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St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney, East London - - 608397.jpg
St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney
Stepney is located in Greater London
Stepney shown within Greater London
Population 16,238 (2011 census. St Dunstan's and Stepney Green Ward)[1]
OS grid reference TQ355814
• Charing Cross 3.6 mi (5.8 km) WSW
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district E1, E1W
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°30′55″N 0°02′46″W / 51.5152°N 0.0462°W / 51.5152; -0.0462Coordinates: 51°30′55″N 0°02′46″W / 51.5152°N 0.0462°W / 51.5152; -0.0462

Stepney is a district in London, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets that grew out of a medieval village around St Dunstan's church and the 15th century ribbon development of Mile End Road called Stepney Green. 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.[2] 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.[2][3]

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, the Liverpool Street to Stratford Railway line adjacent to the east to west section of Bancroft Street 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.

Bishop William held this land in demesne, in the manor of Stepney, on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead. In the same vill Ranulph Flambard holds 3½ hides of the bishop.[4]

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.[5]

In the early 20th century, Stepney was one of the most Jewish neighbourhoods in England;[6] it was eventually replaced by Stamford Hill.[7]

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.[8] 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.[8]

The Metropolitan Borough of Stepney was formed in 1900, then dissolved in 1965 when it was absorbed into the newly created London Borough of Tower Hamlets which currently administers the area.[2]


As with the whole of Greater London, the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London Ken Olisa is the Crown personal representative for Stepney but has no political role or hold an office in any political party and is purely an honorary titular position.

Stepney is in the constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2010 by Rushanara Ali of the Labour Party.

London overall has a directly elected executive Mayor of London, currently Sadiq Khan and the City and East seat in the London Assembly is held by Labour Party Unmesh Desai.

Tower Hamlets London Borough Council is the local authority and also has a directly elected executive mayor, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, Stepney has local councillors from three wards, St Dunstan's, Bethnal Green and Stepney Green.


Stepney is located 3.6 miles (5.8 km) east north-east of Charing Cross. It is roughly bounded by Shadwell between the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway between Limehouse station and the immediate area around the north-side of Shadwell DLR station, it reaches the north bank of the River Thames in a part of Stepney known as Free Trade Wharf.

The various side streets that make up the boundary between the E1/14 postcode is considered to be the division with Limehouse in the south, part of the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) with Bethnal Green and the southern leg of Bancroft Road forms an borderline with Mile End due to both a hospital of the same name and Queen Mary University. The western boundary with Whitechapel is Cambridge Heath Road and Sidney Street.

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,[9] the Irish in the eighteenth century,[10] Ashkenazi Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century,[11] and the Bangladeshi community settling in the East End from the 1960s.[12] 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.[3] 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.[13]


Stepney is an episcopal area in the Anglican Diocese of London, which covers the London boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets, and has its own suffragan bishop.[14]

Stepney Green[edit]

Stepney Green developed as a street of residential housing off the Mile End Road in the 15th century, and is now a conservation area.[15][16] 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,[17] though the Brewery Offices still remain on the corner of Mile End Road and Cephas Avenue.[16]


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.

The Leonard Montefiore memorial fountain on Stepney Green is named after a young writer and philanthropist, Leonard Montefiore who at the time of his death in 1879 was known for his philanthropic work in the East End of London. Montefiore attended Balliol College, Oxford where his posthumous memoire reports that he was a devotee of Ruskin. Whilst at Balliol he became a friend of Oscar Wilde who, after Montefiore's death allegedly proposed to his sister Charlotte. [18]. He was also influenced by Arnold Toynbee and Benjamin Jowett. Montefiore was Chief assistant to Samuel Barnett in his work regarding the extension of Oxford University to London and was secretary of the Tower Hamlets branch of the Society for the extension of University Teaching.[19]

The Jewish Encyclopedia[20] says "Montefiore was associated with many philanthropic movements, especially with the movement for women's emancipation."

Montefiore died at Newport, Rhode Island, aged 27. According to the Women's rights activist Emily Faithfull in her book "Three Visits to America" published in 1884 Montefiore died "While he was visiting the United States, in order to see for himself what could be learned from the political and social condition of the people, must ever be deplored. The world can ill afford to lose men of such deep thought and energetic action."[21]

The memorial fountain has the following poem engraved on its side:

"Clear brain and sympathetic heart, A spirit on flame with love for man, Hands quick to labour, slow to part, If any good since time began, A soul can fashion such souls can."


Stepney F.C. is a non-league association football team which currently plays in the Tower Hamlets-based Inner London Football League.[22]

The district's Senrab Street gave its name to Senrab F.C., a youth team now based in Wanstead Flats and notable for producing many future professional players.[23]


In the northern part of the district, Stepney Green on the Hammersmith & City and District lines.

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

Notable people[edit]

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,[24] as were actors Steven Berkoff,[25] 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,[26] 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, Mark Lazarus, 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.[27] 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[edit]

Referenced in the Rolling Stones song, "Play with Fire", released in 1965. Stepney is used as an indicator of a character'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 the Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, the song "Pretty Lady" is sung by three British sailors who lament being "a million miles away from Stepney Green."

In her 2002 memoir Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth writes a graphic account of 1950s Stepney at the height of its urban decay describing bombsites, condemned buildings, filth, and rampant prostitution.

Stepney Historical Trust[edit]

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[28] and has installed a series of plaques on sites of historic interest.[29]


  1. ^ "Tower Hamlets Ward population 2011". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Christopher Hibbert, Ben Weinreb, The London Encyclopaedia, p 877. Pan Macmillan, 2008, ISBN 1-4050-4924-3. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Hot neighbourhoods: Stepney, E1 – Time Out London". Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Domesday Book – A Complete Translation Folio 127V: MIDDLESEX. Penguin Books. Nov 2002. ISBN 0-14-100523-8
  5. ^ Stepney, Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 137–142 accessed: 17 November 2007
  6. ^ Jones, Catherine (27 September 2001). "Immigration and Social Policy in Britain". Routledge – via Google Books. 
  7. ^ Kosher in the country The Economist 1 June 2006 accessed 14 August 2007
  8. ^ a b T.F.T. Baker (1998). "Stepney: Early Stepney, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green". 
  9. ^ "Bethnal Green: Settlement and Building to 1836 - British History Online". 
  10. ^ Irish in Britain John A. Jackson, p. 137–9, 150 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964)
  11. ^ "The Jews - British History Online". 
  12. ^ The Spatial Form of Bangladeshi Community in London's East End Iza Aftab (UCL)
  13. ^ Services, Good Stuff IT. "St Dunstan's and Stepney Green - UK Census Data 2011". UK Census Data. 
  14. ^ Stepney Episcopal Area Archived 30 August 2005 at the Wayback Machine. accessed 10 May 2007
  15. ^ "Stepney – Communications". British History Online. Retrieved 21 May 2010. 
  16. ^ a b Stepney Green Conservation Area
  17. ^ "Anchor Retail Park – Scheme Overview on Completely Retail". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  18. ^ The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, Neil Mckenna, Randon House, 2011-02-28
  19. ^ Essays and Letters by Leonard A. Montefiore, in Memoriam, Page 10, Privately Printed, Chiswick Press; C Whittingham and Co. London 1881
  20. ^ "MONTEFIORE". Retrieved 2017-10-07. 
  21. ^ Three Visits to America, Chapter 19, Emily Faithful, Publisher Fowler and Wells, 753 Broadway 1884
  22. ^ "Stepney FC". Inner London Football League. Retrieved 6 June 2017. 
  23. ^ Alex (4 August 2005). "All Aboard". Londonist. Retrieved 5 June 2017. 
  24. ^ Dec O'Connor on IMDb
  25. ^ Steven Berkoff: The real East Enders The Independent 4 January 2007 accessed 10 May 2007
  26. ^ Jah Wobble, Memoirs of a Geezer, p. 1.
  27. ^ The hoppers of Kent (BBC Kent) accessed 21 December 2007
  28. ^ "London Dockers Social & Athletic Club". Tower Hamlets. Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  29. ^ "Stepney Historical Trust". Open Plaques. Retrieved 28 November 2016.