End Old Town
Parish of St Dunstan's Stepney covered a huge area of the East
End. Stepney was still fairly rural at the end of the eighteenth
century, but over the next fifty years building, and the population,
exploded, and the area became increasingly poverty stricken. From the
seventeenth century onwards many dissenting congregations sprang up here,
many with their own burial grounds. Some, such as the Stepney
Meeting House ground in White Horse Road, still survive. The Beaumont
ground (East London Cemetery in Shandy Street) and the Globe Fields
burial ground were commercial
speculations, only nominally dissenting. They provided cheap burials in
overcrowded and insanitary conditions.
Plague struck this part of London frequently, and the extensive acreage of St Dunstan's churchyard is a good indication of the mortality in outbreaks such as that of 1625. By the time of the Great Plague of 1665 the situation here was critical, and the parish resorted to plague pits scattered around the parish. Daniel Defoe says that
'Stepney parish, extending itself from the east part of
London to the north, even to the very edge of Shoreditch Churchyard, had
a piece of ground taken in to bury their dead close to the said
churchyard, and which for that very reason was left open, and is since,
I suppose, taken into the same churchyard. And they had also two other
burying-places in Spitalfields, one where since a chapel or tabernacle
has been built for ease to this great parish,* and another in Petticoat
were no less than five other grounds made use of for the parish of
Stepney at that time. One where now stands the parish church of St Paul,
Shadwell, and another where now stands the parish church of St John's at
Wapping, both of which had not the names of parishes at that time, but
were belonging to Stepney parish.'
- The burial ground adjoins the church, and is crowded to excess;
footpaths cross through it in every direction. The soil, largely imbued
with the products of putrefaction, is also extremely moist; many of the
tomb-stones have sunk deeply in the earth. Here the peculiar
putrefactive odour may be frequently distinguished, - as indeed it may
in many of the burial places I have described.
church is a very ancient one, of the gothic structure; in the centre,
below the east window, is placed a marble tablet, which is known in the
neighbourhood as the Fish and Ring (a fish and ring are cut on the top
of the tablet.)
following is a copy of the inscription engraved upon the tablet :.-
lieth interred the Body of Dame Rebecca Berry, the Wife of Thomas Elton,
of Stratford Bow, who departed this life April 26th, 1696, aged 52
" Come, ladies, you that would
The vestry in the same month put the situation even more plainly. 'the old Churchyard will affoord no more convenient place of Buriall without danger of Infection by reason of the noisomenes of the ground there so opened by reason of so many bodies formerlie enterred there.'
In April the vestry,
still concerned by the number of burials taking place near the church,
decided to restrict the sexton. Recent burials had been 'to the
great annoyance of the parish and danger of future infection, and that
there is space enough in other places with lesse inconvenience where
fewer bodies have bene buried.' Graves were to be dug at the north
side of the church beginning at the elms and 'so range along
westward by the pales and as neere as convenientlie may be not presuming
to come or digge within seaventeene yards of the church wall.' When
those places were filled the graves were to be dug on the south side
beginning on the east part to range along westward by the mud wall on
the south part of the church keeping the same distance from the
wall. The sexton was to be fined if
he dug graves anywhere else.
(Details from Memorials of Stepney by Hill & Frere.)
Early 19th century view
Visible at the top of this extract from Greenwood (1827)
View from the Street
(by kind permission of Mr Ken Russell See links for details of Ken's website)
Evidence of tidying up, June 2005
Scruffy yard south of the railway - the original ground almost certainly extended to here.
Lower two views by kind permission of Mr Ken Russell. See links for details of Ken's website)
Photo courtesy of Robert Bard
All photos by kind permission of Mr Ken Russell.
Jewish Cemetery, Mile End Road.
Novo Beth Chaim Cemetery.
Replaced Old Velho cemetery in 1725. Much of the cemetery was lost in 1970. In the grounds of St Mary's College.
At one time, a target for bodysnatchers. The Times of April 24th 1786 reports that ' 'carrion hunters' dressed up the corpse as a man, then two of them taking it between them, conducted it to the house of the purchasing surgeon, as if intoxicated'
4¾ acres. This belongs to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and is still in use. The gravestones are flat ones and low altar tombs, and the ground is neatly kept, although very bare. (Holmes)
Novo Beth Chaim Cemetery today
Horwoood's Map showing location of Jewish Cemeteries. 1 - Alderney Rd., 2 Old Velho Ground, 3 Novo Beth Chaim. Bancroft Almshouses ground shown in green. O.S. of 1873 shows Alderney Rd Ground extended eastward to connect with ground 2.
Large area to the south of the London Hospital, now mostly built over by hospital buildings. St Philip's was built 1818-19, rebuilt 1888-92: it still stands, a great, gaunt brick building, now a medical library. The Brewer's Garden (to the east of the church) is now built on, as is most of the small open area immediately to the south of the hospital north of Stepney Way.
Many acres to the south of the London Hospital were used for interments at the time of the plague, and the Brewers' Garden and the space by St. Philip's Church are, according to some authorities, part of the site originally called Stepney Mount. At the Home Office it is believed that there have been no burials in the ground round St. Philip's, nor have there since it was St. Philip's churchyard; but I think there were long before the first St. Philip's Church or the Brewers' Almshouses existed. The Brewers' Garden is open to the public at a charge of 1d. (Holmes)
St Philip's Church today
Site of the Garden at the rear of the London Hospital
The view today - the pub mentioned by Holmes is still there.