Winterton House, a typical Stepney tower block
|Stepney shown within Greater London|
|Population||16,238 (2011 census. St Dunstan's and Stepney Green Ward)|
|OS grid reference|
|• Charing Cross||3.6 mi (5.8 km) WSW|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Stepney is a district of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in London's East End that grew out of a medieval village around St Dunstan's church and the 15th century ribbon development of Mile End Road. The area built up rapidly in the 19th century, mainly to accommodate immigrant workers and displaced London poor, and developed a reputation for poverty, overcrowding, violence and political dissent. It was severely damaged during the Blitz, with over a third of housing totally destroyed; and then, in the 1960s, slum clearance and development replaced most residential streets with tower blocks and modern housing estates. Some Georgian architecture and Victorian era terraced housing survive in patches: for example Arbour Square, the eastern side of Stepney Green, and the streets around Matlock Street.
The area has not yet experienced the levels of gentrification seen in nearby Bow, Wapping and Limehouse but some redevelopment has taken place, including the former Arbour Square Police Station and the East End Mission building.
Stepney is roughly bounded by Commercial Road, part of the A13, in the south, Mile End Road, part of the A11, in the north and the Regent's Canal in the east. The western boundary with Whitechapel is rather ambiguous. It is administered by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
As with most of the East End of London, Stepney was sparsely populated marshland until the 19th century, when the development of London's docks and railways, combined with slum clearance, pushed the displaced poor and various immigrants looking for work into cheap housing being built in the area.
The first community developed around the church of St Dunstan's, which was founded in 923. Its name was recorded around 1000 AD as Stybbanhyð, "Stybba's landing-place". The Domesday Book survey of 1086 gives the name as Stibanhede and says that the land was held by the Bishop of London and was 32 hides large, mainly used for ploughing, meadows, woodland for 500 pigs, and 4 mills. There were over 100 serfs, split between villeins who ploughed the land, and cottars who assisted the villeins in return for a hut or cottage.
The Manor of Stepney was held by the Bishop of London in compensation for his duties in maintaining and garrisoning the Tower of London. Further ecclesiastic holdings came about from the need to enclose the marshes and create flood defences along the Thames. Edward VI passed the land to the Wentworth family, and thence to their descendants, the Earls of Cleveland. The ecclesiastic system of copyhold, whereby land was leased to tenants for terms as short as seven years, prevailed throughout the manor. This severely limited scope for improvement of the land and new building until the estate was broken up in the 19th century.
The Siege of Sidney Street took place in Stepney in 1911.
Stepney formed a large ancient parish in the Ossulstone hundred of Middlesex; bounded by Bromley and West Ham to the east, the River Thames to the south, Shoreditch and Hackney to the north and the City of London and the Liberties of the Tower of London to the west. The parish included the hamlets of Mile End Old Town, Mile End New Town, and Ratcliff. At its early extent it additionally included Whitechapel, Wapping, Stratford Bow, Shadwell, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Limehouse and Poplar. Over time the parish was broken up with these settlements forming new independent parishes, leaving a residual parish of 830 acres (340 ha) comprising Mile End Old Town, Mile End New Town and Ratcliff.
Stepney is located 3.6 miles (5.8 km) east north-east of Charing Cross. It is roughly bounded by Commercial Road (Shadwell lies to the south), part of the A13 and the various side streets that make up the boundary with Limehouse, in the south, part of the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) to the north and part of the Regent's Canal (Mile End is the neighbouring district on the eastern bank) in the east. The Western Boundary with Whitechapel is rather ambiguous but the northern western boundary with it is Cambridge Heath Road up to the GEML.
- Nearest places
Due to the availability of cheap housing, the East End of London and London Borough of Stepney has been home to various immigrants who have contributed to the culture and history of the area, such as the Huguenots in the seventeenth century, the Irish in the eighteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the Bangladeshi community settling in the East End from the 1960s. The area still contains a range of immigrants, particularly young Asian families, as well as elderly East Enders, some students, and the beginnings of a young middle-class. Based on the 2001 UK Census, Bangladeshis were the largest ethnic group (43%), followed by White British (39%).
The 2011 Census, revealed that: The population of Stepney was 47% Bengali; the highest percentage of Bengalis in Southern England.
Stepney Green developed as a street of residential housing off the Mile End Road in the 15th century, and is now a conservation area. A brewery was founded in 1738 that developed into Charrington and Co. in 1897. The brewery building, the Anchor Brewery, was on the north side of Mile End Road, opposite Stepney Green; and is now the site of the Anchor Retail Unit, owned by Henderson Global Investors, though the Brewery Offices still remain on the corner of Mile End Road and Cephas Avenue.
St Dunstan's, founded in 923, is Stepney's oldest church. The present building dates principally from the 15th century. St Dunstan's has a long association with the sea, being responsible for registration of British maritime births, marriages and deaths until the 19th century. Malplaquet House is a Grade II listed building.
Stepney City Farm has been a feature in Stepney since opening as Stepping Stones Farm in 1979. A community resource, the farm aims to provide the people of East London a chance to experience rural life and engage in educational, environmental and creative projects. Stepney City farm is home to donkeys, cows, goats, pigs, sheep, ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs. As a working farm, eggs and vegetables are regularly sold.
In the southern part of the district laying just outside Stepney in neighbouring Limehouse is Limehouse for the Docklands Light Railway. The station is also served by c2c, from Fenchurch Street station. It was formerly in Stepney and known as Stepney East.
- For details of education in Stepney see the List of schools in Tower Hamlets
The great English physician Richard Mead, responsible for advances in understanding transmissible diseases, was born in Stepney. The entertainer Des O'Connor was born in Stepney, as were actors Steven Berkoff, Terence Stamp and Craig Fairbrass, playwright Arnold Wesker, gardener and television presenter Rachel De Thame, television executive, presenter and former BBC1 and BBC2 controller Alan Yentob, artist Frank Paton, drummer Kenney Jones, musician and writer Jah Wobble, singer/record producer Kenny Lynch and his sister, also a singer, Maxine Daniels, also singer Charles Coborn. In sport, Stepney lays claim to footballers Ledley King, Ashley Cole and Darren Purse, and heavyweight boxer "Bombardier" Billy Wells. Charlie Magri became world flyweight champion in 1983. He learnt his trade at the Arbour Youth Boxing Club in Stepney Green from the trainer, Jimmy Graham. Former armed robber, bare-knuckle boxer and businessman Roy Shaw was born in Stepney, as was former British featherweight boxing champion Sammy McCarthy, and sportswriter and author Norman Giller, whilst clergymen John Sentamu, formerly Bishop of Stepney, and Father Richard Wilson, founder of the Hoppers' Hospitals at Five Oak Green, Kent, lived in the borough at one time. Actors John Lyons, Ben Onwukwe and Roy Marsden were born in Stepney, as was EastEnders actress Anita Dobson. Danny Shea, the first footballer to be transferred for £2,000, was born in Wapping in 1887. Monty Norman (The composer of the James Bond theme) was also born in Stepney. Actor Bernard Bresslaw who starred in many popular Carry On films. Lionel Bart known for creating the book, music and lyrics to the production Oliver!.
In popular culture
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In the Rolling Stones' song Play with Fire, the lyrics detail remarks made by the protagonist (singer) to a woman with whom he is having a dalliance. The woman is told to view her situation in comparison to her mother, who went from living extravagantly to living among the poor: "Now she gets her kicks in Stepney/Not in Knightsbridge anymore." Earlier in the song it is indicated that the woman's father owned "a block in St. John's Wood," another pricey neighbourhood in London. Living in Stepney is used as an indicator for the woman's descent from privilege.
In Elton John's partly autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the song "Bitter Fingers" contains the lyrics "When I worked the good old pubs in Stepney", referring to his early days as a musician in and around London.
In her 2002 memoir Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth writes a graphic account of 1950's Stepney at the height of its urban decay describing bombsites, condemned buildings, filth, and rampant prostitution.
Stepney Historical Trust
The Stepney Historical Trust was set up in 1989 to advance the public's education in the history of Stepney and the surrounding areas. It is based in the London Dockers Athletic and Social Club and has installed a series of plaques on sites of historic interest.
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- The Spatial Form of Bangladeshi Community in London's East End Iza Aftab (UCL)
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- The hoppers of Kent (BBC Kent) accessed 21 December 2007
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