Stepney: Roman Catholicism to c.1700

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.

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'Stepney: Roman Catholicism to c.1700', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green, (London, 1998) pp. 81. British History Online [accessed 5 March 2024]


Stepney's maritime role probably accounted for many reports of papists. In 1594 Thomas Leeds was said to keep a priest in Thorne House, Wapping, and his friend Nicholas Wolfe to have a hidingplace and altar in Washington House nearby. (fn. 1) A seaman called Hill who lived at the Green Dragon, Ratcliff, was reported to bring many seminary priests into England. (fn. 2) The Jesuit Henry Garnett had a house in Spitalfields in 1597 (fn. 3) and a Jesuit called Stansby or Drury was in Poplar in 1605. (fn. 4)

Papists reported in the 17th century were connected with foreign textile workers in and around Spitalfields or with Irish immigration into the riverside hamlets in the 1630s. (fn. 5) Recusants in 1678 included 30 from Spitalfields, 15 from Bethnal Green, and 9 from Wapping-Stepney. (fn. 6) In 1680 35 were listed for Spitalfields, 15 for Stepney and Spitalfields, 20 for Bethnal Green, 18 for Stepney, 14 for Stepney and Wapping-Stepney, and 3 for Poplar; in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green most were apparently foreign. (fn. 7) Individuals summonsed in 1678-9 included two weavers of Spitalfields with foreign surnames, a victualler of Mile End, and a framework-knitter and a weaver of Bethnal Green. Three foreign tapestry-workers of Bethnal Green stood surety for 16 suspected papists, mostly with foreign surnames; a carver and a sculptor of Blackwall were also suspected. (fn. 8) John Potter of Poplar, accused in 1681 of harbouring papists, claimed that one was his Italian servant and that two who had escaped were visitors from Holland. (fn. 9) In 1690 a house in Spitalfields was to be searched for articles used in several London chapels. (fn. 10) The curate of Stepney had thought that there were no papists in 1706 but found eight, in Wapping, Bethnal Green, Mile End New Town, and Spitalfields. (fn. 11) In 1714 about 60 names were reported, in Ratcliff, Wapping, Spitalfields, and Mile End New Town. (fn. 12)


  • 1. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1591-4, 510.
  • 2. Ibid. 511.
  • 3. D.N.B.
  • 4. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1603-10, 264.
  • 5. Recusant Hist. x. 124.
  • 6. Hist. MSS. Com. 17, 11th Rep. II, H.L., p. 59.
  • 7. G.L.R.O., MR/RR 3.
  • 8. Mdx. County Rec. iv. 101-2, 115, 118-19, 129.
  • 9. Hist. MSS. Com. 17, 11th Rep. II, H.L., pp. 148-9.
  • 10. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1689-90, 538.
  • 11. Guildhall MS. 9800, file 2.
  • 12. G.L.R.O., MR/RR 22/8; list largely illegible. Details of individual congs. reserved for treatment under hamlets.