The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1795.
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THE very populous and extensive parish of Stepney having before suffered some diminutions, was again abridged in the year 1743, by the separation of the hamlet of Bethnal-Green, which was then by act of parliament made a distinct parish.
The Green, from which the hamlet derived its name, lies about half a mile beyond the suburbs. I think it not improbable that Bethnal may have been a corruption of Bathon-Hall; and that it was the residence of the family of Bathon, or Bathonia, who had considerable property at Stepney in the reign of Edward the First (fn. 1).
The parish of St. Matthew, Bethnal-Green (fn. 2), extends over a considerable part of the suburbs of the metropolis, and reaches almost to Spitalfields. It is bounded on the north by Hackney; on the east by Stratford-Bow; on the west by St. Leonard's, Shoreditch; and on the south by Christ-church, Spitalfields, and Mile End New Town, a hamlet of Stepney. It appears by an actual survey of the hamlet of Bethnal-Green, (which was co-extensive with the present parish,) made in 1703, that it then contained about 550 acres of land, besides that which was occupied by buildings; this quantity is now somewhat abridged by the great increase of houses within the last five years. There are now about 190 acres of arable, about 160 of grass land, and about 140 occupied by market gardeners: the arable land frequently produces two crops in the year, one of corn and the other of garden vegetables. The soil is for the most part a rich loam. The brick-fields in this parish not only furnish bricks sufficient for the new buildings there, but a considerable quantity also for general sale. Bethnal-Green pays the sum of 1107l. 16s. 9d. to the land-tax, which, in the year 1792, was at the rate of 1s. 4d. in the pound.
The town-part of this parish is extremely populous, being inhabited principally by journeymen weavers, who live three or four families in a house, and work at home at their looms and reels for the master weavers in Spitalfields. In St. John-street is an extensive cotton manufacture belonging to Messrs Paty and Byrchall, which was established about the year 1783, and employs from 200 to 300 hands. At the end of Pollard's-row, near the Hackneyroad, is a new manufacture lately established by Messrs. Hegner, Ehrliholtzer, and Co. for making "water-proof flaxen-pipe hose for fire-engines, brewers, ships, &c. they are wove tubular, without seams, and made to any length and of any diameter." The manufacture is yet in its infancy, and at present employs but a few hands.
The well-known ballad of the Beggar of Bethnal-Green was written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth: the legend is told of the reign of Henry the Third; and Henry de Montfort, (son of the Earl of Leicester,) who was supposed to have fallen at the battle of Evesham, is the hero (fn. 3). Though it is probable that the author might have fixed upon any other spot with equal propriety for the residence of his beggar, the story nevertheless seems to have gained much credit in the village, where it decorates not only the sign-posts of the publicans, but the staff of the parish beadle; and so convinced are some of the inhabitants of its truth, that they shew an ancient house upon the Green as the palace of the blind beggar; and point out two turrets at the extremities of the court wall as the places where he deposited his gains.
The old mansion above-mentioned, called in the survey of 1703 Bethnal-Green-house, was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by John Kirby, citizen of London. Fleetwood, the recorder of London, in a letter to the lord treasurer (about the year 1578), mentions the death of "John Kirby, who built the fair house upon BethnalGreen, which house, lofty like a castle, occasioned certain rhimes abusive of him and some other city builders of great houses, who had prejudiced themselves thereby; viz. Kirby's Castle, and Fisher's Folly; Spinola's Pleasure, and Meggs's Glory (fn. 4)." This house was afterwards the residence of Sir Hugh Platt, Knt. author of "the Gar"den of Eden," "the Jewell-house of Art and Nature," and other works (fn. 5). Sir William Ryder, Knt. died there in 1669 (fn. 6), it being then his property (fn. 7). It now belongs to James Stratton, Esq. of Hackney, and has for many years been used for the reception of insane persons. It is still called in the writings Kirby Castle.
Sir Richard Gresham, a citizen of great note in the reign of Henry VIII. and father of the celebrated Sir Thomas Gresham, generally resided at Bethnal-Green (fn. 8). It was in consequence of his suggestion and advice that the convents of St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew were converted into public hospitals (fn. 9).
Sir Thomas Grey, Knt. died at his house at Bethnal-Green, August 7, 1570 (fn. 10).
Sir Balthazer Gerbier, an enterprising projector of the last century, by profession a painter and an architect, but not very eminent as either, opened an academy at Bethnal-Green, anno 1649, in imitation as it should seem of the Museum Minervæ. (fn. 11) Here, in addition to the more common branches of education, he prosessed to teach astronomy, navigation, architecture, perspective, drawing, limning, engraving, sortification, fireworks, military discipline, the art of well speaking and civil conversation, history, constitutions, and maxims of state, and particular dispositions of nations, riding the great horse, scenes, exercises, and magnificent shows (fn. 12). Once a week, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Sir Balthazer gave a public lecture, gratis, on the various sciences which he previously advertised in the newspapers: a few specimens of these advertisements are given in the notes (fn. 13). Any person might speak or read at these public lec tures "on any subject, so that it was on unquestionable principles, warrantable terms, consonant with godliness, and with all due respect to the state (fn. 14)."
An account of Sir Balthazer Gerbier's academy was published in 1648, with his portrait prefixed; and in 1649, "the art of well "speaking," being one of the lectures delivered there gratis: this was ridiculed by Butler in his fictitious will of the Earl of Pembroke (fn. 15). Sir Balthazer seems to have been a very visionary schemer (fn. 16). After the failure of his academy, which soon happened (fn. 17), he went to America, where he was ill-treated by the Dutch, and narrowly escaped with his life (fn. 18). He afterwards returned to England, and designed the triumphal arch for the reception of Charles the Second (fn. 19).
Ainsworch, the learned editor of the dictionary which goes by his name, kept an academy at Bethnal-Green (fn. 20). William Caslon, the eminent letter-founder, died at his house there in 1766, some years after he had retired from business (fn. 21).
At the south-east corner of Bethnal-Green, stood a chapel, (on the site of which is now a private dwelling-house,) called, in the survey of 1703, St. George's chapel; of this I have not been able to obtain any farther information. Newcourt says, that at Bethnal-Green was formerly a chapel; but whether it was a chapel of ease, or only a private chapel, he could not find (fn. 22).
At the same corner of the Green is a house, which lately belonged to Ebenezer Mussell, Esq. who having a taste for antiquities, and being an inhabitant of the parish in which Aldgate stood, (at the time of its removal,) purchased the materials, and carried them to his house at Bethnal-Green, where they are still preserved in an adjoining building.
About a quarter of a mile to the east of Bethnal-Green, is the site of an ancient house, called Bishop's-hall, (now converted into two or three tenements,) said by tradition to have been the residence of Bishop Bonner. That it was his property I have no doubt; and there is good reason for supposing that it has been the manor-house of Stepney; for Norden calls "Bushoppe's-hall" the seat of the Lord Wentworth (fn. 23). Bishop Braybroke dates many of his episcopal acts from Stepney; but I have not seen one dated thence by any of his successors; which leads to a supposition that they did not reside there, but leased the house with the manerial estate. In 1594, Bishop'shall was the residence of Sir Hugh Platt, as mentioned before (fn. 24).
The church of St. Matthew Bethnal-Green, which is situated close to the suburbs, was consecrated July 15, 1746. It is built of brick with stone coins, and consists of an oblong square, with galleries on the north, south, and west sides. The communion-table stands within a recess at the east end. At the west end is a small square tower.
In the church are the tombs of John Brookbank, M. A. the first rector, who died in 1747; Mr. Thomas Windle, 1779; Mr. John Cheeseman, 1783; Mr. George Evans, 1791; and William Clarke, Esq. 1791. In the church-yard are those of William Luck, Esq. 1748; the Rev. William Gordon, M. A. the first lecturer, 1749; William Bridgman, Gent. 1760; Lewis Ourry, an emigrant from France, (anno 1701,) and many years an officer in the English army, 1771; Mr. Vincent Beverley, 1772; Captain Isaac Perry, 1773; Francis Campart, Gent. 1773; Elizabeth his relict, afterwards wife of the Rev. Thomas Greaves, vicar of Westoning, (Bedfordshire,) 1778; Mr. Abraham Mason, and Mary his wife, who died the same day, January 22, 1787; Captain William Curling, 1788; and Captain Matthew Curling, 1789.
The parish church of St. Matthew Bethnal-Green was, by the act of parliament above-mentioned, (viz. 16 Geo. II.) made a rectory, though it has no share in the great tithes, which were reserved to Brazen-Nose College, as patrons of the advowson of Stepney, and are received by the rector of that parish. By the same act it was directed, that the church-wardens should receive all the small tithes, Easter offerings, and all other dues within the parish, (except the surplice fees,) out of which they should pay the rector the sum of 130l. per annum, appropriating the remainder to the repairs of the church, and other parochial uses. The sum of 12l. per annum was reserved to the clerk of the parish of Stepney, as an equivalent for the loss he might sustain by the separation of the hamlet. Before the passing of this act, the rectory of Stepney had been divided by a former act (9 Queen Anne) into two equal portions. This division was by the act of 16 Geo. II. annulled; and it was enacted, that one of the portionists should be presented to the new benefice; and that the rectory of Stepney should for the future remain whole and undivided.
The first rector of St. Matthew Bethnal-Green was the Rev. John Brookbank, M. A.; the present rector is the Rev. William Loxham, M. A. who was instituted in 1766. The patronage is vested in the Principal and Fellows of Brazen-Nose College, Oxford.
The register of this parish is of the same date as the consecration of the church : before that period all entries relating to Bethnal-Green must be looked for in the parish registers at Stepney. The average of baptisms and burials since the year 1780, has been as follows:
|Average of Baptisms.||Average of Burials.|
|1784–1789||358 1/5;||362 2/5;|
It is to be observed, that the baptisms very much exceed the burials, which is a very unusual circumstance in the villages near London. Upon inquiry I find this is to be attributed to some private burial grounds in the neighbourhood, where the fees are somewhat lower than in that belonging to the church. One of this description has been lately made in the parish near the free-school. When the hamlet of Bethnal-Green was separated from Stepney, it was supposed to contain about 1800 houses; their number is now computed at 3500: the principal increase has been within the last three years: the increase of baptisms during those years bears nearly the same proportion.
There are entries also of one person of 90 and one of 93, buried in 1747;—two of 90, and one of 91, in 1749;—one of 90, in 1751;—one of 93, in 1754;—one of 90, in 1759;—one of 91, and one of 94, in 1761;—one of 91, in 1762;—one of 93, in 1789 (fn. 25);—one of 94, in 1790; two of 90, in 1791;—one of 93, in 1792;—and one of 94, in 1793.
Mr. Thomas Parmiter, in the year 1722, left certain estates in Suffolk, now let at 52l. per ann. for the purpose of building and endowing a free-school and alms-house for the benefit of the hamlet of Bethnal-Green. Mrs. Elizabeth Carter gave the ground rent free for the term of 600 years, and 10l. per ann. to educate ten boys. Mr. William Lee gave 10l. per ann. to the school; and Mr. Edward Mayhew 5l. per annum towards clothing the children. The trustees with some savings made an advantageous purchase of a piece of ground called Cambridge Heath in the parish, near the Hackney road, now let on building leases for 95 years, at the rent of 43 l. per ann. They have also a stock of 550l. South Sea annuities. With these funds they are enabled to educate 50 boys, and to supply them with shoes, stockings, and books. The school-master has 50l. per ann. and coals; the six alms-men, 5l. per ann. each, with a certain allowance of coals. A subscription-school has been instituted also in this parish, to which various benefactions have been given to the amount of above 1200l. as appears from the tables in the church (fn. 28). The funds being farther augmented by an annual subscription and occasional charity sermons, 30 boys, and the like number of girls, are thereby clothed, educated, and put out apprentices.
Bethnal-Green, containing about seven acres, was purchased by the principal inhabitants in the year 1667, of Lady Wentworth, lady of the manor of Stepney, for the sum of 200l. The property was then vested in trustees, who were to let it to the best advantage, and divide the rents between the poor inhabitants of the Green only, in coals and money. It now produces 34l. 16s. per ann. About three acres of it are inclosed within a nursery-ground.
The drapers' and dyers' alms-houses, and those founded by Captain Fisher in 1711, are situated within this parish. The two last have no farther connection with it. The former was founded in 1698, by John Pennell, citizen and draper, for four poor widows of seamen who have been in the service of the East India Company, and are of the parish of Stepney: one of these is always chosen from Bethnal-Green, the endowment having taken place previous to its separation from that parish. The poor of Bethnal-Green are entitled, on the same account, to an interest in Priscilla Coborne's legacy to the widows of seamen, and other benefactions left to Stepney before the year 1743. The average number of poor in the work-house is about 450.
Near Ducking-pond-row, within the parish of Bethnal-Green, is a burial-ground of the Dutch Jews belonging to the synagogue at BricklayersHall, in Leadenhall-street. The tombs of the Levites, whose office it is to pour water (in the synagogue) upon the hands of the Cohens, (or those of the tribe of Aaron,) are distinguished by the device of a hand pouring water out of a flagon; those of the tribe of Judah, by the device of two hands with the thumbs joined. The inscriptions are for the most part in Hebrew only. The following is one of the few English epitaphs:
S earch England or the universe around, A doctress so compleat cannot be found; M edicines prepar'd from herbs remove each ill, P ersect great cures and proclaim her skill: S ome hundreds her assistance frequent claim, O ften recorded by the trump of fame—N ow, reader, see if you can tell her name.
The date is 5550, which corresponds with 1790 of the Christian æra. Among the principal persons interred in this ground are Moses Jacob, founder of the synagogue above-mentioned, who died anno 1781; Lipman Spiar, a rabbi (no date); Dr. Benjamin Wolf Yonker, 1785; Mr. Daniel Mentz, son-in-law to Dr. de Folk, 1788; Michael Jacobs, Esq. 1788; Isaac Abraham, reader of the congregation, 1790; Anne, wife of Moses Levy, merchant, 1790. Two instances of remarkable longevity occur; viz. Mr. Solomon Myers, who died in 1778, aged 98; and Sarah Joseph, who died in 1782, at the age (according to her epitaph) of 107 years and 10 months. The keeper of the burial-ground assured me that she was a year older.