively-received and popular Lansbury Estate had just been built by the LCC in Poplar, and the Poplar Borough Council was determined to also build workers’ homes of high quality. Even the usually acerbic Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, reported glowingly on the area in The Spectator:

The houses and shops immediately around Castalia Square were the first of the estate to be opened.

1950s (Photo: Island History Trust)

1958 (Photo: George Warren)

c1960? (Photo: Brian Smith)

1966 (Photo: Island History Trust)

St, John’s Hall in the 1960s (Photo: Island History Trust)

Survey of London:

…only the hall and club-house survived the Second World War, to be refitted as the new church and hall respectively. They were demolished in the 1970s to make way for the new Island House community centre … built for the Presbyterian Church of England in 1972, replacing St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Westferry Road.

Island House (Photo: Island History Trust)

Island House

Island House

It was around this time that our family moved to the Island. I was a frequent visitor to Castalia Square; the health centre was there (I was a young lad, busy getting vaccinations, tetanus injections and breaking bones), there were occasional discos and parties in Island House, and there were the closest alternative shops to the shops near my flats opposite Christ Church.

But, the most important reason to be there was to get my hair cut at Barnet Fayre (entrance through the back door in East Ferry Road), typically of a Saturday morning. I cannot remember who the barber was, but I am sure it was the same bloke who cut my hair from the age of 10, covering different fashions from long-haired Herbert through skinhead and suedehead to flat-top. Strangely, I don’t recall visiting him during my punk period. Here’s the ‘Ladies & Gent’s Stylists’, in all its glory:

1970s (Photo: Island History Trust)

I’ve not been back to Castalia Square for a long time – I don’t have enough hair for that kind of thing any more – but I get the impression it hasn’t changed that much over the years, apart from a bit of LDDC-fuelled refurbishment (see ‘local resident’, Bruno Brooks, below).


1982 (Photo: Chris Hirst)

1980s (scene from Prospects TV series)

1980s (scene from The Bill TV series)

1980s (scene from The Bill TV series)

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1 Response to A Brief History of Castalia Square

  1. Pingback: Round Glengall | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

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