A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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Parishes in the county of Middlesex lying eastward from the Tower.
These parishes, which are chiefly inhabited by seafaring persons, and those whose business depends upon shipping in various capacities, are in general close and ill built: therefore afford very little worthy observation except the parish churches, which will be mentioned in their order.
On the east side of St. Catharine's court just below the Tower, stands the parish church dedicated to St. Catharine; which originally belonged to an hospital founded by Matilda, consort to king Stephen, and was farther endowed by queen Eleanor, the relict of Henry III. queen Eleanor consort to Edward I. and king Henry VI. who not only confirmed all the former grants, and added several additional ones, but gave an ample charter to this hospital. It was exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop of London, till its suppression by Henry VIII. soon after which king Edward VI. annexed it to the diocese of London. The church, which is a very antique building, is at present collegiate, and has a master and three brethren, who have 40l. each; three sisters who have 20l. and ten beadswomen who have 8l. per annum each: but the other profits arising from their estates, being only known to the master and brethren, are divided amongst them. To this precinct belong two courts; in one of which actions of debt for any sum are tried weekly on Thursdays: and in the other, which depends upon the civil law, are decided ecclesiastical matters.
On the north side of the street called Wapping, which extends along the river side, stands the parish church of St. John's Wapping; which was built in 1617 as a chapel of ease to St. Mary's Whitechapel. But by the great increase of buildings, the hamlet of Wapping was in 1694 constituted a distinct parish; and the advowson of the rectory remains in the principal and scholars of King's hall and Brazen-nose-college Oxford. This church, which was built at the expence of 1600l. is a very mean building, it consisting of a plain body, a tower which scarcely deserves the name, and a spire that might be taken for a lengthened chimney (fn. 1).
This parish consists of very narrow ill built streets carried close to the river banks. At the place called Execution-dock, all pirates and others condemned for offences on the high seas, at the Admiralty sessions, are executed on a gibbet at low water mark.
On the north side of Ratcliffe-highway stands the parish church of St. George's in the east, one of the fifty new churches; the foundation of which was laid in 1715, though the building was not compleated until 1729. It is a massy structure, erected in a peculiar taste. The floor is properly raised a considerable height above the level of the ground; and to the principal door, which is in the west front of the tower, is an ascent by a double flight of steps, cut with a sweep, and defended by a low wall of the same form. But what is singular in this structure is, there are turrets over the body of the church, as well as one on the tower; which last is in the manner of a fortification, with a staff on the top supported by stays like a mast, for an occasional flag.
The parish is taken out of that of Stepney; and by act of parliament (fn. 2) the hamlet of Wapping Stepney is appropriated to that purpose, in all respects independent of Stepney parish. The advowson of this rectory, like that of Stepney, is in the principal and scholars of King's-hall, and Brazen-nose college, Oxford.
Shadwell, though now joined to London, was anciently a hamlet belonging to Stepney; but being greatly increased in the number of its inhabitants, Thomas Neale, Esq; erected the present church in the year 1656 for their accommodation. In 1669, this district was constituted a distinct parish from that of Stepney, and the advowson of the rectory is in the dean and chapter of St. Paul's in London. It is one of the Tower hamlets, and received its name from a fine spring which issues from the south wall of the church yard. The parish is, from its situation, divided into upper and lower Shadwell, lower Shadwell being antiently a part of Wapping marsh.
The church of St. Paul's Shadwell, which stands on the south side of Upper Shadwell, is but a mean edifice built with brick, 87 feet long, and 63 broad; the height to the roof is 28 feet, and that of the steeple 60. The body has a few windows with rustic arches, and some very mean ones like garret windows in the roof. At the corners of the building are balls placed on a kind of small pedestals. The tower is carried up without ornament, and is terminated with balls at the corners in the same manner as the body of the church, and is crowned with a plain low turret.
There is a market in Shadwell for the supply of provisions for the neighbourhood; and being remote from the center of the town, the inhabitants have water works of their own to furnish them with river water.
Whitechapel is connected by buildings to Mile End; so called as being a mile distant from Aldgate: and on the south side of Mile End lies the antient village of Stepney; now considered as a straggling appendage of this great metropolis, which stretches out beyond it on the north and south sides. This parish was of such a vast extent, and so amazingly encreased in buildings, as to produce the parishes of St. Mary Stratford at Bow, St. Mary Whitechapel, St. Ann's Limehouse, St. John's at Wapping, St. Paul's Shadwell, St. George's Ratcliffehighway, Christ-church Spitalfields, and St. Matthew's Bethnal-green; all which have been separated from it, and yet it still remains one of the largest parishes within the bills of mortality, and contains the hamlets of Mile-end, old and new towns, Poplar, and part of Ratcliffe.
There was a church here so long ago as the time of the Saxons, when it was called the church of all saints, Ecclesia omnium Sanctorum; and we read of the manor of Stepney under the reign of William the Conqueror, by the name of Stibenhede, or Stiben's-heath: but it does not appear when the church changed fits name by being dedicated to St. Dunstan, whose name it at present bears. To this church belong both a rectory, and vicarage; the former, which was a fine-cure, was in the gift of the bishop of London, and the latter, in the gift of a rector, till Ridley, bishop of London, gave the manor of Stepney, and the advowson of the church to Edward VI. who, in his turn, granted them to Sir Thomas Wentworth, lord chamberlain of his houshold. But the advowson being afterward purchased by the principal and scholars of King's-hall and brazen-nose college in Oxford, they presented two persons to the rectory and vicarage by the name of the Portionists of Ratcliff and Spitalfields, till the year 1744; when the hamlet of Bethnal-green being separated from it, Stepney became possessed by only one rector.
When the present church was erected is not recorded; the wall and battlements are built of brick and wrought stone, plaistered over; and the roof is covered with lead. It is of a very considerable extent, for it is 104 feet long, though no more than 54 broad; the height of the roof is 35 feet, and that of the tower, with its turret, 92 feet. The pillars, arches and windows, are of the modern Gothic, and the west porch, built in 1610, has no resemblance to the rest of the building, it being of the Tuscan order. The tower, which is plain and heavy, is supported at the corners by a kind of double buttresses; it is crowned with a small mean turret; and the same kind of battlements are carried round the body of the church. On the east side of the portico, leading up to the gallery on the north side of the chancel, is a stone, whereon are engraved the following words:
"Of Carthage great I was a stone,
O mortals read with pity!
Time consumes all, it spareth none,
Men, mountains, towns, nor city:
Therefore, O mortals! all bethink
You whereunto you must,
Since now such stately buildings
Lie buried in the dust."
Mile End, which has been already observed to be a continuation of Whitechapel, stretches along the north side of Stepney; and is distinguished into Mile End old town, and Mile End new town: both which hamlets are in Stepney parish. Here the spirit of the building is carried on with such alacrity, that the great road from Mile End turnpike is almost inclosed on both sides with regular well built houses to the village of Bow.
The hamlet of Poplar, which together with Blackwall form a street more than a mile in length along the Thames to the east of Limehouse, obtained its name from the great number of poplar trees that anciently grew there. The chapel of Poplar was erected in the year 1654, when the ground upon which it was built, together with the church-yard, were given by the East India company; and the edifice was erected by the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants and others: since that time the company has not only provided the minister a convenient dwelling house, with a garden and field containing about three acres, but has allowed him 20l. por annum during pleasure. But this chapel for want of an endowment continues unconsecrated.
Poplar marsh is a large peninsula, almost three miles round, made by the winding of the river; opposite Greenwich. It is more generally known by the name of the Isle of Dogs, from the great noise made by the king's hounds that were kept there during the residence of the royal family at Greenwich. This marsh is reckoned one of the richest spots of ground in England; for it not only raises the largest cattle, but the grass it bears is esteemed a great restorative of all distempered cattle.
Across the isthmus or neck of land within which the Isle of Dogs is contained the street called Poplar stretches to Blackwall; at the east extremity. This is distinguished for being the place where the East India ships generally moor outward or homeward; as they seldom come much higher up the river. Here is a considerable ship-yard where they are both built and laid up.
At the west or hithermost extremity of this isthmus, is Limehouse, formerly a hamlet of Stepney; but being joined to the metropolis by the great increase of seafaring inhabitants owing to the extension of our trade, one of the fifty new churches was erected in it and dedicated to St. Anne. The foundation was laid in the year 1712, and the present structure finished in 1729; but the inhabitants of this hamlet not applying to parliament to have it erected into a parish till the year 1729 (fn. 3), it was not consecrated till 1730.
This church is of a very singular construction, the body is not one plain building, but is continued under separate portions. The door under the tower has a portico, covered with a dome supported by pilasters, and to this door there is an ascent by a flight of plain steps. Its square tower has a large Corinthian window adorned with columns and pilasters. The corners of the tower are also strengthened by pilasters, which on their tops support vases. The upper stage of the tower is plain, and extremely heavy, and from this part rises a turret at each corner, and a more lofty one in the middle. The advowson of the rectory, which is not to be held in commendam, is in the principal and scholars of King's hall and Brazen-nose college, Oxford.