In 1862, the area east of Harbinger Road (British Street until 1929) was occupied by John Scott-Russell’s Engineering Works, which had been much expanded to handle the construction of the Great Eastern (launched in 1858).
A contemporary drawing of the construction of the ship shows much of the land to be occupied by meadows and marshland (the street behind Harbinger School is not called Marsh Street for nothing).
By the time of the launch, John Scott-Russell’s works were in financial difficulties and not long after they were taken over by Millwall Iron Works, with part of the land occupied by a cooperage (opened in 1895).
The 1920s and 1930s saw much slum clearance in East London, making it necessary to construct new housing, including the Chapel House Street Estate (1919-21) and the Manchester Grove Estate (1925-26). The ‘inland area’ of the Millwall Iron Works was earmarked by Poplar Borough Council as the site of a new estate, to be named the Hesperus Crescent Estate after a clipper on the Australian run.
I’ve not been able to discover if the Council originally planned to build a crescent, but it is known that they could not afford to buy out the cooperage firm in the centre of the proposed estate, making it necessary to wrap the road around the firm. Construction started in 1929 and the first houses were ready in 1930.
The first residents……
Originally, a footbridge connected Hesperus Crescent to Chapel House Street, crossing a railway siding belonging to Maconochie’s, connecting their Westferry Road factory to the docks.
Hesperus Crescent, like the Chapel House Street and Manchester Grove Estates, was remarkably unscathed during WWII. One of the few bombs to fall on the area, however, destroyed Nos. 1 to 13 and killed four people:
- George Williamson, aged 28, of 19 Harbinger Road.
- Ernest Alexander Goodall, aged 30, London Heavy Rescue Service, of 21 Chapel House Street.
- Edward George Wilkinson, aged 28, ARP Rescue Service, address unknown.
- Air Raid Warden Francis Benjamin Sidell Kemp, aged 34, of 255 Manchester Road, died two days later in Poplar Hospital.
The seven destroyed houses were replaced with six, slightly larger houses, and as a consequence there is no longer a No. 13 Hesperus Crescent.
In 1953, Poplar Borough Council stated its intention to purchase the former cooperage land – owned by Mancell’s by this time – and construct houses upon it. In the end, though, they built maisonettes (Nos. 36-62 Harbinger Road).
Survey of London:
In 1959 Poplar Borough Council purchased the strip of land between the Hesperus Crescent and Chapel House Street Estates, where the railway siding had been, and in 1961 the footbridge over it was demolished.
Hesperus Crescent really hasn’t changed very much since it was built, 90 years ago. There are not too many places on the Island that you can say that about.