Sunday, July 21, 2024
A patch of greenery in Poplar Recreation Grounds. Photo by Holly Munks © Social Streets
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Urban oasis: let Poplar surprise you with its best green spaces

Public gardens in Poplar are surprisingly serene, a refreshing alternative to the chaos of the city – and some of its more famous parks.

Formerly home to the London docks and now the towers of Canary Wharf, greenery is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Poplar. But many public green spaces break up the neighbourhood’s housing estates and bring new life to this old industrial quarter.

This is partly because most of Poplar’s housing was built after World War II. The East End suffered some of the worst bomb damage in London, but rebuilding allowed the planners to distribute green space amongst the new tower blocks. 

Victoria Park soaks up plenty of praise – and for good reason – but Poplar’s secluded gardens have a particular feeling that is hard to find anywhere else in the city. 

There is a lack of self-consciousness in these places. You are not competing with tourists for space, or concerned about the people-watchers that haunt trendier spots like London Fields. You are more likely to come across families or dogwalkers who remind you that these parks are here because people need them. 

These spaces feel tranquil but not isolated. Most of the parks on this list are a block away from main roads, linking you to Canary Wharf and the city, although you’d hardly think so whilst relaxing beneath the trees. Energy buzzes beneath the ground, where tree roots are blood vessels connecting you to the heart of London.

Bartlett Park


View of Bartlett Park with bushes in front of skyscrapers in Poplar, East London.
Looking towards Canary Wharf from Bartlett Park. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

At 12.2 acres, this is one of Poplar’s largest parks. Bordered by the Limehouse Cut, it makes a natural start or end point for waterside strolls. 

It is a versatile space which resembles a meadow more than anything else. There are large unobstructed areas where dogs – and energetic kids – can run freely. It is also a popular sports venue. You might recognise it from a recent Lloyds Bank advert, featuring a horse galloping past a group of young footballers. 

Tired parents will appreciate freshly roasted coffee from e5 Poplar Bakehouse, conveniently located in the park’s northwest corner. It is a welcome reprieve from the hectic surrounding roads and a flattering example of post-war urban planning. 

Millwall Park / Mudchute Farm


Sheep in a field at Mudchute Farm, with skyscrapers in the background, in Poplar, East London.
Sheep grazing in the shadow of Canary Wharf at Mudchute Farm. Photo by Susan Munks ⓒ Social Streets

Is city life getting to be too much? Are you yearning for a countryside getaway? You need not go as far as you think. Tucked away on the Isle of Dogs is a solution to your countryside cravings – no train ticket or tedious car journey required. 

Millwall Park is a vast, hilly expanse of greenery attached to Mudchute Farm. A key part of docklands development in the 1800s, this area became heavily polluted, and was abandoned brownfield land for decades. Thanks to local campaigners, it was cleaned up, allowing residents to plant allotments in the 1930s. During World War II, it became a base for the home front, which defended London from bombing with anti-aircraft guns. One has been restored and is displayed near the park’s north entrance.

Like the city farms in Stepney and Spitalfields, it narrowly missed redevelopment in the 1970s, when activists fought to preserve open spaces in East London.

Now home to sheep, pigs, cows, chickens and donkeys, it is a good option for young children, who can learn about livestock without leaving the comfort of Zone 2. What more could you want?

Island Gardens


View of the River Thames from Island Gardens Park in Poplar, East London.
A viewing spot in Island Gardens, which overlooks the River Thames. Photo by Susan Munks ⓒ Social Streets

A short walk south of Millwall Park, Island Gardens cover a small stretch of greenery with views across the river to Greenwich. Benches scattered along the shore allow you to rest whilst absorbing the scenery. 

If you are feeling adventurous, the gardens also house the northern entrance to the Thames Foot Tunnel. A spiral staircase leads to what feels like a trainless tube station. There is also an accessible lift. It is a refreshing way to get from A to B if you want to continue your time outdoors on the other side of the river.

We recommend visiting on a clear day at dawn or dusk. Watch the sun meet the sparkling water of the Thames, and let yourself drift deeper under London’s spell. 

Poplar Recreation Grounds


View of a statue and tennis court in the centre of Poplar Recreation Grounds, East London.
The Angel of Poplar watches over visitors to Poplar Recreation Grounds. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

The name gives most of it away with this one. The well-proportioned park caters to kids and adults alike, with tennis courts, a bowling green and a central play area. 

But it holds a few surprises too. This area has been a public garden since the 1600s, and neighbours Poplar’s oldest church, St Matthias. On a more sombre note, the Angel of Poplar pays respect to those who died during wartime bombing. It is shielded from the main path by a circle of bushes in the heart of the park. 

Though it can be busy, the grounds maintain a dignified, almost sacred feeling. Their layout is satisfyingly symmetrical. Sports facilities are neatly sectioned off in the park’s corners, and benches are positioned in quiet spots under the trees, away from the playground. Manicured hedges are contrasted by grassy expanses where wildflowers flourish in the spring and summer. 

Ropemakers Fields


Sign underneath trees at the entrance to the Ropemakers Fields in Poplar, East London.
Entrance to Ropemakers Fields, near the Limehouse Causeway. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

Have you ever been on your way to or from work, and suddenly felt that you just can’t do it anymore? Fear not – perhaps you just need a few minutes to clear your head where no one will bother you. This is a convenient hideaway near Westferry DLR and the main bus routes to Canary Wharf. 

It provides a rest stop on daily commutes and a generously sized playground for kids to let off steam. Several quiet corners lead off the main path and would work well for outdoor journalling or sketching, if that’s your cup of tea. 

Photographers may appreciate the double set of bandstands – one at the Limehouse Causeway entrance, and the other by the gate which opens onto the Limehouse Cut footpath. This is a good spot to take photos for a special occasion or frame artistic landscape shots.

Veer left as you walk towards the Limehouse Cut, and about two-thirds of the way into the park, the land rises to create a viewing spot where you can sit, enjoy a picnic and take in an elevated view of the grounds, with Canary Wharf in the distance.

St Anne’s Churchyard


Path leading to St Anne's Church Limehouse in East London.
Wildflowers growing between tombstones in the churchyard of St Anne’s Limehouse. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

This one scores top marks for atmosphere, even if you ignore the impressive architecture looming over it. The dramatic church spire is enclosed by trees old and tall enough to suggest you have stepped off Commercial Road into a small forest. 

Old gravestones have been stacked against the walls since the churchyard was closed to burials in the 1800s. Grass grows wild from the Grade II-listed entrance gate to the church door. To the right is a stone pyramid, built by the church’s renowned architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Some say it was intended as a second tower to match the original which still crowns the church. Others claim Hawksmoor was a member of the Freemason Society, and that the pyramid is one of the occult symbols he planted in his designs across London. 

A more straightforward structure is the war memorial on the other side of the churchyard, honouring men of Limehouse who fought in WWI. Next door is Poplar’s historic Narrow Street, where you can continue your stroll into the past.

The space is haunted in the best way – taking you out of yourself, and putting you in touch with those who went before.

But the DLR trains that zip past an opening in the trees will reassure you that reality is never too far away.

Church spire behind an archway at the entrance to St Anne's church in Limehouse, East London.
Looking towards the clocktower and spire of St Anne’s Limehouse. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

These spots lend themselves equally to relaxing with loved ones and basking alone in the summer warmth. In winter, they allow you to shake off cabin fever, but if all else fails, their many quirks should distract from adverse weather.  

The next time you need fresh air – or just a bit of space to yourself – Poplar’s green zones have you covered. After all, every city dweller needs an urban oasis. 

For more inspiration on places to visit in Poplar, read our review of Crossrail Place Roof Garden

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