Fighting Closure 1985

The Stepney Area Pastoral Committee plan recommending closure of St George-in-the-East was issued towards the end of 1985. It was remarkably brief (only six pages) and made a number of unargued or spurious assumptions. Here is the text:

Stepney Area Pastoral Committee

1.1    To equip the Church for worship, mission and service of the community.
1.2    To lift the burden of excess plant and buildings from the living Christian community in the area between the Commercial Road and the Thames.
1.3    To free the staff and PCCs from impossible financial burdens and long-standing uncertainty, and clarify the future development of the parishes.
1.4    To strengthen and simplify the witness of the Church and work for greater unity and co-operation.
1.5    To contribute to the neighbourhood and the local community, taking full account of the large Moslem [sic] population of the area in question.
1.6    To take into account the fact that much of the plant under consideration provides homes for local people.
1.7    To preserve for the Church and for the neighbourhood its architectural treasures and retain as many of the resources as we can afford.
1.8    To provide effective staffing of the parishes suitable to the future mission, to ensure maximum co-operation and friendship by removing harmful boundaries, isolation and uncertainty.


1981 Census
1991 projected

St George-in-the-East 

St Mary, Cable Street 

St Paul, Shadwell 
3,000 3,250

St Peter, London Docks3,100

2.2    Deployable clergy

In 1981 the census showed Tower Hamlets as having a population of 142,841. There are 27 deployable clergy working in the Deanery. This gives a ratio of aproximately 1:5250. If the number of clergy remains unchanged, a fair distribution of clergy in 1991 would be for 4 clergy to serve the area covered by this report. The present deployment is: St George-in-the-East - 1 post; St Mary, Cable Street -1 post; St Paul, Shadwell -1 post; St Peter, London Docks - 1 post

2.3    Patronage

All four parishes are in the patronage of the Bishop of London, who delegates this task to the Bishop of Stepney. This eases any problems of re-organisation, but it means that any reduction in the number of parishes will reduce the amount of patronage available to the Bishop.

2.4    Parish plant and listing
  • St George-in-the-East: St George's Church (Grade A); Old Rectory (Grade II); St Paul's Church, Dock St (Grade C); St Paul's Vicarage (Grade II); St Paul's School (Grade II); Church House, Wellclose Sq (Grade II)
  • St Mary, Cable Street: St Mary's Church (Grade C); Clergy House and Hall (Unlisted); Two empty sites (Unlisted)
  • St Paul, Shadwell: St Paul's Church (Grade B) - railings and wall (Grade II); Institute (Grade II); St Paul's Rectory (Unlisted)
  • St Peter, London Docks: St Peter's Church (Grade B); St John's Tower (Grade II); St Peter's Clergy House (Grade II); St Peter's Primary School (new)
2.5    Churches of other denominations
  • Roman Catholic: St Mary & St Michael, Commercial Road, + convent, primary school, secondary school; English Martyrs, Prescot Street, + primary school;  St Patrick, Green Bank, Wapping + primary school
  • Methodist: St George's Church, Cable Street
  • Lutheran:  German Lutheran Church, Alie Street
  • Other: Strangers' Rest Evangelical Church
There are informal links with some of these churches, mainly at clergy level. There is the possibility of a join Anglican/Roman Catholic project in the crypt of St John of Wapping. The geographical distribution of the church buildings of other denominations does not at this time suggest any shared venture purely on the grounds of a more effective use of church premises, though it is hoped that ecumenical co-operation will develop.

2.6    Neighbouring Church of England churches north of the Thames
All Hallows by the Tower (west); St Dunstan, Stepney (north); St Anne, Limehouse (east); St Botolph, Aldgate (north)

2.7    Although there are plans to improve the crossings of the Highway, it remains the main barrier for people in the area. The Wapping area is being rapidly redeveloped, including the building of a new Church school. £130,000 is required to repair St George-in-the-East, which may well be only the first stage. St Paul Dock Street has been closed.


The Parishes
3.1    The area south of the Highway, including St Katharine's Dock, shall be one parish: St Peter Wapping with St Paul Shadwell.

3.2    The area north of the Highway will be two parishes:
    to the east of Cannon Street Road, the parish of St Mary, Cable Street
    to the west of Cannon Street Road the parish of St Paul, Dock Street

The Group Ministry
3.3    The three parishes shall be formed into a group ministry in order to create a greater level of co-operation and friendship in the service of Christ. Churchmanship differences have been a recurring source of division, and it is hoped that the future will see a greater degree of mutual support and understanding.

3.4    There will be a staff of 4, two serving north and two south of the Highway.

Church Buildings
3.5    St George-in-the-East   
This is one of the finest buildings in London. It will be preserved whatever its future use. It is not suitable for the present mission and resources of the Church in East London. It is proposed that St George-in-the-East be declared redundant.

3.6    St Mary Cable Street
This church is placed at the heart of its community. It is made of Kentish ragstone, and will therefore be subject to serious repair in the next 20 years. It is proposed that the Archdeacon of Hackney will chair a committee to investigate the options:-
    a) redevelopment of the church, hall and clergy house
    b) redevelopment of the clergy house and hall, with the refurbishment of the existing church.
The resources for this development would come from the disposal of St George-in-the-East and any proceeds from the development of the St Mary's complex.

3.7    St Paul Shadwell
This is a beautiful, historic church, excellent in every way except for its position. It must be preserved for the community, but is redundant as a centre of worship in these proposals, although a place for prayer might be retained. It is proposed that this church becomes a centre for the whole community of Shadwell in partnership between the Church, the local people and local authorities. This future development would be in the responsibility of the parish of Wapping and Shadwell. The Institute, when the present lease expires, could provide further resource.

3.8    St Peter, Wapping
This church is at the centre of the Wapping community and would be retained.

3.9    St Paul, Dock Street
This church would be retained. It is hoped that substantial assistance may be forthcoming from local commercial concerns to put this church and vicarage into good condition in return for some shared use. If the resources are not available for this purpose, then the second option we have considered, namely the development of Church House, Wellclose Square, with a shared use of St Paul's School hall as a worship place may be an alternative.

3.10    St Mary, Cable Street - new vicarage
3.11    St Peter Wapping with St Paul Shadwell - rectory at St Peter's for Rector and Assistant (but see 3.12).
3.12    St Paul, Dock Street - either St Paul, Dock Street vicarage, or St Paul Shadwell rectory (if not needed - possible assistant for St Peter Wapping with St Paul Shadwell) or Wellclose Square
3.13    St George's Rectory for disposal subject to rehousing of existing tenants (see 3.14, Roger to discuss with David Faull)
3.14    St George-in-the-East church accommodation - housing development encouraged, to include existing tenants of Church and Rectory.

To re-organise by creating:
  • the parishes of St Peter, Wapping with St Paul, Shadwell; St Paul, Dock Street; St Mary, Cable Street
  • with church premises at: St Peter, Wapping; St Mary, Cable Street; St Paul, Dock Street; and community centre at St Paul, Shadwell
  • with staff accommodation at St Mary, Cable Street; St Peter, Wapping; St Paul, Shadwell; Wellclose Square; St Paul, Dock Street
  • other accommodation, eg Housing Association - development of St George-in-the-East
February 1985: proposals shared with Stepney Area Pastoral Committee; Vicars; Churchwardens
9 months of consultation
October 10th: specific proposals to Stepney Area Pastoral Committee

The parish response
was put together by a working party and went through several revisions. It was careful and measured, and sought to rebut the arguments and assumptions point by point. To summarise:

Other responses
Alex Solomon, the former Rector, predictably reacted to the report with horror - see here for his response. A former curate Denys Giddey sent in a detailed critique of the report, as did Garth Barber, who was an honorary priest in the parish living on site at the time.

Press responses

Although the report was the work of a committee, press comment was inevitably personalised, focusing mainly on the Bishop of Stepney (Jim Thompson, a well-known broadcaster and media commentator), and to a lesser extent on the Archdeacon of Hackney, Roger Sharpley, who on 31 January was alleged to have entered into negotiations with potential backers on an alternative project, to turn the church into a church history museum, before the report had been accepted - see right, together with the wardens' response, and a letter suspecting a period of pretence rather than of careful study.

As for the Bishop, 'Churchmouse' asked the question Is the Bishop redundant? and Gavin Stamp took him to task in an extended piece in The Spectator of 8 March 1986, to which the Bishop replied in the next edition.

The plan came to nothing; return to the history page for the next episode in the saga.

Back to History