Plaistow is a residential area, including several council estates. The main roads are the A112, Prince Regent Lane/ Greengate Street/ The Broadway/ High Street/ Plaistow Road, which is a former Roman road, and the A124 (Barking Road), which passes south west/ north east through Plaistow and past the former West Ham United football ground. Commercial and retail premises are on the A112 at Greengate Street leading north and Prince Regent Lane south, leading 0.3 miles (0.48 km) to Newham Sixth Form College and along the A124. It contains generally smaller shops compared to Stratford or West Ham town centre.
Plaistow North and Plaistow South are two of the ten wards making up the UK parliamentary constituency of West Ham.
The name "Plaistow" is believed to come from Sir Hugh de Plaitz (spelling varies) who, in 1065, married Philippa de Montfitchet, of the Mountfitchet Castle family, who owned the district. It is she who is reputed to have named it the Manor of Plaiz. A stow was a place of assembly (occasionally a holy place), but also described as a town or village, so it was the village of Plaiz, or assembly place within the Manor, "Plaiz-stow".
In his book What's in a Name?, first published in 1977, author Cyril M. Harris states that c. 1200 Plaistow was recorded as "Plagestoue", derived from the Old English "Pleg", meaning sports or playing, and "Stowe" (place). It was a place where miracle plays were performed so it was a "playing place". While the book concentrates on the names of London railway stations, Harris seems to have confused Plaistow in Essex (and later London) with the Plaistow near Crich in Derbyshire, which is recorded as "Plagestoue" in the Darley Charters of 1200. The derivation from "Pleg" and "Stowe" appears to apply equally to all places called Plaistow, however.
Plaistow in Essex is reported as appearing as "Playstowe" in the county's Patent Rolls of 1414. This is also quoted by James Kemble, another who cites the derivation from "plegstow" – a place for playing.
Hugh de Balun was a property-owner in the area in the 12th century - he belonged to the same family as Hamelin de Balun. Known as Balostret in the 1371 Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, Balaam // Street is one of the oldest roads in Plaistow and is probably named after de Balun, though some argue its namesake is in fact a Walter Balame.
In 1353 Sir Richard de Playz gave the manor of Plaistow to the abbot of Stratford-Langthorne. When this abbey was dissolved the manor was appropriated by the Crown, and granted to Sir Roger Cholmeley in 1553.
Daniel Defoe's 1724 work, "Tour of the Eastern Counties" (part of his “A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain”), mentions Plaistow as a town in which there had been much new building as well as repairs to existing houses since the Revolution. Plaistow is connected with the legend of notorious highwayman Dick Turpin (born 1705; executed 1739). Several stories state that among Turpin’s first crimes was the theft of two oxen from his employer, a Mr Giles of Plaistow, in 1730. Turpin is alleged to also have run a smuggling gang which operated between Plaistow and Southend.
In Aaron Hill's time there (1738-1750) Plaistow was a rural village described as a day's coach journey from Westminster, despite it being a distance of only some 8 miles (13 km). The Black Lion public house in the High Street is one of the oldest landmarks in Plaistow and is reputed to date back to at least 1742.
Newly-appointed as pastor to a Congregationalist church in Plaistow, John Curwen opened the Plaistow Public School in 1844. That year also saw Plaistow become a chapelry as well as an Anglican parish in its own right, split off from All Saints Church, West Ham - Plaistow's chapel of ease St Mary's became the new parish's church. Curwen also started a printing business in Plaistow in 1863.
In the 1870s John Marius Wilson described it in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales as a village, a chapelry and a ward in the Parish of West Ham in Essex. The population of the chapelry was recorded as 11,214 in 1861. James Thorne, in his 1876 work "Handbook to the Environs of London", mentions Plaistow, Essex, as a village and ecclesiastical district of West Ham parish with a population of 6,699. Thorne recounts the changes to the old village of Plaistow, with the gentry, merchants and others of renown having gone and the occupations of the residents changed from agricultural and pastoral to manufacturing. In 1886 Plaistow became part of the new County Borough of West Ham.
The area gained several new Anglican churches in the second half of the 19th century - St Philip's in 1860, St Andrew's in 1868, St Katherine's in 1891, St Martin's in 1894 and St Thomas's in 1898. Only St Martin's and St Andrew's survive - though now used as offices, St Andrew's is mentioned in Thorne's work and like its adjoining vicarage (1871) is a grade II listed building. John Curwen's son, John Spencer Curwen (who founded the Stratford & East London Music Festival – the oldest English music festival – in 1882), published a paper called “Old Plaistow” in 1891 describing houses of the area.
It was not until 1905 that Plaistow was connected to the telephone network, though it became its own UK Parliamentary constituency in 1918, consisting of the Plaistow and Hudsons wards of the County Borough of West Ham, plus part of the Canning Town ward. That constituency was subsumed into the West Ham constituency in 1950.
The Memorial Baptist Church was built in 1921 as a monument to the dead of the First World War, now a grade II listed building. Its ten Memorial Bells bear the names of more than 150 men who died in the fighting (the largest number of names on any set of bells in the world.) - these were cleaned and restored using a National Heritage Lottery grant between February and August 2011 as part of a larger restoration project.
In 1921, the YMCA opened Greengate House on Greengate Street, now a grade II listed building. It was once used as an Art college by the University of East London and students included Jake and Dinos Chapman. In 2010 the building was demolished but the grand and ornate façade was retained and modernised and a new block of flats built behind it.
The area was heavily damaged during the Blitz in the Second World War. The Plaistow North area is largely made up of a local authority housing estate constructed in the 1960s on a bomb-damaged site. The estate used to include five 14-storey 1960s tower blocks but much has changed and the area has undergone a major redevelopment programme. The Black Lion public house was frequented by West Ham United football players especially such as Bobby Moore in the 1960s and '70s with several West Ham footballers spotted in the area since.
Just before the end of the 1990s a £92 million regeneration programme known as the Forest Gate and Plaistow SRB5 got under way, with the aim of renewing and revitalising neighbourhoods, creating jobs, building new homes and improving many existing ones. West Ham and Plaistow New Deal for Communities ("NDC"), part of a government programme designed to tackle social exclusion, community safety, unemployment and low educational attainment in areas of severe need throughout the country, was awarded £54.6M to bring about improvements to the local area over a 10-year period to 2010, with the intention of improving the quality of life and providing more opportunities for residents in the West Ham and Plaistow area.
In March 2010, the NDC set up Newham New Deal Partnership ("Newham NDP"), a Not-for-Profit organisation, to continue providing community benefit to the NDC area and beyond, and continue the work carried out over the 10 years of the NDC Programme. Newham NDP works in partnership with the East London Business Alliance, East Thames Group, London Borough of Newham and One Housing Group to provide community benefits to the area either directly or in partnership with other stakeholders. In March 2011 the Memorial Community Church was awarded money by the Big Lottery Fund Reaching Communities programme, to improve community facilities there.
On 10 December 2012, Plaistow South was named as one of fifty areas of England to share in a Big Lottery Scheme grant of £200M. - Plaistow South received £1M to fund locally-designed projects to improve the area. In January 2013, councillors approved a new housing development of both private and affordable homes on the site of the old Plaistow Hospital. Construction began in March 2013 with completion of Phase 1 in 2015 and Phase 2 in 2016.
Places of interest in the area include the 9.5 acres (3.8 ha) Plaistow Park (known as Balaam Street Recreation Ground from its opening in 1894 to its renaming in 1999), and the 10 acres (4.0 ha) Memorial Park which merges into the East London Cemetery. There are several small parks in the area, with the large West Ham Park 1 mile (1.6 km) north.
The Terence McMillan Stadium, home to the Newham and Essex Beagles track and field athletics club and part of the Newham Leisure Centre, is located in Plaistow close to the hospital and the college. East End Road Runners is a running club based at the Newham Leisure Centre and was the recipient of England Athletics' award for London Development Club of the Year in 2011.
The West Ham Boys' Amateur Boxing Club is located at the rear of the Black Lion public house in High Street.
Nathan Kemp, assistant headteacher at Tollgate Primary School in Plaistow, won Teacher of the Year in the 2012 annual national Teaching Awards, the first ever overall Teacher of the Year instead of there being separate awards for primary and secondary schools.
Michael Patient of Tollgate was one of the winners of a Pearson teaching award in 2014, winning a silver award for outstanding new teacher of the year.
The location for the video shoot of "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" by the Human League was a house, painted entirely in red and surrounding terraced streets at the corner of First Avenue and Third Avenue in Plaistow. The area has since been redeveloped.
Voice of Africa Radio (VOAR) was a multilanguage internet and local radio station broadcasting from Plaistow. It was set up on 1 January 2000 and began as an unlicensed broadcaster, not obtaining a broadcast licence until 16 February 2006. It was the first licensed African radio station in the UK but had its licence revoked by Ofcom on 4 March 2016 for persistent failure to broadcast.
Singers David Essex, Ronnie Lane, Sandra Kerr, Jade Ewen, Mumzy Stranger and Alison Hinds were born in Plaistow, as were record producer Norman Newell, comedian and folk singer Richard Digance and grime artist Ghetts. Singer and entertainer Joe Brown was born in Lincolnshire but lived in Plaistow from the age of 2.
Actor Terence Stamp attended Tollgate Primary School and Plaistow Grammar School. Honor Blackman, best known for her appearances in the James Bond film Goldfinger, was born in Plaistow, as were actors Jimmy Akingbola, Ron Pember and Roberta Taylor and comedian, actress and playwright Andi Osho.
Edward Temme, born in Plaistow, was a member of the British Olympic Water Polo teams of 1928 and 1936 and was the first man to swim the English Channel in both directions. He is reputed to have swum non-stop in both directions and to have achieved this feat twice.
Other famous residents have included:
Luke Howard, who in 1802 devised the naming and classification of clouds and cloud formations still in popular use today, and who operated a business in pharmaceuticals in Plaistow from 1796 until 1803 when he moved the business to nearby Stratford. He continued to reside in Plaistow until 1812, when he moved to Tottenham. The family's pharmaceutical business was instrumental in the development of quinine and both Howard and his son, quinologist John Eliot Howard (who was born in Plaistow), were elected Fellows of the Royal Society.
Nick Bracken, born in Plaistow and an alumnus of Plaistow Grammar School, was Detective Chief Superintendent of British Transport Police. He investigated major incidents such as the Ladbroke Grove and Selby train crashes and was responsible for identifying as Alexander Fallon the unidentified victim of the King's Cross fire, previously known only as "body 115", some 16 years later, before transferring to the Metropolitan Police in 2004 as a Detective Chief Superintendent and becoming the Commander in charge of Criminal Justice based at New Scotland Yard. He led disaster investigations and was the International Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team commander following the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 in Thailand. He was also responsible for Identifying the victims of the Al-Dana dhow disaster in Bahrain in 2006 and led the British DVI team that aided the New Zealand Police following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Bracken was awarded the OBE in 2006 for services to policing while with British Transport Police. He is the Chairman of the East London Rugby Club and a committee member of the British Police Rugby Team.
Apart from convenience stores, post offices, etc., Plaistow is mainly occupied by houses and blocks of flats. Larger shopping centres and restaurants are found in neighbouring areas such as Stratford, West Ham and Green Street, all within walking distance.
Plaistow Underground station is on the London Underground District line and Hammersmith & City line (which share the same tracks between Aldgate East and Barking), in London Travelcard zone 3. The journey time to/from Tower Hill is 18–19 minutes.
A pedestrian / cycle path called the Greenway runs on top of Joseph Bazalgette's Northern Outfall Sewer from Beckton to Hackney Wick via East Ham, Upton Park (for East Ham Jewish Cemetery), Plaistow, West Ham, Stratford, Bow (via Temple Mills) and Hackney.