Bethnal Green

The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1795.

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'Bethnal Green', in The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex, (London, 1795) pp. 27-38. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]


Bethnal-Green made a parish.

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).



Nature of land and foil.

Brick. Fields.


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.

Beggar of Bethnal-Green.

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.

Kirby Castle.

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.

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.

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).

Robert Ainsworth. William Caflon.

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).

Chapel at Bethnal-Green.

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).

Removal of Aldgate.

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).

Church of St. Matthew.

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.

Tombs in the church and church-yard.

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.

Parish register.

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.
1780–1784 373 1/5; 307
1784–1789 358 1/5; 362 2/5;
1790 418 303
1791 432 310
1792 502 352

Comparative state of population.

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.

Instances of longevity.

The following instances of longevity occur in the parish clerk's books, in which the ages of the deceased are inserted; Bethnal-Green being within the bills of mortality.

"Charles Marratt of Brick-lane, aged 99, buried January 15, 1748–9."

"Anne Postel, aged 100, buried October 24, 1749."

"Samuel Gates, aged 100, buried March 4, 1749-50."

"Margaret Lord, of Lord's Farm, aged 99, buried January 2, 1754."

"Bridget Fossett, aged 102, buried April 3, 1757."

"Mary Nash, aged 107, buried July 29, 1790."

"Mary Twits, aged 98, buried October 2, 1791."

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 Barker is said to have died at Bethnal-Green, in June 1762, aged 101 (fn. 26); and Mrs. Anne Hart in February 1765, aged 102. (fn. 27)



Subscription School

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.

On the Green there is a meeting-house for the Presbyterian Dissenters.

Burial-ground of the Dutch Jews.

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.

Instances of longevity

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.


  • 1. Alice de Bathon died 2 Edw. I. seized of 2 messuage, &c. in Stepney, Esch. 2 Ed. I. No. 1. John de Bathonia her son, died 19 Edw. I. Esch. No. 13.
  • 2. Described by that name, and directed to be so called in the act of parliament.
  • 3. Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. ii. p. 162.
  • 4. Stow's Survey of London, edit. 1755. vol. ii. p. 47.
  • 5. Sir Hugh Platt is described as of Kirby Castle, in the epitaph of his son (who died A. D. 1637) at Highgate. In 1594, Sir Hugh lived at the neighbouring house, called Bishop's Hall, as he says himself, in his "Jewell-house of Art and Nature."
  • 6. Funeral certificate.
  • 7. Court-rolls of the manor.
  • 8. Biograph. Brit.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Funeral certificate.
  • 11. The Museum Minervæ was an academy instituted by Sir Francis Kynaston, (Esquire of the body to Charles the First,) A.D. 1635, in which year the king granted his letters-patent, whereby a house in Covent-garden, which Sir Francis had purchased, and furnished with books, manuscripts, musical and mathematical instruments, paintings, statues, antiques, &c. was appropriated for ever as a college for the education of the young nobility and others, under the name of the Museum Minervæ. Sir Francis Kynaston was made the governor under the title of Regent; Edward May, Thomas Hunt, Nicholas Phiske, John Spidell, Walter Salter, Michael Mason, fellows and professors of philosophy and medicine, music, astronomy, geometry, languages, &c. They had power to elect prosessors also of horsemanship, dancing, painting, engraving, &c.; were made a body corporate, were permitted to use a common seal, and to possess goods and lands in mortmain. Pat. 11 Car. pt. 8. No. 14. Sir Francis Kynaston published the Constitutions of the Museum Minervæ.
  • 12. The terms for teaching all these arts and sciences were 61. per month, of which 3l. was charged for teaching to ride the great horse. Gentlemen were boarded at 3l. per month. No gentleman of age bound to engage to board for more than one month; those of 16 or 18 years old for a quarter of a year. Perfect Diurnal, Feb. 11, 1650.
  • 13. On Wednesday next, the second public gratis lecture concerning cosmography, "with 'other academical entertainments for the lo"vers of learning." Perfect Diurnal, Nov. 23, 1649. Wednesday, 12 Dec. "Lecture "on navigation, succinct orations in Hebrew "on the creation of the world, with an aca"demical entertainment of music, so there be "time for the same." Perfect Diurnal, Dec. 7–14. "The lecture for the next week designed for the ladies and honourable women of this nation on the art of speaking." Perfect Occurrences, Dec. 14. "Sir Balthazer Gerbier desires, that if any lady or virtuous matron will attend his lectures, they will give notice, that they may be the better accommodated according to their quality." Several Proceedings of Parliament, Dec. 21–. Feb. 20, Lecture on music, gratis; when those who are expert in the art have promised to make good what the lecture says in commendation of it." Perfect Diurnal, Feb. 11, &c. 1650. "July 30, was exhibited a Spanish ancient Brazilean course, called Juego de Cannas—the throwing of darts against the desendants with shields, (the ground white, covered with flaming stars: the motto,"sans vouloir mal faire,") with an intermixed seigned fight with the sword, and the running of the ring." Perfect Occurrences, July 27, 1649. Some of the public exercises above-mentioned were in the White Friars, whither Sir Balthazer removed his academy in the winter. In some of his advertisements he complains much of "the extraordinary concourse of unruly people who robbed him, (Tuesday's Journal, Aug. 17, 1649,) and treated with savage rudeness his extraordinary services." Several Proceedings of Parliament, Jan. 11, 1650.
  • 14. Perfect Occurrences, Dec. 14, 1649.
  • 15. "All my other speeches, of what colour soever, I give to help Sir Balthazer's art of well speaking."
  • 16. In one of his advertisements, he prosesses to lend from one shilling to fix, gratis, to such as are in extreme need, and have not wherewithal to endeavour their subsistence; whereas, week by week, they may drive on some trade." In the same advertisement he says, "the rarities heretofore-mentioned in a small printed bill are exposed to sale daily at the academy." Perfect Diurnal, March 4, 1650.
  • 17. Whitlock's Memorials, p. 441.
  • 18. After his return, he advertised a narrative of the ill usage he had received from the Dutch, who killed one of his daughters, wounded another, and threatened his own life. In his advertisement he recommends a settlement in South America, whence might be procured, he says, sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, spices, gums, colours, drugs, and dying materials." Mercurius Politicus, Dec. 6–13, 1660.
  • 19. Biograph. Brit.
  • 20. Biograph. Brit. new edit.
  • 21. Biograph. Brit. and Nichols's Anecdotes of Bowyer, p. 317.
  • 22. Repertorium, vol. i. p. 743. I think it does not seem clear that the chapel, with a messuage under the same roof leased by Bishop Bonner, 1 Edw. VI. to Sir Ralph Warren, was this chapel on the Green.
  • 23. P. 17. Lord Wentworth had the manor.
  • 24. See p. 29, note 5.
  • 25. The clerk's books have not been preserved between the years 1762 and 1789.
  • 26. Annual Register.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. The principal benefactors were Mr. James Le Grew, who, in 1778, gave the sum of 100l. 3 per cents.; James Limborough, Esq. in 1783, 300l. 3 per cent. consol. Bank ann.; Mr. Michael Le Mounier in 1783, 50l.; Mr. George Leeds in 1785, 100l. 4 per cent. consol.; Mr. Peter Debeze in 1791, 500l. 3 per cent. New South Sea annuities : all the above benefactions, except Mr. Le Grew's, were by will.