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Perhaps the most recognisable monument in Stepney, and certainly the longest standing, is the Parish Church of St. Dunstan. Indeed, how it is still standing after the German Blitz of World War Two devestated the surrounding area, is in itself a miracle.
There has been a Church on this site for over 1000 years now, providing a focal point for the local community throughout that time.
Whilst the exact date is unclear, there was a wooden structure here built sometime between 500 and 952. This was in turn replaced by a stone building which was built by St. Dunstan, for whom it is named. In the 16th century, one of the Deans here, John colet, was well regarded in the field of scholarship which ultimately led to the Reformation. He was a contemporary of Erasmus and Thomas More, who used to visit him here. The name Colet lives on locally in a number of street and building names.
The subsequent centuries saw a huge increase in both the population of the area and the poverty associated with the overcrowding and social circumstances of the times. Stepney has long been a byword for inner city poverty and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in which the Church stands, remains one of the most socially deprived areas of the UK.
In an area now predominantly Moslem, and a country inclreasingly secular, attendances are dropping, although the Church still functions.
I remember some years ago being given an impromptu and fascinating tour of the place by the then vicar, who just happened to be there as I was looking round. He showed me the board which traces the vicars of the Parish back to the 10th century, amongst other things. Whether Christian or not, it is an interesting place to have a look round.
you may wonder at the flag which I have included and it is really quite odd. Some readers may recognise it as the Red Ensign, also known as the Red Duster and is the flag of the UK's Merchant Navy which seems a bit strange even in an area with such a maritime history. There is a local story that if a child is born on a British merchant vessel, this is the Church the birth is registered at. I don't know how true it is but I can think of few other reasons it should fly here.
Update February 2013.
I recently revisited St. Dunstans to take another couple of photos and was delighted to stumble upon the grave of Capt. Henry Mudd. Mudd was a great philanthropist and built a number of almshouse which still stand near where I live. I had written a tip about it on my Mile end page so it was nice to marry the two things up.
Updated Feb 3, 2013
Address: Stepney High Street, London, E1.
Phone: 00 44 207 702 8685
The title of this tip refers to a very famous Dublin song called Molly Malone, much loved by Irish rugby supporters.
It is also highly relevant to this tip, which refers to Tubby Isaac's seafood stall in Aldgate. This is something of an East End institution, the original stall having been set up nearby in 1919. It is a favourite haunt of London cabbies (licensed taxi drivers) and you will nearly always see at least one black cab pulled up nearby.
If you like seafood, as I do, this place is absolute heaven. It sells the very best quality seafood, with a large variety every day (they don't sell fish, by the way).
I often buy some seafood on the way home after a few drinks in the adjacent pub, the Aldgate Exchange, which isn't a bad place for a pint.
Updated Jan 28, 2011
Address: Aldgate High Street, E1, junction of Goulston St.
Phone: I doubt it!
You may have read my other tip on walking the towpath of the Regents Canal, and if you walk to the end of it you will come to the delightful Limehouse Basin. Now a somewhat swanky (and expensive) mooring for pleasure craft, and surrounded by luxury homes, it nevertheless has an interesting history.
A couple of things stand out. Firstly, the basin was innovative in 1852 in it's use of a hydraulic system to revolutionise how cargo was removed from boats. The tower that the hydraulic equipment was in still stands although is only open on very limited occasions. Contact British Waterways for further details. Secondly, the railway arches which stand to the North of the basin (see photo) and now carry the Docklands Light Railway were second oldest urban railway viaduct in the world. They were built in 1840 for the now long defunct London and Blackwall Railway. It was used until 1962, then lay neglected until brought back to life by the opening of the DLR. A triumph of recycling, I would say.
Should you feel a little peckish or thirsty, multi award winning chef, Gordon Ramsay has his Narrow pub / restaurant called The Narrow just beside the basin on Narrow Street.
Updated May 10, 2009
People tend to forget, or the overseas visitor may not even know, that London has quite an extensive canal system. The Regents Canal, which joins the River Thames to the Grand Union Canal system, runs quite near where I live. I do like to take a walk along there. The walk down from Mile End Road to Limehouse Basin is pleasant, combining a little industrial archaeology, good views of the Canary Wharf area, and even some wildlife this close to the centre of town.
Hopefully, the pictures will give you an idea.
The attached website gives a detailed history of the Canal, and is well worth a read.
Written May 10, 2009
Right beside the Town of Ramsgate pub in Wapping High Street is the "street" knonw as Wapping Old Stairs. Although is is only about three feet wide, it has it's own street sign.
This was the alley which led to Execution Dock, the place of execution for all sorts of criminals, but primarliy pirates. the most famous of these was Captain Kidd, executed in 1701.
As you walk along to the stairs themselves (now modern concrete) you can just imagine the pirates being led in chains along between the buildings.
The preferred method of execution was to hang the criminal and then to tie him to a stake and wait until three tides had washed over him. I have heard a theory that it is from the supposed bloating of the corpses that the expression "What a whopper" derives (i'e' from the word Wapping) but I don't know how true that is.
Written Jan 26, 2005
Address: Wapping old Stairs, Wapping High Street, London, E
If you are in the vicinity of Wapping (an easy walk from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London), you could do worse that pop into the Town of Ramsgate pub for a drink or a bite to eat. It is a pleasant pub (under new management as of January 2005) with a nice beer garden out the back looking out over the river Thames.
There is a phenomenal amount of history attached to the place. It is centuries old and is situated right beside Wapping old Stairs leading to Execution dock (see seperate tip).
Amongst the many knick knacks actually in the pub is a very old wooden cash register, which I love.
Updated Jan 26, 2005
Address: 62 Wapping High Street, London E1.
Phone: 020 7481 8000
The picture shows a large mural on the gable of a house in Cable Street, London E1, which was completed in 1993 (I remember it being done!)
The mural commemorates the "Battle of Cable Street" in 1936. Sir Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts planned a march through the East End. Moseley and co. were fascists sympathetic to Hitler, and the East End at that time was predominantly a Jewish and working class area. Local people incluidng dockers and Trades Unionists confronted the marchers, with the police in the middle, and a pitched battle ensued. The march, however, was prevented.
The mural is on the house beside the disused Brittania pub in Cable Street between Cannon Street Road and Dellow Street.
Updated Jun 9, 2005
Personally, I'm not a big fan of the TV show "Friends", but for those of you who are this might be of interest.
I have it on good authority that the characters Ross and Emily got married in a church in London, well, here it is!
I remember at the time of the filming it caused quite a stir round here.
The church is now deconsecrated and is, I believe, flats.
It is located in Scandrett Street, E1, just off Wapping High Street, almost opposite the Town of Ramsgate pub.
Written Jan 26, 2005