History of Stepney Green | Historic Gems off Mile End Road

Duck into Stepney Green, off Mile End Road, and an abundance of history awaits!

One of the first things to catch your eye is this restored ghost sign;

Stepney Green History Ghost Sign

From the late 19th century until the 1970s, there was a bakery on this site. It’s since been converted into private flats, but the history lives on with the sign for Daren Bread. The brand was phased out from the 1960s when Ranks Ltd acquired Hovis.

Further into Stepney Green and you see an atmospheric cobbled lane. But it’s worth paying close attention.

Stepney Green History

Look down and you’ll notice the unusual blue cobblestones.

Stepney Green History

Theses were imported from Teesside as a by-product of the iron industry in the late 19th century. Aren’t they a delightful colour?!

Today, Stepney Green is a pleasant patch of enclosed public garden and it has a rich mix of late 17th, 19th and early 20th buildings.

Stepney Green History

Stepney Green Gardens as we see them today were only created in 1872 by the Metropolitan Gardens Association. It’s one of the last remaining strips of land from Mile End Green.

But of course if we go a bit further back it gets a lot more rural…

Early History of Stepney Green

Stepney Green was previously known as Mile End Old Town, beside the ancient route East from the City along Mile End Road.

Stepney Green History - Layers of London Map

John Rocque’s 1746 Map – layersoflondon.org  © Maptiler and OpenStreetMap contributors

Development started in the late 16th century and – as you can see in the map above – by the 1700s there were clusters of houses but it was still quite rural. The people living here tended to be wealthy merchants.

Stepney Green’s Oldest House

The oldest house in Stepney Green we can admire today is no.37, built in 1694 and it’s an outstanding survivor.

Stepney Green History

It was bought by the Spitalfields Trust in 1998 who ‘tidied’ it up and it was subsequently put on the market as a family home. It’s now Grade II* listed.

It was originally built for Dormer Sheppherd, who must’ve been a successful merchant. Like many English merchants in the late 17th and early 18th century, Sheppherd was seemingly involved in the Slave Trade and according to some newspaper reports compiled here, Sheppherd appears to have owned “a black boy named Lewis, about 15 years old”.

Stepney Green History

If you’ve watched the series ‘Taboo’ with Tom Hardy, it was used as the Delaney House.

After Sheppherd, the house was bought in 1714 by Dame Mary Gayer, widow of the East India Company’s Governor Bombay.

The letters ‘M’ and ‘G’ are entwined artistically in the iron gateway by Robert Bakewell. Bakewell was a student of Jean Tijou, who worked closely with Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral and other major projects.

Stepney Green History

It became a ‘Home for Aged Jews’ in the 1880s.

Next door you can see a tablet proclaiming the house as Stepney Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption.

Stepney Green History

It’s a clue that the area was sliding downwards in social status.

Fast forward to the 19th century, the East End was developing rapidly as the Docks were growing and – even closer – there was a huge brewery just north of here.

All this development prompted the need for more housing and the evidence for this can be seen in the more recent buildings in Stepney Green.

Victorian Philanthropy

We’ve already mentioned the Jewish retirement home, a clue that the majority of residents in the 19th century were Jewish. But there’s more…

Stepney Orthadox Synagogue was established in 1896 and they acquired and converted a former Methodist chapel. It was based here until 1980 and today the building is the Rosalind Green Hall.

Stepney Green History

Rosalind was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Philip Green who sadly died aged 10. The Green family were members of the Sandy’s Row Synagogue which still survives in Spitalfields and Philip ran a stall in Petticoat Lane.

More tangible visual evidence can be seen in the form of Stepney Jewish School, founded in 1864.

Stepney Green History

The only surviving parts of the building today are the redbrick extensions from 1905-6, including the former School Keeper’s House.

Stepney Green History

The school closed in 1969 and moved to Redbridge. The houses were converted into artists’ studios.

Next door is Stepney Green Court, part of the Industrial Dwellings Society established in 1885. The block was (and still is) largely made up of one and two bedroom flats, with 115 flats in total.

Stepney Green History

Originally these were funded by the Rothschild family for Jewish artisans and there are some beautiful details.

Stepney Green History

On the opposite side of the green are Dunstan Houses, erected 1899 by the East End Dwelling company, a similar initiative to provide good quality housing for the local ‘worthy’ poor.

Stepney Green History
Stepney Green History

Continuing the filming theme, these were used for the BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’.

Stepney Green History

So there you have it, a little look at Stepney Green, a small area packed full of history.

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