Polyteck House

2004–6 flats, just west of the site of the Mill Yard Chapel, built c.1692, demolished 1885 | Part of Polyteck House

Mill Yard Chapel
Contributed by Survey of London on May 7, 2020

Mill Yard, which survives as a dogleg alley linking Cable Street and Leman Street under railway viaducts, was present by the mid seventeenth century as a route from Rosemary Lane to the south-east corner of the open ground that was Goodman’s Fields. Mill Yard’s main distinction was as the site of a long- standing chapel, host to a variety of Nonconformist congregations from a contended date in the seventeenth century. Evidence suggests that the first chapel was built after a loan in 1691 from Joseph Davies (1627–1707), a wealthy linen draper in the Minories, who had been imprisoned for his religious beliefs in the 1670s, to provide a home for the congregation of Seventh Day Baptists of which he was a member. Nathan Bailey (d. 1742), who later gained distinction as a lexicographer, is said to have been baptized in the chapel on 7 October 1691. The chapel was certainly in existence by 1693 when it was taxed as an adjunct to the house of the pastor, Henry Soursby (d. 1711). Two further houses in Mill Yard were included in an endowment established by Davis in 1700, derived from property in Essex.1

Legacies from Davis in 1707 and his son, also Joseph Davies, in 1732, and the nature of the congregation’s worship, observing the Sabbath on Saturdays, so enabling them to rent the chapel to more orthodox Nonconformist congregations on Sundays, allowed the chapel to survive into the 1880s. Early congregations that shared the building with the Sabbatarians included the General Baptists, who arrived in 1741 and departed in 1763 to their new chapel in Church Lane, and a congregation of Particular Baptists who met in Mill Yard on and off in the eighteenth century. A widow Atkins’ house elsewhere in Mill Yard was used for meetings of Independents in 1709.2

The chapel of the 1690s was destroyed in 1790 by a fire that began in a tallow chandler’s in Leman Street. Rebuilt on the same site on a north–south axis, the replacement chapel was entered from the middle of its west side, facing the north arm of Mill Yard to Leman Street. Two tall round-headed windows to the east overlooked a burial ground, probably present from 1691, and a minister’s house was attached to the south. The chapel had a simple white- painted interior, with galleries on columns, plain box pews and a pulpit under a sounding board.3 The south end of the burial ground was given up in 1845 for the widening of the London and Blackwall Railway. By this time the Sabbatarians were in decline, the congregation having survived a period as just seven women, without a minister, who had to fight off ‘usurpation by strangers’.4  The chapel persisted to become a destination for the curious. By 1870 it was a relic of a bygone world, with a congregation of four led by the Rev. William Henry Black (1808–1872), an antiquary and ‘a learned man of an old fashioned and almost extinct type. … Outside rush along the Fenchurch Street trains to and fro, sometimes with a scream which, as you will by-and-by find, will drown the preacher's voice.’5  Its green churchyard was studded with gravestones, the ‘most unexpected trees’ and flanked by the quaintest of school houses, the only visible ‘symptom of the 19th century’ being the railway to the south.6  In its final days Mill Yard Chapel seems to have enjoyed a modest revival, under Black’s American son-in-law, W. Meade Jones; a visitor in 1882 found a congregation of thirteen.7 However, by 1884 the Minister had resolved to move as the site was now bounded east and north by works for the Commercial Road goods depot’s shunting yard. Despite efforts by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association and Commons Preservation Committee to persuade the Charity Commissioners to prevent sale of the burial ground, the site was given up for railway works and the chapel moved to Mildmay Park, Islington. A Sabbatarian congregation continued until the early twentieth century, with support from the United States, where Seventh Day Adventism flourished. The Joseph Davis Fund was only formally abolished in 2006.8

The chapel was demolished in 1885, since when Mill Yard has been a vestigial alley. The chapel site is now the car park for Polyteck House, 143 Leman Street.

  1. The National Archives (TNA), TS27/1068; PROB11/523/109: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Land Tax Returns (LT): MJ/SP/1702: A Handbook to the Places of Public Worship in London, 1851, p. 73: _Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) sub _Bailey 

  2. Adam Taylor, The History of the General Baptists, in Two Parts. Part Second: The New Connection of General Baptists, 1818, pp. 88–91: Walter Wilson, The History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses, vol. 3, 1810, pp. 260, 310: David S. Katz, _Sabbath and Sectarianism in Seventeenth Century England, _1988, pp. 178, 197–204: Janice Turner, ‘An Anatomy of a “Disorderly” Neighbourhood: Rosemary Lane and Rag Fair _c._1690–1765’, PhD, University of Hertfordshire, 2014, pp. 19, 121–2 

  3. TNA, TS27/1066; TS27/1068: J. Ewing Ritchie, The Religious Life of London, 1870, pp. 159–66: Isabella (Mrs Basil) Holmes, The London Burial Grounds, 1896, p. 327 

  4. Timothy Larsen, ‘“How Many Sisters Make a Brotherhood?” A Case Study in Gender and Ecclesiology in Early Nineteenth-Century English Dissent’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 49/2, April 1998, pp. 282–92: C. Maurice Davies, Unorthodox London: Phases in the Religious Life in the Metropolis, 1874, pp. 207–9 

  5. Ritchie, Religious Life, pp. 160–1: TNA, TS27/1068: ODNB sub Black 

  6. Daily Telegraph & Courier, 29 June 1870, p. 5 

  7. East London Observer, 16 Sept 1882, p. 6 

  8. TNA, HO45/9476/1081F: Katz,Sabbath, pp. 203–4: beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity- details/?regid=210274&subid=0 

Polyteck House, 143 Leman Street 
Contributed by Survey of London on May 10, 2019

The eighteenth-century house on this site was demolished in 1913. An iron cooper’s shed had been built to its south alongside the railway viaduct in 1894–5. A larger shed extending behind No. 141 was a garage and cart store from the 1920s, with an associated snack bar.1

Greg & Co., electrical and mechanical engineers (G. Gregory and John Polycarpou and Costantine Polycarpou), initiated a redevelopment of 2004–6 that included a five-storey and basement block to the rear to Mill Yard, the proprietorship reincorporated by the Polycarpou brothers in 2005 as Polyteck Building Services Ltd. Papa Architects Ltd (George Kalopedis and Andrew Paps) supplied the designs for ground-floor commercial units, first-floor offices and seven flats above and behind; the owners were their own building contractors.2

  1. London Metropolitan Archives, District Surveyors Returns: Ordnance Survey maps: Goad insurance maps: Post Office Directories 

  2. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, Building Control files 27164, 81263: Tower Hamlets planning applications online