History of the parish & its principal church

Note that down the years many street names have changed. The first major renaming scheme was started in 1857 by the Metropolitan Board of Works, encouraged by the General Post Office, after the MBW was established by the Metropolis Management Act of 1855 (postal districts were introduced in the following year). Another took place in the 1890's, after the London County Council was formed, and the next big scheme occurred between 1929-45. Streets were often re-named after local 'worthies', whose stories are told on the various history pages. Click right for street lists of 1913, 1919 and 1923. See here for details of a few sites on the western edge which now fall within the City of London, rather than Tower Hamlets.

St George-in-the-East was a civil registration district (as well as an ecclesiastical parish) 'in the county of Middlesex' from 1837 to 1889, and in the 'county of London' from 1889 to 1925, when it was designated as 'Stepney'.


After Queen Anne came to the throne (1702-14), under the terms of the Acts of Settlement designed to ensure the Protestant succession, and the Tories took power after 22 years of Whig rule, a New Churches in London & Westminster Act of 1710/1711 was passed, establishing a Commission to build fifty new churches in populous districts. [See here for details of a 2011 Walk which marked its 300th anniversary.] The agenda was as much political as pious: imposing edifices towering over the homes of the working classes as a sign of the national religion - especially needed, it was believed, in the East End where immigration was taking hold and there were many dissenting conventicles. (This is why episcopal mitres feature in the decoration of the apse, and no doubt why the dedication to St George was chosen.) They were to be funded from a tax on coal and culm (a form of anthracite) - in theory, an infinite budget, but only twelve (including St George-in-the-East) were ever completed. All ran way over budget, and the scheme came to an end. There is much more about the architectural rationale, and Nicholas Hawksmoor the architect of six of these churches, on the Church & Churchyard page.

When the church was consecrated on 19 July 1729, parts of 'Wapping-Stepney' were still semi-rural, with open fields, but the area was beginning to develop. Right is Roque's map of 1746. Merchants who were building houses nearby, or came from further afield, attended church in their carriages (in 1739 only seven of the 2484 inhabitants of London that 'kept coaches' lived in the parish), and access into the church was socially segregated. The local trades were ship-rigging and rope-making, of which names like Cable Street and Ropewalk Gardens are a reminder - Cable Street was once the length of the standard cable measure, 600 feet [180m], with a ropewalk directly to the north of the church. From the middle of the century hovels appeared in the marshlands behind Pennington Street, which soon became wholly built over. By 1780 there were 300 houses; by 1800, an average of 500-600 baptisms (rising to over 1,000 two decades later, before daughter churches were built), and 400-600 burials a year. The parish in those days extended down to the river: the old parish of St John Wapping only covered a small area. In 1766 a committee drawn from both parishes met to determine a procedure for settling any disputes over 'bounds and boundaries'.

The original organ, of 3 manuals with 25 speaking stops, was installed in 1733 by Richard Bridge (d.1758) of Clerkenwell. A contemporary commentator, whose identity and credentials are uncertain, described it as a very plain instrument. (Bridge's most famous organ - currently under restoration - was for another Hawksmoor church, Christ Church Spitalfields, where the Huguenot Peter Prelleur was organist - as well as writing theatre music.) The first organist of St George-in-the-East, appointed in 1738, was John James, formerly of St Olave Southwark and possibly a trumpeter in the King's Musick. He was a star performer with a reputation for improvisation - it's said that Handel, Geminiani, Roseingrave, Greene, Pepusch and Boyce all heard him play. His voluntaries were taken up by other organists (one of them was taken for Handel's work) - they were said to be popular with ‘every deputy organist in London’ - and many survive because they combine inventive harmonic sequences with a good grasp of fugal technique. But he had his wilder side, enjoying bull-baiting and dog fights, and according to Sir John Hawkins he indulged an inclination to spiritous liquors of the coarsest kind, though Hawkins admitted that he was distinguished by the singularity of his style, which was learned and sublime. He died in 1745. (See here for the later history of Bridge's organ.)

On Sunday 1 October 1738 John Wesley preached at the morning and afternoon services at the church - details here.The Gentleman's Magazine (vol 37) reported that on 4 March 1767 a private papist mass-house, which was kept at the back part of the house of a tradesman near Salt-petre bank [now Dock Street] was suppressed: about twenty mean-dressed people, with the priest, were assembled; but on the alarm of peace officers, made their escape at a back door - see here for more about the history of the Roman Catholic presence in the parish.

Charity schools were established in the parish -  see here for an account of Raine's Foundation institutions from 1719 onwards, and here for the school founded in 1781 by the Middlesex Society, and also for an overview of all the subsequent educational foundations.

As with some other new East London parishes of this period, St George-in-the-East, though within the diocese of London, was exempt from the jurisdiction of any archdeacon, and this anomaly remained into the 19th century. The Vestry combined ecclesiastical and local government responsibilities, and was 'general' (as opposed to 'select', as elsewhere), open to all who paid 2s. or more per month for poor relief. Robert Seymour's 1835 Survey of the Cities of London & Westminster - a part-published update of the work of the Elizabethan chronicler John Stow - gives details of the officers it continued to appoint:  2 Churchwardens and 4 Overseers (the senior 'parish officers') and - from the lower and middling ranks of society - 1 Constable, 13 Headboroughs (subordinates to the Constable, responsible for law enforcement), 4 Scavengers (responsible for keeping the streets clean), and 2 Surveyors of the Highway ('peace officers'). As explained here, men were sometimes elected as councilmen and aldermen who did not wish to serve for business or religious reasons, in which case they could pay a fine to be exempted. The parish was divided into two divisions, the upper and lower town (Seymour lists the streets in each). Edward Scott was elected Scavenger for the upper division of the parish in 1732, and Thomas Saunders of the lower division in 1748. Left is a challenge of 1754 on the regularity of the appointment of the overseers of the poor, and on their assessments (claiming that the well-to-do have been undercharged and the less affluent overcharged) - a transcript can be read here. The first parish clerk was Samuel Bright, formerly a barber and periwig-maker: the Vestry determined that this should be a full-time post. His successor was Thomas Harmer Lacon (buried in a vault in the crypt in 1821, aged 65). Both of them frequently signed as witnesses in the marriage registers. See here for an account of the dismissal of Joseph Mee as grave-digger and bell-ringer in 1766. (Seymour also noted that 'Prayers are held on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Holidays [sic] about 11 o'clock, no Organ [but see above], one Bell'.)

There were two early medical charities (unconnected with the church, though see here for an example of the involvement of a churchwarden with these two institutions, and with the emerging London Hospital - right in 1740s, with St George-in-the-East in the background:

Another survival from this period - originally in the parish of St Mary Matfelon, then St Mark Whitechapel and then St Paul Dock Street, and now part of this parish - is the Gunmakers' Company Proof House at 46-50 Commercial Road, of which there are more details and pictures here.

In the last decade of the century revolution was in the air, because of events in France and rising taxation (the war with France required an extra £2m) - more details here. At St George's 47 special constables were sworn in to assist in quelling any riots; the Vestry offered bounties to those who volunteered to take the place of parishioners called up to serve in the navy; and in 1795 a local branch of John Reeves' 'Church and King militia', the Association for the Protection of Property against Republicans and Levellers, was formed, to mobilise against those who supported monstrous and nonsensical doctrines of equality. This was followed by an armed association to protect life and property, for which twenty men volunteered, providing their own uniform and arms. A 1796 Act of Parliament required annual training, under the direction of the Constable of the Tower, of a regiment of the Tower Hamlets Militia (whose origins lay in the pre-Civil War 'Trayned Bandes' to protect the Tower, taking the name of Tower Hamlets in 1605). The Vestry objected (unsuccessfully) to the number called up - it was done by ballot, with a quota from each of the Hamlets - complaining that many inhabitants were ineligible,
being seafaring persons, free watermen, labouring men with infirmities, and undersized (particularly in the weaving manufactories), foreigners and other exempted persons. A further Act of 1813 extended their service liability to all parts of the kingdom, and removed a previous anomaly which expressly excluded TH militiamen's families from financial relief. The following year 25 men served in the Waterloo campaign with the 3/14th Regiment of Foot ('A very Pretty Little Battalion').The First Regiment had its own March and Quickstep, by William Liquorish (a relative of Thomas Liquorish, who had served with the Militia prior to serving as churchwarden), published in 1796 in full score for regimental band and in piano adaptation. [Shoulder belt plate from this period right - these were abolished in 1855.] The Militia office was in Wellclose Square.

Here are details of the Rectors and Lecturers of this period; here are details of many of the 18th century churchwardens; and here is a 1795 account of the church, churchyard and other places of worship in the parish. A fascinating article by Diana Markarill appeared in The Ephemerist, no.148 (Spring 2010), based on the churchwardens' accounts for the late 18th and early 19th centuries, for work on the bells and organ, the payment of women for pew-opening duties [in 1729 the Vestry had agreed to have six and no more; 22 applied - tips made it a post worth having - and four women and two men were appointed] and washing and mending linen, and for various entertainments. Horwood's map of London (1792-99), updating Roque, provides excellent detail. Developing areas not in the original parish, but now within its boundaries though parish mergers, include Goodman's Fields, Rosemary Lane [Royal Mint Street] and East Smithfield (including the site of the Royal Mint built in 1809).


Gower's Walk Free School was founded in 1808 - its remarkable story is told here.

The Royal Mint in East Smithfield was rebuilt in 1809 and 1842. The nearby Shovel public house was the site of an early example of the racial tensions that were to beset the area: it was reported that on 29 June 1787 local constables were beaten and turned out of the pub by over 40 black drinkers.

1811 saw the notorious Ratcliff Highway murders, described in detail here and here. The events highlighted the lack of any proper policing and detective service, and this page describes the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, and the evolution of professionally-staffed magistrates' courts. Ten years later, as explained here, St George-in-the-East Vestry was complaining about the expense of the 'Met', and the fact that it had done nothing to reduce criminality in the area - indeed, they believed it had made matters worse, and reduced the sense of local control; also, they said that the the officers were too military in appearance - see here to judge if that was true.

In the years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Vestry protested against high wheat prices at home, heavy import duties on imported corn, and restrictions on foreign trade - which was to become a recurring theme: in 1833 they took up the cause of the local sugar trade which was beginning to struggle. There were ongoing issues in relation to the Docks - rates, and the impact on the coal trade. They were exercised by the 1832 Reform Act and Poor Law issues. And although the church bore the name of the Hanoverian monarchs, they shared the national mood of disapproval of George IV, in particular his treatment of his wife Queen Caroline, writing to her in fulsome terms to declare their support - full text and more details here.

The height of the parish's prosperity was in the 1810-20's: see here for some details of some of the residents of Cannon Street Road, and here for Wellclose Square (at that time, outwith the parish). Here is a description of the elaborate funeral procession in 1824 for the vicar of Tottenham, who was buried here in a family vault near the west door. It contrasts sharply with the very basic arrangements for most parishioners' funerals!

The early 19th century saw the rise of small local 'friendly societies'. Some began as pub-based drinking clubs that organised mutual welfare by 'passing the hat', becoming more organised through formal subscriptions; they were later linked to the temperance movement, and were controlled by legislation (they were the precursors of credit unions). Two that met at the George Tavern in St George's Street in the 1830s were the Eastern Burial Society and the True and Happy Friends Benefit Society. Others had their origin in self-help associations within the Huguenot and Jewish communities. The first Jewish friendly society, dating from 1812, was The Tent of Righteousness (which a century later invested £500 in the 4% Industrial Dwellings Company). By the turn of the 20th century 15,000 Jews were actively involved in the movement (two small local examples were the Podembitzer Friendly Sick Society at 135 Cannon Street Road and the Plotzkar Relief & Sick Benefit Society at the Kinder Arms, Little Turner [Rampart] Street); the Grand Order of Israel and Shield of David Friendly Society is the last survivor, with four lodges still operating, mainly as social clubs. See here for a later Rector's desire (1875) that well-run penny banks should replace the plethora of local institutions.

The Docks

Poverty and deprivation was soon to take hold. Rapid social change was triggered by the expansion of shipping, with its associated trades: see London and St Katharine's Docks (at the time, mainly in this parish but the area is now part of our daughter church St Peter London Docks). See here for details of the legal battle between the Vestry and the Docks over rates. Laurie and Whittle's map of 1809, and Crutchley's of 1839 [right] show the impact. Here is an 1810 list of authorised pilots, including many living in this parish, and here is the Watermen and Lightermen's Company 'Bum Book' listing boat owners and their details from 1839-59.

London Docks were begun in 1802 (Lord Sidmouth, First Lord of the Treasury, laying the foundation stone on 26 June of that year, with 'genteel persons of both sexes' in attendance), and almost immediately enlarged; the adjacent St Katharine's Dock was opened in 1828. Vessels had to use the London Docks if they were bring tobacco or rice not of East or West India growth, or wine or spirits; other cargoes could unload elsewhere. Specialist warehouses (for example, wool and tobacco), and other trades, including the smelly sugar refining that employed over 1,000 German workers, sprang up. The docks brought incomers from many other nations - Greeks, Malays, Dutch, Scandinavians, Portuguese, Spanish and French. Thomas de Quincey wrote in 1810 Lascars, Chinese, Moors, Negroes were met at every step. Dock workers were poorly paid (5d. an hour) and poorly housed. An 1848 survey of 1651 heads of families living in the civil parish of St George-in-the-East showed that dock work had become the majority occupation, and two thirds of families existed on less than 25s. a week, with only 17% earning over 30s. Boarding houses, taverns and saloons brought crime. When Brian King became Rector in 1842, there were said to be 154 brothels in the parish. Railways also began to criss-cross the area.

Although the churches' main provision for seafarers' needs was centred in the Dock Street area - details here - there were two institutions, both in Cannon Street Road: the Sailors' Rest Asylum (taken over from 'Bo'sun' Smith's non-denominational mission in 1832) and a Sailors' Orphan Girls Episcopal School and Asylum, set up in 1829. Both of these, and other provisions for the orphans of seamen, are described here.

Civil administration and relief; public health
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced nationally from 1 July 1837, and many churches saw a major blip in baptisms in the preceding days, because parents wanted to avoid the new system, and had got the false impression that baptisms would in future cost 7s 6d, because the Registrar would need to be present. (At Manchester Collegiate Church, now the Cathedral, and in those days the sole parish for the city, there were a staggering 7,285 baptisms that year.) At St George-in-the-East there were 125 baptisms on 25 June, 149 on 28 June and 163 on 30 June (compared with 105 for all the preceding weeks) - see here for more details of how this was handled. (A 1s or 1s 6d fee for baptism - or at least, for registration and the clerk's attendance - was common at the time despite being counter to church teaching that the sacraments should be available without charge; fees were made illegal by the Baptism Fees Abolition Act 1872.) See here for statistics, and also comments on non-Anglican marriages.

The local Registrars' statistics were used for a wide-ranging 1843 report on death rates, and funeral practice, across London. Figures for 1839 showed that the average age of death was the 24th lowest, out of 32, and that life expectancy for tradesmen was 13 years, and for artisans 16 years, below average. John Verrall, the Registrar for the St John's District (mainly Wapping), and also parish clerk of St George's, commented on the causes of this: overcrowding, the ruinous state of many houses, lack of drainage and ventilation, poor habits of cleanliness, the number of lay-stalls [dungheaps], in which filth of all kinds is accumulated, and the number of pigs kept in the neighbourhood. See here for more details.

The 1831 census (and clerical directories for this period) gave the population as 38,505, and poor relief expenditure for 1833-35 was £17,706 or 9s.2d. per ratepayer. (In
1739 the figure had been £1,046 10s 4d.) In 1836, the parish was constituted as a Poor Law parish under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, administered by 18 elected Guardians. Several of these had also served as churchwardens of the parish (a higher proportion than in other districts) - for example, William Stutfield in 1843, and Thomas Liqorish in 1844. They took over responsibility for the parish workhouse in Wapping, and authorised £2,000 for its extension. By 1847 the population was 47,362 but expenditure was slightly down - £16,474. In 1851 they built an industrial school at Plashet, and also operated a 'casual ward' for vagrants in Raymond Street, off Green Bank, Wapping. By 1861 the population was 48,891. An infirmary was added to the workhouse in 1871. See here for fuller details, and the subsequent history, of these various institutions, and the reason why, though in the 1840s their spending on 'out-relief' was in line with other unions (though fell sharply a generation later, under the local influence of the nascent Charity Organisation Society), their 'in-relief' spending - on the workhouse and its inmates - was much higher than average.

In 1844 the Association for Promoting Cleanliness among the Poor built baths and a laundry for the 'destitute poor' in Glasshouse Yard [now John Fisher Street], which was used by 27,662 bathers and 35,480 washers in its first year. Bathers and washers paid one penny, ironers a farthing. The Association also provided whitewash, and lent buckets and pails. Its success led to an Act of Parliament in 1846 'To encourage the Establishment of Baths and Wash-houses', funded from the rates. See here for the major part that William Quekett, Lecturer and Curate of the parish, played in this - against initial opposition from the parish vestry - arguing that it was both philanthropic and would in the long term bring savings to ratepayers [1846 handbill right]. In Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable (1855), p33, John Timbs opined  ... so strong was the love of cleanliness thus encouraged that women often toiled to wash their own and their children's clothing, who had been compelled to sell their hair to purchase food to satisfy the cravings of hunger. However, in 1850 the Vestry passed a resolution objecting to the establishment of further facilities in the parish.

In 1848 the Quarterly Journal of the Statistical Society of London (founded in 1834, now the Royal Statistical Society) demonstrated this new scientific method by publishing a detailed report into the 'state of the poorer classes', which can be viewed herebased on the St Mary's sub-district of the civil parish - chosen, they said, not because it was the worst slum area in London (the extremes of overcrowding and poverty were to come later) but because it was typical, and they were concerned to make positive suggestions for improvement. They were motivated as much by public policy (avoiding civil unrest) as by philanthropic solicitude. Data collected in 1845 was analysed in 27 tables, the latter part of the report being particularly concerned to correlate the age of parents with family size, mortality rates and health.

Local government in London was chaotic, with various self-selected boards and committees responsible for poor relief, highways and sewerage. For instance, there were 136 Commissioners for Sewers for the Tower Hamlets, with a local office in Alie Street. There were many fires in the area, but firefighting was unco-ordinated: parishes had their own engines, as did insurance companies. See here for a note on the development of the London Fire Brigade, and here for details of a local 18th century manufacturer of fire engines (who was churchwarden here in 1784).

The main authority was the Public Vestry, elected each Easter by ratepayers.  Sir Benjamin Hall's Metropolis Management Act of 1855 swept these away and created a Select Vestry (chaired by the incumbent) and Boards for each parish. See here for more details of this 'incorporation', in a restrospective paper of 1880 by the Vestry Clerk. (It also created the Metropolitan Board of Works - see here for details of its first clerk, later a local police court judge.) In 1856 the High Court dealt with a dispute between the new Vestry and London Docks over the rate levied on the Docks for street paving. It took over responsibility for the local section of the Commercial Road when tolls were abolished in 1865. There was continued scope for electoral corruption where voters were illiterate - left is a completed voting paper for the 1862 vestry, together with lists of parish officers for 1866 and 1871 (note the change from 'Vestrymen' to 'Guardians of the Poor'). More details of many of these men are given here. The clerk - usually full-time, and often a solicitor (as with W.L. Howell, in post at the time of the Ritualism Riots; he was also the Registrar for one of the sub-districts of Gt George's East) - was a key person.  Salaries for this post varied widely, depending on local history and the energy and contacts of the postholder;  here he was paid £500 but had to pay his staff from this (as did his counterparts at Bethnal Green, on £750, and St Luke Old Street, on £800).

St George's Town Hall on Cable Street was originally the Vestry Hall, built in 1861 at a cost of £6,000. (Prior to this the Vestry met in a room on the south-west corner of the church.) Left are details of contracts entered into by the Vestry in 1862 and 1864 for public works, including street lighting, 'cleansing and watering' the streets and 'removal of dust', paving and sewerage, and work on the Vestry Hall. See here for the story of William Cooke, one of the three parish rate collectors in 1866, who held various other offices in the parish in his time, and was also an undertaker. Right is a ticket for a dinner held there in 1874 to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's marriage. [The 1899 London Government Act replaced Vestries with 28 Borough Councils, when the new Stepney Borough Council took over the building as a local Town Hall; since the creation of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1963 it is now used for a variety of local projects.] Some local streets bear vestry members' names: for example, Fairclough [formerly North], Dellow [formerly Victoria] and Stutfield [formerly Elizabeth] Streets. 

It was the Vestry that elected churchwardens for the parish each year. Wardens did not have to be members of the Church of England (for example, Elijah Goff, warden 1797 and 1798, was a member of the Presbyterian chapel in Broad Street, and others had no religious affiliation). Meetings could be 'packed' to secure the appointment of wardens hostile to the church and Rector, as happened regularly in the coming years, particularly when Bryan King was Rector. [Even though Parochial Church Councils were created by the 'Enabling Act' of 1919, churchwardens are still technically appointed by residents of the parish rather than church members, though these days this is mainly a technicality, and wardens have to be 'actual communicants' in the Church of England.] 

Under the 1855 Act, Medical Officers of Health were appointed for each District. The Registrar General published weekly, monthly and annual Tables of births and deaths, classified by causes - see here for the 1858 categories. ('Bills of Mortality' had been published in London since the late 16th century.) For example, in the first quarter of 1858 in the St George-in-the-East District there were 55 deaths from measles, 12 from scarlatina, 45 from whooping cough, 2 from diarrhœa and 7 from typhus; 26 men and 39 women died in the parish workhouse: see here for the full figures. It was the only district where the rate of deaths from scarlet fever fell between 1851-60 and 1861-70. The MoH's annual report was published by the Vestry.

The population of the civil district of St George-in-the-East given in the 1861 census was 48,961, of whom 31,106 (65.58%) were born locally, 4004 (8.19%) in Ireland, and 2,361 (4.83%) in 'foreign parts'.

The Metropolitan Sanitary Commission had made its first report in 1848 - see here (p17) the evidence of R. Bowie, surgeon, who had been practising in Burr Street, East Smithfield, at the time of the 1832 cholera outbreak. Between 1854-55 the quality of water provided by the various companies was monitored, and reported to the General Board of Health (Medical Council) - this was to become significant in checking the spread of the disease, which had previously been thought to be transmitted by air rather than water (see Steven JohnsonThe Ghost Map (Penguin 2008) for an imaginative account of this issue). Two samples from the East London Company produced a scary result [right]. See here for the gruesome story of Aldgate Pump, far right in 1908 (at the junction of Fenchurch and Leadenhall Streets: 'east of Aldgate Pump' became a common term for the East End), and its historical associations. Its 'mineral salts' were prized until it was discovered that this was the result of calcium from human bones leeching into the water; it was connected to a mains supply in 1876.

Another cause of death, common in this area, was the result of baby farming, whereby daily nurses were hired to take charge of the unwanted children of prostitutes and others, on the tacit understanding that they would die of neglect and starvation (often recorded as 'marasmus'). The practice was exposed by the journalist James Greenwood as one of The Seven Curses of London (Stanley Rivers 1869, chapter 3) and is explored is this paper by Dorothy Haller.

Linked to the new public health provisions were slum clearance powers. Under the 'Torrens Acts' (the Artisans and Labourers' Dwellings Act 1868, amended 1879 and 1882 - resulting in the curious 'short' title 'Artisans* and Labourers Dwellings Act (1868) Amendment Act (1879) Amendment Act (1882)' - owners could be forced to repair or to demolish individual dwellings, though the provisions for rehousing that would have given it 'teeth' failed to get through Parliament. (William Torrens was the Liberal MP for Finsbury at the time.) More significantly, the 'Cross Acts' (the Artisans* and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act 1875, amended 1879 and 1882) enabled compulsory purchase of whole areas, with landowners compensated (R.A. Cross was Disraeli's Home Secretary). The St George-in-the-East Vestry was among a number of local authorities that, for various reasons, made limited use of these powers. However, see here for the Rector's delight at the condemning of over 200 of properties by our Medical Officer of Health immediately after the passage of the 1875 Act; here for details of the Whitechapel Estate, a major '5% philanthropy' scheme just outside the civil parish (and now within the ecclesiastical parish), promoted by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Peabody Trust; and here for the adjacent Katharine Buildings project in Cartwright Street, creating housing for those beyond the reach of other providers. The legislation was consolidated as Parts I and II of the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act.

[ * Sometimes spelt 'Artizans']  Right  is the famous illustration 'Over London - By Rail' by Gustave Doré in Blanchard Jerrold's London - A Pilgrimage (1872).

The age of district churches, and buildings
Although the parish was geographically small (just 244 acres), by the mid-19th century it had become densely populated, and much energy went into building, or taking over from other denominations, additional churches - some of which became separate parishes. Each of them had its complement of halls, institutes, schoolrooms and other premises. Click on the links for details of each of them, and here for details of baptism and weddings registers. This 1862 map shows the churches nearest to St George's, and this 1878
map [right] gives a detailed picture of the area for which the Vestry was responsible (which included the area of the 'daughter' churches, and most of Wapping).

Anglican churches or parishes founded by St George-in-the-East

Two further parishes were later incorporated into St George's parish (and the boundary with St Peter London Dock was adjusted in 1989, transferring the St Katharine's Dock area to St Peter's):

former Anglican parishes which are part of the present-day parish

In the 17th and 18th century dissenters, and churches serving foreign nationals, were rather more active locally than the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church. By the middle of the 19th century that had changed; in answer to the question posed in 1851 Are there may Dissenters in your parish? Bryan King observed (though how accurately?) There are not many DIssenters; in fact, the people are too poor to support either Dissenters or any teachers without extraneous aid. However, there had been a huge variety of such places of worship in the parish, chronicled here:

(former) churches of other denominations

There are also pages about the history and growth of various areas of the present-day parish (some of them previously in adjacent, now merged, parishes):

At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851* (when Dr Worthington, incumbent of Trinity Church, Gray's Inn Road, offered to conduct services, if required, in the Greek, Latin, French or Italian tongues) a booklet of service times throughout London was published by Sampson Low. It lists the services for this parish as
George's, St., in the East, parish church. Between 9 and 10, Cannon street. Revs. B. King, rector; W. Quekett, lecturer. 11, morning ; 3½, afternoon. Lord's supper, first Sunday in month.
  Christ Church, Watney street, Commercial road, East. Revs. W. Quekett, incumbent; G. Mockler, curate. 11, morning; 3½, afternoon; 6½, evening. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saints' days, 11, morning. Lord's supper, last Sunday in month — Seats to be had of Mr. C. J. Osborne, 18, Cannon street.
St. Mary's, Johnson street, Commercial road east. Rev. W. M'Call, incumbent. 11, morning ; 6½, evening. Thursdays, 7, evening. Lord's supper, first Sunday in month, after morning service; third ditto, 8¼, morning. There is also a service on the fourth Sunday in month, 3, afternoon. — Seats to be had after the Thursday service.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Chapel, Pell street, St. George street, near Wellclose square. Rev. D. Moore, minister. 11, morning; 6½, evening. Lord's supper, second Sunday in month. — Seats may be had of Mr. Butler, 42, Wellclose square. 
Trinity Episcopal Chapel, Cannon street road. Rev. H. Robbins, incumbent. 11, morning; 6½, evening. Wednesdays, 7, evening. Lord's supper, third Sunday in month.— Seats to be had of the chapelwarden.

[* In 1857 William Quekett, who had served energetically in this parish but was by then the Vicar of Warrington, organised a grand railway excursion from there to London to see the sights, including the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition, by then relocated to Sydenham - you can read about it here.] 

The first-ever nationwide census of religious attendance was conducted on Mothering Sunday 1851; here are the figures for the borough of Tower Hamlets, with some comments. In 1859 there were 467 marriages in the registration district of St George-in-the-East: 281 in the Church of England, 172 Roman Catholic, 7 in other Christian churches and 7 under the auspices of the Superintendent Registrar [i.e. civil ceremonies].

Ritualism Riots, 1859-60
The one thing many people know about St George-in-the-East is that there were riots in church over matters of ritual and ceremonial. It is an extraordinary tale, which has been extensively written about; you can find a summary here. We marked their 150th anniversary with a programme of special events, including a visit by the Archbishop of Centerbury.

Parish worship after 1860
After the riots, things calmed down. Ironically, since those days worship at St George's has been of a 'central' character, alongside our high and low church neighbours!  The pattern of Sunday worship in 1863, according to a somewhat cursory (and perhaps incomplete) Guide to the Church Services in London and its suburbs, was 11am (HC on the first Sunday), 3.30pm and 7pm, with a weekday service on Tuesday at 7pm. By 1875 - when Harry Jones had been Rector for two years - it was as follows (see also Dickens' Directory of London for 1879):

Services Sunday HC 8.00, 1st S and greater festivals, 11.45, M 11.00, E with churchings 3.00, E with baptism 4.15, E 7.00; Daily, M 11.00; Festivals M 11.00, HC am. Choir, partly paid. Music, Anglican. Surplice in pulpit. Seats 1200, all free. Offertory, at each service.

Weekday Matins at 11am was a pattern in other parishes at this period - and often well-attended. Note the inclusion of 'surplice in pulpit', in the light of the Ritualism Riots. Seats...all free; offertory shows that the parish had managed to abolish pew rents, and took collections. See here for the evidence presented by the Rev G.H. McGill of Christ Church Watney Street (on behalf of Stepney deanery clergy) to the Select Committee on the Ecclesiastical Commission in 1862, which gives detailed facts and figures showing how hard it was to sustain parish finances with uncollectable pew rents, practically no help from local businesses, and limited or non-existent endowments in the new district churches; and here for the case made by Harry Jones in 1875 against the creation of district churches, for a variety of reasons, including financial.

A major change in education provision came with the 1870 Education Act - see here for details of its impact locally, and of all the Board Schools that were built in the parish and their subsequent fate.

Church and community
The parish workhouse and infirmary, and the poor law schools, loomed large in the local consciousness.
Here and here are the two parts of an 1866 newspaper article describing the experience of a 'female casual' in the workhouse. Charles Dickens, in chapter 3 of The Uncommercial Traveller (a collection of his sketches about various parts of London) describes in graphic detail a visit to Wapping Workhouse - passing en route 'Mr Baker's trap', a site of many suicides named after the local coroner; it makes grim reading, but he concludes that the workhouse was an establishment highly creditable to those parts, and thoroughly well administered by a most intelligent master. He called for an equalisation of Poor Law rates across London, finding it absurd that the poorest districts had to find the highest rates: 5s.6d. in the pound in one East End parish, as against 7d. in the pound in St George Hanover Square!

By 1870, for the first time, the district was classed as one of the five poorest in London. But the St George-in-the-East Poor Law Guardians - like their counterparts in Stepney and Whitechapel - virtually ceased making 'out-relief' payments (as opposed to 'in-relief' - the workhouses). This was partly because of the growing influence of the Charity Organisation Society which pressed for more targeted assistance.

John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) gives the following statistics and other details:
Acres, 243. Real property in 1860, £182,734; of which £600 were in gas-works. Population in 1851, 48,376; in 1861, 48,891. Houses, 6,169 ... The parish church ... is a noble and massive structure, in the Doric style; has a lofty tower at the west end, unlike any other in England; has also four smaller towers ... St. Matthew's church, in Pell-street, has a good spire ...
The head benefice is a rectory ... Christchurch, St Mary, and St. Matthew, are vicarages, and St. Peter is a perpetual curacy ... Christchurch was constituted in 1841, St. Mary's in 1850; St. Matthew's in 1860; St. Peter's, in 1866. Population of Christchurch, 13,145; of St. Mary, 5,515; of St. Matthew, 3 245; of St. Peter, 8,354. Value of St. George, £396; of Christchurch, £300; of St. Mary, £150; of St. Matthew, £183; of St. Peter, £420.
The place
s of worship, in 1851, were 5 of the Church of England, with 5, 880 sittings; 1 of Independents, with 700 sittings; 1 of Baptists, with 560 sittings; 2 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 1,550 sittings; 1 of New Connexion Methodists, with 92 sittings; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 337 sittings; 1 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 290 sittings; 1 of Lutherans, with 150 sittings; 2 undefined, with 120 sittings; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 360 sittings.
The schools were 9 public day schools, with 2,220 scholars; 86 private day schools, with 2,211 scholars; 13 Sunday schools, with 3,053 scholars.; and 7 evening schools for adults, with 119 scholars.
The district is divided into the sub-districts of St. Mary, St. Paul, and St. John; and is aggregately conterminate with the parish. Acres of the sub-districts, 62, 84, and 97. Population 18,181; 21,015; and 9, 695. Houses, 2,384; 2,793; and 992. Poor-rates in 1862, £32,243. Marriages in 1860, 410; births, 1,880 - of which 90 were illegitimate; deaths, 1,293, - of which 671 were at ages under 5 years, and 12 at ages above 85. Marriages in the 10 years 1851-60, 3,744; births, 18,743; deaths, 13,178. The workhouse is in St. John sub-district; and had 304 male inmates and 514 female inmates at the census of 1861.

In 1883 St George's Mission House at 136 St George's Street [later renumbered 181 The Highway] was built at the cost of £5000 - a susbstantial building on three floors with acommodation above. Goad's 1887 insurance map show that it had a wine store to the left, and a colour works and chemical packaging company on the right, and the whole area around the south and west of the church was built up. The hall was demolished after 1962, when The Highway was widened. You can still see the headstone of the rear door in the wall by the church [pictured] - a separately-listed feature.

There was also a small parish room built on the north-west corner of the Rectory, at some point before 1890 [plan of house and garden left] - when was it demolished?

In 1891, at the time when St Matthew Pell Street closed as a church (though continued in use for other activities), Tait Street Mission Room was built at a cost of £1050, of which £918 had been raised by the time of its opening by Princess Helene Frederica Augusta, Duchess of Albany. (Tait Street, just beyond the railway to the east of Cannon Street Road, was named after Archibald Campbell Tait, Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, who had visited the area during cholera epidemics - though had done little to help the parish through the Ritualism Riots.)

At the opening ceremony the Rector said

The room ... may be regarded as a daughter mission room to the larger one [on The Highway] ..... In the organisation of the parish it will take the place of an Arch of the Blackwall Railway where for the last two years a successful mission work has been carried on. This arch is now required for the purposes of the Railway and it has been necessary to find other quarters for the mission. The Walburgh Street Arch is not given up without regret, for there are many who have cause to remember with much thankfulness its happy success; but it must be confessed that a Railway Arch with its constant noise of trains rumbling overhead and with its cold draughtiness is not a convenient place either for services or for meetings, and there is every reason to hope that the good work will be continued with even an increased success in the Tait Street Mission Room ...

(The Mission Room was later taken on by the British Legion.)

As in many parishes, formal missions were organised (though Harry Jones, Rector 1873-82, was not a fan - see why here). In the major London-wide mission of 1884-5, the missioners appointed for St George-in-the-East were the Revd W.M. Sinclair, Vicar of St Stephen Westminster; for Christ Church, The Revd Wladislaw Somerville Lach-Szyrma of St Peter Newlyn, Penzance but later of Barkingside (his Polish father had fled persecution and married into a naval family - several descendents became Anglican clergy); and for St John the Evangelist-in-the-East, The Rev E. Bickersteth, Rector of Framlingham, and the Hon and Rev R. E. Adderley, Curate of All Hallows Barking (both from famous clerical families, and experienced mission speakers). [Right is the Advent programme for 1878, and an 1893 mission card.]

In 1888 the British Weekly conducted a London-wide census of attendance at places of worship; unlike that of 1851, it did not include Sunday School scholars. here are the figures for the churches within the civil district of St George-in-the-East (wider than the parish). It records attendances at the parish church of 292 in the morning and 425 in the evening.

There are various contemporary accounts of parish life:
In addition,
After Bryan King's departure, patronage of the benefice passed to the Bishop of London, to whom the Principal and Fellows of Brasenose College transferred most of their East End patronage in return for various country livings. In 1879 the Rector's stipend was increased by £500 a year by the voidance of a City rectory, St Alphege London Wall. The parish has never been regarded as an 'ecclesiastical prize', but the Rector's stipend was now a comfortable £800 after deductions - though from this they had to meet the expenses of assistant clergy and other costs.

We entered the new century with three churches - St George-in-the-East, Christ Church Watney Street and St John-in-the-East Golding Street. All were kept busy, with a full range of parish clubs, societies and organisations, and buildings to match, including St George's Mission House and the parish room behind the Rectory (see above), as well as St Mathew Pell Street (now used as a parish hall) and Tait Street Mission Room. 

This interview with R.W. Harris (Rector 1897-1903) in the Charles Booth archive [B222, pages  150-179] details many of these parish organisations, and reports on the 'invalid kitchen', and the initiative of 'St George-in-the-East Window Garden Society' - a recognition that a windox box rather than a garden was the closest many came to nature (see here for an 1865 initiative by the Royal Horticultural Society along these lines). In 1906 the winner of the annual competition was the ten-year old Harry Sleight, who lived at 1 Redmead Lane, Wapping all his life until he was moved out by Docklands redevelopment in the late 1970s. He was presented with an inscribed silver pocket watch, which he treasured all his life, as does his family - it is still in good working order (our thanks to his grandson Geoffrey for these pictures).

A high point in the time of F. St. J. Corbett (Rector 1903-19) was the visit on 14 July 1904 of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, for a flower show and sale of work (the fourth picture shows the Victorian extension to the Rectory), which provided a welcome fillip to parish finances. The circumstances of her visit are recounted in press cuttings here and an interview here.

Services at the parish church in this period were as follows:
Holy Communion every Sunday 8am & 12 noon, Greater Festivals also at 7am, Thursday 8.30am, Saints' Days 10am
Matins Sunday & Monday 11am, other days 10am          Evensong Sunday 6.30pm, Weekdays 8pm (with sermon on Wednesdays)
Holy Baptism Sunday 3.45pm & Wednesday 7.30pm    Churching of Women before or after any service             Sunday School 10am & 3pm

Tait Street Mission remained active, with a men's meeting on Sundays at 4pm and a children's service at 8.30pm, as well as weekday activities. There was a 'lady worker', Miss Emily FitzHardinge Berkeley, living at the Rectory - more details here. However, despite a full round of activities here, at the parish church and St Mathew Pell Street, the parish was seriously struggling: numerically (as the area became more Jewish in population), financially, and pastorally. See the Rector's extremely revealing confidential report of 1914 to the Bishop of Stepney (plus the published accounts for 1915), which candidly sets out the difficulties. According to Mr Corbett, the Bishop claimed not to be aware of the extent of the lay team, or of the problems they faced. And, as was still common, the Rector had to pay the curate from his own stipend; unlike his predecessor, he did not have a 'private' income.

Here is a description of life in various parts of the parish in 1911.

The First World War and its aftermath
Then came the Great War. Clergy left to serve as chaplains on the front, or, like our own Rector [pictured - more details here] remained in their parishes while serving units on the home front. They discovered (though those who had served in the East End surely knew already) how tenuous were the links of soldiers with the Christian faith: the church needed to change. (See Alan WilkinsonThe Church of England and the First World War SCM 1996). Our churches struggled: particularly in the last two years of the war, numbers of baptisms and weddings fell sharply. In the post-war years various national initiatives to 're-connect' were made - for example, the National Mission of Repentance and Hope, first launched in 1916, with William Temple as its secretary. It was also the time of massive expansion of council housing, to provide 'homes fit for heroes' in new outer suburbs; the population became more mobile. And it was a time when the way the Church of England conducted its business changed, with the introduction of what we now call synodical government: see here for more details.

When J.C. Pringle was appointed Rector in 1919, although the range of clubs and activities (particularly for girls) continued, with new ones for children and adults added in the next few years, congregational numbers remained low - see here for more details. The bishop was not prepared to license a curate to the parish; instead, a succession of licensed women workers was appointed. Repairs to the church, including the installation of electric lighting (partly funded by the sale by faculty of some historic church plate), delayed the installation of a war memorial until 1924 - see here for details of the memorial, and the subsequent keeping of Armisticetide. There is more about Pringle's ministry here, and his connections with the Charity Organisation Society);  and here are some of his forthright, and often startling, opinions from the parish magazine. Right is a 1922 view of the docks, looking from the river towards the church, and one of many images of local poverty from this period.

See these annotated street directories for 1921: St George's Street, Cable Street, Leman Street and Commercial Road.

Pringle's successor in 1925 was C.J. Beresford, who as Warden of the SPCK College in Commerical Road was already well-known in the parish: had frequently provided 'cover' here during Pringle's absences, both for the main Sunday services and for baptisms. He had a wide circle of former students who assisted in the parish. Unlike Pringle, he was allowed a curate, as well as a parish worker. He was also a musician - the founder of the Stepney Orpheus Choir: see here for details of the musical life of the parish, and arrangements for the bicentenary in 1929. There is more on Beresford's life and ministry here

Some further extracts from the parish magazine 1923-34 can be found here:

The pattern of services in the 1920s and 30s remained 'central' in tradition, with various small changes made over the period:
Holy Communion every Sunday 8am, & 12 noon on all [later third only] Sundays; choral at 11.30am following shortened Mattins on the first Sunday;
Tuesdays and Holy Days 7am, Thursdays 8am
Holy Baptism Sunday 4pm & Wednesday 7.30pm     Churching of Women before or after any service  
Matins Sunday 11am, most weekdays 8am  Evensong Sunday 6.30pm, Wednesday 8pm [with address], most other weekdays 6pm
Sunday School 3pm [with the introduction of a Children's Service on the fourth Sunday]

See this page for the involvement of Earl Winterton MP and his wife in parish affairs during the inter-war years. He was a local landowner and employer, and built some 'philanthropic housing' in the parish. But slum housing remained the norm, with big profits for absentee landlords.

Left are Miss E K Palmer and Mr J Day, churchwardens for 1937. Miss Palmer had been Superintendent of the Sunday School for many years, and a key figure in the parish. Female wardens were not yet common in the Church of England - but we were becoming a progressive parish! Their churchwardens' staves remain in use.

Sydney Maddocks wrote wistfully in 1933 
Over the parish in our days hangs an atmosphere of depression that things should be as they are, which is broken only for some rare moments, such as when the mean streets have a certain wistfulness in the softening grey haze of a late autumnal afternoon. Then the lofty tower of St. George’s Church, which has seen two centuries of life’s vicissitudes, hushes red in the kindly glow of the sun in the west, telling worker and the workless of the departure of another day.  (Co-Partnership Herald, vol.2, no.24)

Politics became more volatile throughout the period, with widespread unemployment in the 1920s leading to the General Strike, and the rise of both communism and fascism, resulting in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 - see here for more details.

The Second World War - Blitz and Rebuilding
When the Second World War began, clergy were again in short supply, and six local parishes were grouped together; St John's was closed. On 16 April 1941 Christ Church and its vicarage were destroyed by a landmine, and St George's was gutted the next month. Writing of the bombing of the parish, the Communist councillor (and MP from 1945) Phil Piratin said We saw them coming over against the bright blue sky. A policeman said 'better get in'. Then the bombs began to drop.  All remaining clergy, led by Fr John Groser from Christ Church, moved to the Rectory, where services were held in the living room [left today] - including a daily eucharist, without a break - until they moved into the 'Upper Room' of the Mission House the following year (some years later, a service was held for the renewal of vows of those married there - including Ros Rowley, with whom we are still in touch). Nora Neal also joined the team as a licensed lay worker during the war years. From 1942 the crypt was used (by faculty) as an air-raid shelter. Right is a map of the bombing across London - see also this interactive website - and a local aerial view from 1960. Ritchie Calder Carry On London! (English University Press 1941) contains many personal stories. See here for a peace party in Walburgh Street.

In December 1943 a prefab within the shell of the church, 'St George-in-the-Ruins' - above left - became the parish's home for the next seventeen years. This leaflet circulated at the end of the War explains the pastoral re-organisation of the parish, and the pattern of worship in what is optimistically described as the charming little temporary church now built inside the roofless walls of the old church. By contrast, Prebendary Arthur Royall, a chronicler of East London Church life (who died in 2013), commented I worshipped there one Sunday morning in the late 1940's and have vague memories of what appeared, from the outside, to be a large shabby wooden shed. Right is the first appeal for funds to rebuild the church.

The Mission Hall at 181 The Highway remained in use until its demolition after 1962. During and after the war there was a men's club - used particularly by dockers - in the dingy basement, with snooker/billiards and table tennis. An older resident remembers how, when tea and cheese were rationed, they provided hot Bovril and a roll (you brought your own filling) for three halfpence, and the introduction of a Dansette record player separated the boys from the girls. From 1960 until its demolition around 1962, there was a youth club in the main hall, run by Andrew Quicke and Leo Aylen; Tricia Wyeth ran a canteen with tea and cheese rolls which she bought after school and made up.

In 1945 an Anglican Franciscan presence was established at 84 Cable Street [where Noble Court now stands]; you can read more here about their work, and how this became the starting-point of Fr Ken Leech's commitment to the East End.

In 1960, now with Fr Alex Solomon as Rector, the congregation moved out of the prefab for the new church to be constructed, and for 3¾ years they worshipped in the 'Upper Room' of the old mission hall pictured left in 1960]. 686 coffins were moved out of the crypt and reburied at Brookwood Cemetery [listed left]. The detailed story of the whole process is told here by Fr Solomon, and the new church is described in detail here; see also a 1959 architectural assessment [right]. The 1963 sketch by Paul Joyce shows the remains of building (including the Mission Hall) during the period of reconstruction.

The church was rededicated on 26 April 1964 by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Dr Robert Stopford, before a congregation of 450. In his address he said - perhaps somewhat over-simplifying the issues, since the glory of God was not the only motive for the original building -The Christian knows that no building can really be worthy to be the house of God ... Whether it be a little church in a village or a great and glorious cathedral the purpose is the same - to express our reverence of God. Two-and-a-half centuries ago an architect of genius built three great churches in East London - churches which I suspect even in the day in which they were built were criticized as being too big and too elaborate. But Hawksmoor was building for the glory of God. This church served the worship of God for two-and-a-half centuries until the war destroyed it, and now we thank God it has been restored. The crucifer on this occasion was Brian Hill, and the servers Percy [aka Richard] Chance (left) and John Hines (right). Percy was the sacristan, and his wife Irene [Rene] made some of the altar linen. He died in 1993 (his funeral was at the church) and Rene in September 2015. Thanks to Paul Chance for this information. He also was a server and acolyte, and married Carole here in 1978; they returned for the 50th anniversary of the rededication.

The Rectory was located in the church, on two floors, and the parsonage house became 'The Old Rectory', let out to various tenants. (It has now been restored to its original use.) Here and here are details of some events in the new crypt hall, and in and around the church.

Around this time the Brotherhood of Prayer and Action had established a house at 220 Cable Street and participated in parish life. Originally known as the ICF [Industrial Christian Fellowship] Brotherhood of St George, this was a small lay community of working men, single and married, founded in 1960 and centred on St George's House Wolverhampton with branches elsewhere. They offered a 'ministry of concern', sharing their homes with those in need of hospitality. Some of them worked with homless meths drinkers at St Botolph's crypt. When on church business, they wore a cassock with a green girdle, and at other times their 'Chi-Rho' brotherhood emblem. Arthur Greenwood (with a strong Brummie accent!), Frank Berry and Richard Smith were key members: see here for the corona lucis above the font which they designed and made. There is more detail about the Brotherhood in Peter Anson The Call of the Cloister (SPCK 1964) p219, and Anton Wallach-Clifford writes about their work at St Botolph's Crypt in No Fixed Abode (Macmillan 1974). Right is a 1970s oil painting by Noel Gibson of the church from Cable Street.

In 1971 St George's took on responsibility for St Paul Dock Street (which had previously incorporated St Mark Whitechapel when this closed in 1925); worship continued there until 1990, when the parish name changed from 'St George-in-the-East with Christ Church and St John' to 'St George-in-the-East with St Paul'. With all our daughter churches gone (except for St Mary Cable Street and St Peter London Docks, which remained as separate parishes) we had come full circle. Left - a view from 1977.

Details of the clergy who served the parish during the 20th century and beyond are here. See here for a 1971 letter sent to the parish by Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, Dean of Johannesberg convicted for offences against the apartheid regime in South Africa.


A changing parish

The parish, like the church, has been massively rebuilt, and social change continues apace. [Left: panorama looking north from the tower; right a night sky]

'The King's Highway' - various schemes of the 80's, 90's and 00's
There are three separate Anglican parishes in close proximity along or close The Highway - ourselves, St Paul Shadwell and St Mary Cable Street - as well as St Peter London Docks a few hundred yards down Wapping Lane.  (The last two were founded from St George-in-the-East.) In addition, as explained above, St George's had taken on responsibility for St Paul Dock Street.

The viability, staffing and future use of these churches was extensively considered in the 1980s, at which time we had no resident priest, but shared Julian Scharf with St Paul Shadwell (from 1979-86); see here for details of the major Auschwitz exhibition of 1983 held in the crypt during in his time.The Stepney Area Pastoral Committee conducted a review of the pastoral provision for all the parishes south of the Commercial Road. As required under the 1983 Pastoral Measure when re-organisation is in prospect, a report from the Council for the Care of Churches [now Church Buildings Council], a report was made on the architectural and aesthetic significance of St George's (PM 1298 - this and many other documents from this period are held at the Church of England Record Centre in Bermondsey).  Unsurprisingly, this concluded that St George's is a building of international significance, adding that the 1960s interventions were a worthy example of the 'solutions' of that period.

In late 1985 the Committee produced a report which recommended declaring St George-in-the-East redundant and developing it for housing, shifting worship elsewhere: to St Paul Shadwell (also a listed buildin
g, but then in poor condition), St Paul Dock Street (undistinguished, and also in poor condition), or St Mary Cable Street (with the idea that this church, of lesser architectural significance and likely to require major work in the future, might be rebuilt); they also mooted building a new multi-purpose church in the area of Wellclose Square, or on the former site of St John Golding Street. See here for the text of the report and  parish and other responses.  In the event, a further consultation was held, and a working party set up, with a mixture of national experts (such as Dr Julian Litten) and members of the parish (including Leo Aylen), and chaired by Peter Burman, the Secretary of the Council for the Care of Churches - a sign of the importance of the building. This concluded that worship should continue at St George's, alongside the development of some major alternative use, for which various proposals were discussed, including In 1988 a resident incumbent, Gillean Craig, was once again appointed, and set about rebuilding parish life. In due course, through his musical contacts the Guildhall Ensemble, the postgraduate arm of the Performance and Skills Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, working to promote music in schools, hospitals, prisons and the local community, made its base in the crypt ten years later. In 1989 ambitious plans by architect Peter Renwick of Stanton Williams were prepared which would have adapted the church to make a permanent home for the Ensemble, leaving the 1960s worship space intact but creating a glazed atrium in the courtyard to let light into the crypt and provide public rooms, rehearsal space and galleries on four levels. In 1991 a public appeal for £4m was launched by the Bishop of Stepney and Lord Palumbo for a St George-in-the-East Centre - more about the scheme and the appeal here. But, despite a visit from Prince Charles [right inspecting a warden's stave], the project failed to attract sufficient financial support, and ended in frustration.

Throughout the decade both parish and diocese worked on a sustainable future for the church and parish. The parish set up St George-in-the-East Trust to promote development proposals, with some 'seedcorn' funding and a development worker (Melanie Hall, replaced in 2001 when she became an ordination candidate by Thrisa Haldar as project co-ordinator and fundraiser). A six-month Task Group, with church, local community and borough representatives, met in the first half of 1999 to clarify the vision, and was succeeded by a Development Committee. When Gillean Craig left St George's in 2002 - and St Paul Shadwell was also vacant - a further period of questioning followed, about future staffing in relation to the deanery as a whole, and about best use of the various parish buildings, some of them very large: our church, crypt, Rectory and Church House, Wellclose Square; St Paul's Church, crypt (which at that time housed a nursery school - since relocated here - see below), Institute and Rectory; and St Mary's church and hall (with a variety of community uses). The Bishop of London, who had previously been Bishop of Stepney, so knew the area well, made it clear that he was opposed to church closure - retreat is simply not an option - and stressed that each congregation should continue, maintaining their distinctive traditions. They are diverse, both liturgically and in relation to to women priests and bishops (which we strongly support); working together depends on good relationships!

The area, said Bishop Richard, has a distinguished history of Christian service to the 'old' East End, and remains in touch with the dwindling but precious remnant of that old world; but the new facts are the rise of Islam and the embourgisement of the Thames littoral.  The Highway - connecting the City with Docklands, and encompassing the new immigrant communities as well as the new wealth - symbolises this (though for all its symbolic significance it is somewhat off the beaten track - hence the failure of Tobacco Dock, opposite the church, as a shopping centre).

A King's Highway working group was set up, and detailed feasibility studies done of all the available buildings. From this emerged proposals for creating a 'Mission Action Zone' (MAZ), bringing together these three parishes - plus St Peter London Dock and St Dunstan Stepney which are also part of the local 'cluster' of churches - and the Royal Foundation of St Katharine. A great deal of energy was put into these discussions. In the event, and frustratingly, the MAZ also led nowhere. (Ironically, 41 years previously Fr Ken Leech, at that stage an ordinand who had worked in the area for four years, proposed a scheme of collaborative working in 'West Stepney' similar to the one envisaged for the MAZ, which you can read here. Ken, now retired to his home town of Mossley in Lancashire, kept the golden jubilee of his ordination in 2014.)

Instead, in 2004 the bishop invited Holy Trinity Brompton to plant a new congregation (made up of HTB members from across East London) at St Paul Shadwell; this began in January 2005, after work on the church. This impacted in various ways on the other local churches, unfortunately with limited consultation, and killed the MAZ process.

A new focus emerged. East London provides an ideal context for ministerial education, for clergy, Readers (Licensed Lay Ministers - LLMs) and others, and the North Thames Ministerial Training Course (NTMTC), in which London and Chelmsford dioceses are partners, needed a new home, after a difficult history elsewhere. The Bishop of London's vision for a 'Christian University of the Highway', encompassing local parishes and also the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (which could have provided residential accommodation for course weekends - though in the event did not), led to a decision, primarily at his behest, to re-locate the administration of the course to the eastern part of our crypt, which was converted at considerable expense by the diocese (the parish being in vacancy at the time), under a 25-year licence from the parish. The two dioceses made a clear commitment to maintaining a teaching base in East London; and in the event this space was used from 2005 not only for administration, but also (though not planned with this in mind) for the weekly Tuesday meetings - beginning with a shared meal in part of the nursery school and worship in the church, before the teaching sessions for each of the three year groups. Also, from 2010, because of the course's declared and apparently firm commitment  to East London, the Stepney episcopal area worked hard to bring its previously freestanding Reader (LLM) training under the NTMTC 'umbrella' - so that candidates for lay and ordained ministry could train together. Other areas of London diocese followed suit, with varying degrees of commitment. Middlesex University validates the academic components of the course's training (though the Bishop had hoped there might also be links with the 'archetypal' church foundation of King's College London, which was formerly a centre for ordination training).

In 2007, following the national recommendations for the setting up of regional training partnerships to bring together all the providers in each area, NTMTC became part of
St Mellitus College, with St Paul's Theological Centre (founded by Holy Trinity Brompton at St Paul's Onslow Square) as their major partner, along with other local courses. 'Generous orthodoxy' was the keyword.There were positive and practical reasons for this merger, though it was important that NTMTC should retain its own identity, as a course straddling all church traditions, and with an open and flexible style of teaching. However, with the financial pressures on ordination training (including the withdrawal of government funding for vocational courses) the decision was made that - despite the former commitment to East London - the College would no longer maintain a base here once all administration and teaching facilities moved to St Jude Courtfield Gardens in West Kensington (a redundant church adapted by Holy Trinity Brompton to be the centre for all St Mellitus activities). So in July 2012 the course moved out - see the newsletter of that month for further comments, and for an explanation of the temporary occupation of this space by Wapping High School.

In 2006 Green Gables Montessori Nursery School moved from the crypt at St Paul Shadwell to the western end of the crypt at St George's, the conversion work funded by the sale of Church House, Wellclose Square to the diocese. (This remains boarded and undeveloped, following the eviction of a community artists' squat, but we hope the diocese will soon find new tenants.) Maxwell Hutchinson Studios were the architects, working in close collaboration with the parish; Maxwell Hutchinson [right] is a well-known broadcaster, writer and visiting professor, and a friend of St George's, who preached here at an anniversary service; he was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2014 [far right], and wrote in Church Times of 19 Dember 2014 about his and his wife's experience of being present at the tsunami ten years ago.

Church and Rectory
[Left in 2004, picture by John Bell]: as explained above, the crypt now houses a variety of other users. We are looking hard at how we should best use the rest of our rather complicated building to further the mission of the church and serve our community, responding to the ever-changing scene. We now have two good meeting rooms, each with access to kitchen and toilet facilities, available for a variety of uses.

When Gillean Graig was Rector, he restored the Rectory, with English Heritage funding: more detail and drawings here. Victorian additions were removed and it became once more the finest classical parsonage house in London. In the basement flat lived Edith Wyeth (pictured), whose home for nearly all her life was around the church site (she was baptized here in 1924); she and her husband were the churchwardens when the new church was consecrated. In recognition of her lifelong service to the parish, the Bishop of London made her a member of the Order of St Mellitus in 2007. St Mellitus (d.624) was the first Bishop of London, and third Archbishop of Canterbury. Canon Michael Saward (1932-2015), who in retirement was a member of our congregation for some years, when he lived locally, wrote this hymn about him, originally sung at St Paul's Cathedral where he was on its staff. Edith stood down as warden in 2009 after over 50 years of service, but remained closely involved in all aspects of parish life right up to her death, at the age of 87, in March 2011. She maintained contact with an astonishing number of people from the past, but was also full of hopes and dreams for the future. We pray that her own future with the God whom she served so faithfully all her life will bring her peace and joy! See the address at her funeral here.

So a good text for us to take with us into God's future for the parish is Matthew 13.52 (REB):
Jesus said, When a teacher of the law has become a learner in the kingdom of Heaven,
he is like a householder who can produce from his store things new and old.

Homepage | About Us | Services & Events | Church & Churchyard | History
Newsletters & Sermons | Contacts, Links & Registers | Giving | Picture Gallery
 | Site Map