Poplar Rates Rebellion mural gets lick of paint for Lansbury centenary

Mayor John Biggs at the mural unveiling with VIPs including memorial trust members

Mayor John Biggs at the mural unveiling with VIPs including memorial trust members - Credit: LBTH

The centenary of the famous rates rebellion led by the mayor of Poplar George Lansbury in 1921 has been marked with the restoration of its commemorative street mural. 

The artwork in Hale Street, off East India Dock Road, carries the names of 30 Poplar borough councillors who went to jail rather than impose a London “poll tax” levy on the poor. 

It was originally painted in 1990 and repainted in 2007, but Tower Hamlets Council decided the peeling and faded image needed more TLC with fresh paint and work to preserve the brick wall underneath.

Veteran Poplar housing campaigner Sister Christine Frost marked centenary of rates rebellion

Poplar's Mayor George Lansbury and Lady Mayoress Bessie Lansbury - Credit: Tower Hamlets Archive

“It's important to keep this part of the East End’s social history alive,” Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said. 

“Our duty of care is its upkeep, to remind present and future generations of the sacrifice in defence of the community.” 

1921: Poplar councillor Minnie Lansbury led off to prison... she  died at 32

1921: Poplar councillor Minnie Lansbury led off to prison... she died at 32 - Credit: Tower Hamlets Archive


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The mural marks Poplar Borough Council voting against rates being levied by the government. The rebelling councillors, including Lansbury’s daughter-in-law Minnie Lansbury who developed pneumonia and died at the age of 32,  spent six weeks in prison.

The council has also installed a heritage panel in Poplar Recreation Ground nearby, telling the story of the rebellion.  

New generation learns about 1921 Poplar rates rebellion

New generation learns about 1921 Poplar Rates Rebellion - Credit: LBTH

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Members of the George Lansbury Memorial Trust staged a commemorative day in the recreation grounds on September 4, a day after the centenary date, with descendants of two councillors involved, Chris Sumner and Keith Murphy, in attendance.

Memorial clock in Bow Road to Minnie Lansbury

Memorial clock in Bow Road to Minnie Lansbury - Credit: Joe Lord

Pippa Catterall, who chairs the memorial trust, said: “The rates rebellion was a key stage in developing the welfare state, an important contribution of these ordinary men and women to our national story.”  

Poplar at that time was paying towards services in wealthy boroughs through the London County Council levy — while the cost of Poor Relief in the East End was not being shared out. 

So the Poplar councillors stopped collecting the levy. It was deemed illegal, but it raised public awareness which forced the government of the day to back down. 

Veteran Poplar housing campaigner Sister Christine Frost marked centenary of rates rebellion

Veteran Poplar housing campaigner Sister Christine Frost marked centenary of rates rebellion - Credit: Mike Brooke

The mural has been used over the years to make political points, most recently by veteran campaigner Sister Christine Frost, founder of the South Poplar and Limehouse Action for Secure Housing. 

She set off from the mural on September 1 with a deputation to City Hall concerning the shortage of social rented housing. 

Restored mural for centenary of 1921 Poplar rates rebellion

Restored mural for centenary of 1921 Poplar Rates Rebellion - Credit: LBTH

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