Stepney: Local Government

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: Local Government', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green, (London, 1998) pp. 63-70. British History Online [accessed 2 March 2024]

In this section



Pre-Conquest rights confirmed to the bishop and the chapter of St. Paul's in 1199 included exemption from all gelds, pleas, and suit of shire, the right to hold view of frankpledge, and profits from waste and forest jurisdiction in the bishop's own lands. He and his men were also quit of all tolls and customs. (fn. 1) In 1294 the bishop claimed view of frankpledge, the assize of bread and of ale, infangthief, outfangthief, felons' goods, waifs, strays, tumbril, pillory, and gallows for all the manors belonging to his Stepney view. (fn. 2) In 1395 the king confirmed the exemptions from exactions by the Exchequer and also waste, felons'and fugitives'goods, and other royalties and privileges. (fn. 3) Felons were hanged on the bishop's gallows in Stepney. (fn. 4) A whale beached at Stepney in 1309 was claimed by both the bishop and the chapter of St. Paul's, who had a manor by the river. (fn. 5) The rights conveyed with the manor in 1695 were specified as fairs, ferries, weights and measures, assize of wine and beer, sac, soc, tolls, dues, stallage, picage, pontage, treasure trove, returns and issue of all writs and mandates, gaol and prison. (fn. 6) By the late 16th century, however, the court leet no longer handled criminal cases, and the prison was used only for debtors. Customs, dues, picage, and stallage were attached to the market and fair established in 1664, and sold with them in the 18th century. (fn. 7)

Courts were held by 1228, (fn. 8) and records survive for 1318, 1348-9, 1361, 1383-4, 1402-3, 1405, 1443, 1509-10, 1581-2, and 1640-3. (fn. 9) A complete series of court books, many indexed, runs from 1654 until the abolition of copyhold in 1925. (fn. 10) Perquisites and pleas brought in 52s. 6d. during six months in 1228. (fn. 11) In 1362-3 they amounted to £40 3s. for five courts and the common fine of 64s. paid at the view of frankpledge, (fn. 12) but they varied from £22 13s. 5d. in 1391-2, to £45 4s. 11d. in 1398-9. (fn. 13) Much less was received in 1438-9 and 1464-5 from the view and two courts, apparently because Hackney was accounted for separately; most of the common fines from the view were several years in arrears in 1464-5. (fn. 14) Perquisites amounted to £20 6s. 7d. in 1517-18, again from a view and two courts, (fn. 15) and were valued at an average of £20 a year in the 1580s, when the common fine was still apparently paid by the same manors as in the 14th century. (fn. 16) In 1642 fines for copies were reckoned to yield £213 a year, payments at the court leet £50, waifs £60, and green wax £66, in addition to the leet fine, (fn. 17) while in 1652 fines and amercements at the courts, reliefs, waifs, strays, parcage, poundage, fowling (fishing was valued separately), and other royalties except return of writs were estimated at £463, (fn. 18) nearly four times the value of the quitrents and reserved rents on the demesne. Sales of the demesne had left perquisites of court as the most valuable part of the lordship.

Medieval courts presumably met at the manor house, probably still the meeting place in the early 16th century when bishops reserved the right to occupy the house for three months a year. The manor house was in ruins in 1652, (fn. 19) and courts were held in Whitechapel in 1655, (fn. 20) near Whitechapel church in 1677, (fn. 21) and at the New Court House on Mile End green, probably the court of record, in 1702. (fn. 22) Special courts were often held in taverns near the property being conveyed (fn. 23) and by the 19th century were often no more than meetings in the steward's office in the City. From the 1890s the general courts at Easter and in November were held at the Rising Sun, Green Street, Bethnal Green. (fn. 24)

The view of frankpledge was usually held on Hock day, the second Tuesday after Easter, as in 1349, although occasionally on another day in the second week after Easter; (fn. 25) it was fixed on Hock day in the customal of 1587. (fn. 26) The view reflected the extent of the bishop's Domesday manor, as it included men from the bishop's manors of Stepney, Hackney, and Harringay, and 11 other manors in Stepney, Hackney, Clerkenwell, and Islington, who each contributed to the common fine of 64s.: 20s. from Stepney, 16s. from Hackney, 5s. from Islington, 4s. each from Harringay and St. John of Jerusalem, 3s. 6d. from the St. Paul's manor of Shadwell; the rest paid 2s. or less. The view was always followed by a general court for Stepney and Hackney which dealt mainly with court leet business, and three or four other courts baron were held between September and April. The view was still held in 1582, when the inhabitants of Islington were in default of suit and payment of their contribution to the common fine, but by 1655 was simply called the leet and included only Stepney and Hackney residents; the common fine or poll money was paid only by tenants resident in those manors. (fn. 27) In 1581-2 general courts were held in December and April (after the view), and courts baron in May and July; transactions also took place out of court, and this and courts convened for individual transactions were common from 1654. (fn. 28) Under the confirmations of customs of 1587 and 1617 copyholders had to attend two general courts, one on Hock day and the other near the feast of St. Andrew, and up to 18 courts baron. (fn. 29)

Business at the view in 1349 concerned the assize of bread and of ale, defective ditches, and escheated holdings, but only for Stepney and Hackney. Each of the main settlements in Stepney presented its own offenders: Mile End, Stratford, Old Ford, Algatestreet (Whitechapel High Street), Haliwellstreet (Shoreditch High Street), Marsh (Isle of Dogs), and Poplar, were mentioned in the incomplete roll of 1348-9; Forby Lane (Limehouse), Clevestreet (Ratcliff), and Blethenale (Bethnal Green) occur in 1405. These areas were referred to as hamlets as early as c. 1400. (fn. 30) Business at the general courts concerned pleas between the bishop's tenants, for land, debt, and loss of service (rent) from their own tenants, besides land transfers for both customary and free tenants; encroachments on common land were also mentioned. By the late 16th century the general court after the view dealt with public nuisances: false weights and measures, adulteration, encroachments on pub lic ways, and offensive trades. Presentments in 1655 concerned defective paving and sewers, keeping pigs, uncovered and dangerous cellars, fouling the streets, and fraudulent sales. (fn. 31) As the only sanction was another presentment at the next court, courts were largely ineffective, particularly in densely built-up areas. (fn. 32)

Each of the main settlements was represented by two chief pledges in the 14th century, except Bethnal Green and Old Ford with one each, known as headboroughs by the 17th century; most if not all had one or two aletasters in 1349, and possibly their own constable, as did Mile End in 1385 and Limehouse in 1387. (fn. 33) By 1611 a constable was chosen by each hamlet to be sworn in at the court leet, and quarter sessions was prevented from removing a constable so chosen. (fn. 34) In 1640 officers were elected for 10 districts: Whitechapel, Spitalfields with Artillery Lane and Wentworth Street, Mile End, Ratcliff, Limehouse, Bethnal Green, Haliwell street, Stratford Bow, Wapping, and Blackwall and Poplar. Each had one constable, one aletaster (except Wapping with two), and two headboroughs (except Ratcliff with eight, and Whitechapel and Wapping with four each). (fn. 35) Between 1640 and 1655, in response to changes in population, Whitechapel was allotted five headboroughs with another two for Rosemary Lane, (fn. 36) and headboroughs seem to have served specific streets. (fn. 37) The leet still elected officers from names supplied by the town meeting of each hamlet at the end of the 18th century, (fn. 38) although on occasion the justices refused confirmation; in 1725 they ordered the constable in Mile End Old Town to submit to the leet a list of men who were not infirm. (fn. 39) In the 17th century the constables and headboroughs often received orders direct from the justices, particularly about conventicles. (fn. 40)

In 1335-6 wood from the manor was used for a new pillory at Stratford, (fn. 41) and in 1464-5 a decayed pillory and a cuckingstool were rebuilt. (fn. 42) The Privy Council in 1554 delivered offenders to the bailiff for punishment in the pillory and cuckingstool. (fn. 43) Gallows at Wapping, on the foreshore which belonged to the Crown, were for maritime felons; they were built or rebuilt in 1584. (fn. 44) The Ducking Pond, Ratcliff, was mentioned c. 1638, (fn. 45) and another at Mile End Gate, on the border of Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, where it was let for 99 years in 1715, though it seems to have been called the brick pond in 1642. (fn. 46) Pillories stood near the court house at Mile End (probably in Whitechapel parish), at Spitalfields market, and at Ratcliff Cross in the 1680s; possibly each hamlet had one, used for punishments set by the justices. (fn. 47) A cage stood in Ratcliff Highway in 1641. (fn. 48)

A bailiff of Stepney was recorded in 1283. (fn. 49) A reeve and separate beadles for Stepney and Hackney were given remittance of their rent and labour services in 1318, (fn. 50) but later there seems to have been a single official for each manor, called either reeve or beadle. Remittances were again granted in 1335-6, (fn. 51) and after services had been commuted were replaced by a wage, as in 1362-3 when a beadle, bailiff, and keeper of the manor were paid. (fn. 52) The beadle received 2d. a day (60s. 10d. a year) from 1383, as did the keeper in 1401. (fn. 53) A tenant who refused to serve as beadle forfeited his customary land. (fn. 54) A bailiff for the bishop's liberty of Middlesex was established c. 1400 and superseded Stepney's reeve in accounting for the soke of Cornhill, amercements from royal courts, strays, felons' goods, and rebuilding of the gallows; by 1439 he also received the socage rents in Stepney. (fn. 55) By 1458, when all the demesne had been let, Stepney's bailiff managed the farms and his deputy accounted for the revenue of the manor, while the beadle and the keeper were paid as before. (fn. 56) In 1517-18 there were a bailiff, a deputy who also collected the rents of Stepney marsh, and a paid keeper, but apparently no beadle. (fn. 57)

The keepership was leased c. 1530 to Thomas Pilkington for life, with the fee of 2d. a day, unspecified livery, and parcage and poundage (pawnage), which included 1d. for every impounded horse, ox, or cow not belonging to a manorial tenant, with a separate rate for every score of sheep. (fn. 58) The leases of Bishopshall to William Goddard and Thomas Parsons from 1538 to 1648 included the parcage, pawnage, and custody of the manor place. (fn. 59) Goddard, as reeve in 1539, received a fee of £3 6s. 8d. and livery. (fn. 60) John Colet, dean of St. Paul's, was said to have been reeve of Stepney in 1520 and may therefore have held the same lease. (fn. 61) In 1587 the homage presented 2 candidates for the reeveship to the lord each year, and the man chosen received £3 6s. 8d. and cloth for a coat. (fn. 62) In 1617 the reeve was to be chosen from tenants with lands worth at least £16 a year; a tenant refusing to act was fined £10. (fn. 63)

In 1587 and 1617 1d. poundage was paid for the animals of copyholders or their tenants, and 4d. for non-copyholders. (fn. 64) In 1617 tenants from each hamlet were chosen at the general court to drive the commons and impound strays; profits of poundage after expenses paid for scouring common ditches. (fn. 65) The lady of the manor in 1669 enclosed waste on the north side of Mile End Road just east of the junction with Cambridge Heath Road to build a new pound and house for the keeper. (fn. 66) In 1731 the lord of the manor leased the pound with its fees and the office of poundkeeper for 71 years to a bricklayer and a carpenter, who were also to replace 5 houses on the site with 3 new ones. (fn. 67)

Prior to 1579 the lord of the manor was trying to gain possession of the court rolls from a steward whom he had removed for levying excessive fines and nominating members of the homage. (fn. 68) The steward's fees were fixed as part of the confirmation of customs in 1617. (fn. 69) The stewardship of Stepney and Hackney was sold for life in the 17th century. (fn. 70) In 1639 Robert Dixon sold his stewardship for £600 to Timothy Stampe, who paid £50 to the lord of the manor. (fn. 71) Stampe was confirmed in the stewardship for life by the House of Lords in 1641 but forfeited it as a royalist in 1646. (fn. 72) In 1650 Thomas Pennington, a landholder in Wapping, claimed that Cleveland had in 1631 granted him the office of bailiff (presumably meaning that of steward) of Stepney and Hackney in reversion after Dixon, who had died in 1648. (fn. 73) In 1652, however, William Northey, a lawyer and landowner of Stratford Bow, was appointed to keep the courts of both manors and, after the sale of Cleveland's rights in 1653, was granted the stewardship on the terms by which his predecessors had held it. (fn. 74) Stampe was later restored to the stewardship and was serving in 1665, but Northey was again steward by 1669. (fn. 75) In 1679 a reversionary grant was made to Edward Northey. (fn. 76)

The office of bailiff of Whitechapel was granted to one Maddox in 1660. (fn. 77) Described as that of chief bailiff, together with the bailiwick of Stepney manor and Whitechapel liberty and the custody of the gaol, it was granted for five years or life in 1681 to Paul Pawley. He also had a lease of the fines called green wax and profits of the court leet and Green Goose fair (in Stratford Bow) at a peppercorn rent. (fn. 78) Presumably the bailiwick originated in rights formerly exercised by the steward of Stepney.

A manorial prison, whose site measured 23 ft. by 94 ft. in 1608, stood on the north side of Aldgate or Whitechapel High Street. It had an unsavoury reputation, and was mentioned by John Taylor the 'water poet' in 1623. (fn. 79) As 'Lord Wentworth's gaol or prison', with a great garden behind it, it was presumably still used for debtors in 1597 when Thomas Andrews, who held it by copy, leased it to Robert Harrison for 14 years. Andrews surrendered the prison, then in the possession of Robert Dickson, in 1608 to Daniel Godfrey (d. 1620), whose brother Cornelius (d. 1640) left it in remainder to Godfrey Helden. In 1641 Helden was admitted to the customary tenement, then called the Prison House, which his widow Frances held in 1656. Called the Old Prison House in 1696, it remained with Helden's heirs until 1719. (fn. 80)

A prison connected with the court of record (below) used either the old manorial prison or a new building. In 1712, when known as Whitechapel prison, it contained 'a great number' of debtors; the gaoler's fees were settled by the justices in 1729 and 1733. (fn. 81)

The royal court of record for the liberty of Stepney and Hackney was established in 1664 following petitions by the Wentworths, as lords of the manor, and the inhabitants of Stepney. Cleveland had petitioned in 1624 for a court to settle small debts, which residents were said to forego rather than seek to recover at Westminster Hall, and the court could settle actions of up to £5 in value. At the Wentworths' request the court was granted to Sir William Smyth, possibly in recompense for money which they still owed him. (fn. 82) In 1667 the privileges of the court were extended like those of the Marshalsea (fn. 83) and the court was formally instituted from 1668. The court house was probably the one recorded at Mile End in 1683, and called the New Court House on Mile End green (probably in Whitechapel on the site of Whitechapel station, where Court Street once lay) in 1702; it was rebuilt in 1804. (fn. 84) Although Smyth already held the profits by royal patent, Lady Wentworth in 1694 conveyed to him the court and its profits with 20 buildings and 10 a. of pasture in Stepney and Whitechapel. (fn. 85) All those premises were conveyed by Smyth's son and other executors to Francis Wright in 1703, and, presumably in confirmation, by Sir Henry Johnson and Martha, Baroness Wentworth, to two of the executors in 1704. (fn. 86)

The court was one of those that parliament proposed to regulate in 1690-1. (fn. 87) Its procedure grew cumbersome and in 1750 it lost the right to try actions for debts under 40s. to a new court of requests for the Tower Hamlets. An Act of 1781 reduced fees in the older court, dividing them between the patentee, a steward, and four attorneys, and denned the procedures. The court continued to deal with debts of £2-5 until such courts were abolished in the 19th century. (fn. 88)


Whitechapel had become a separate parish by 1320. (fn. 89) The rest of Stepney was apparently divided into districts or hamlets for parish government; the inhabitants of Stratford Bow, with their own chapel, were allowed in 1497 to compound for church rates and excused from serving parish offices. (fn. 90) The four remaining hamlets (Ratcliff, Limehouse, Mile End with Bethnal Green, and Poplar) provided the lights in the parish church in 1532, an arrangement that may explain references to the ward light of Bethnal Green in 1520 and the ward of Mile End in 1522. (fn. 91) Obligations such as the collection of church dues were probably carried out through the same districts, recorded as Stepney's administrative divisions from 1580 until increased population led to subdivision in the mid 17th century. By the early 17th century each hamlet had its own officers acting under the parish vestry, collected dues, and relieved its own poor. (fn. 92)

Parish government may have been reorganized in 1580, when a change was made in the rating of pews and vestry orders were recorded. (fn. 93) The vestry was open until 1589, when, after complaints about lack of repairs to the church and provision for the poor because rates were not paid, the chief parishioners decided on a select vestry for which each of the four hamlets chose eight representatives in addition to the vicar and churchwardens. The number was increased to 10 each in 1598, (fn. 94) and thereafter new vestrymen seem to have been co-opted. (fn. 95) Vestry meetings had become open again by the 1640s, until disorders led to a return in 1655 to a select vestry, with 20 representatives from Ratcliff (divided equally between Ratcliff and Shadwell by 1657) and 10 from each of the other three hamlets; 12 members and 2 churchwardens formed a quorum, and the vicar's presence and approbation were required as before. (fn. 96) The select vestry was not accepted by all the leading inhabitants until it was endorsed by the bishop in 1662; he nominated 44 inhabitants (12 from Mile End, Bethnal Green and Spitalfields, 8 each from Ratcliff, Shadwell, Limehouse, and Poplar), who with the vicar had powers to co-opt future members. (fn. 97)

After Shadwell became a separate parish in 1670 (fn. 98) 8 vestrymen were appointed for Wapping instead. In 1679 the bishop granted a revised constitution, but withdrew it when it caused serious disagreements within the parish. However, it was decided that from 1681 as vestrymen died the numbers were to be reduced to 8 each from Ratcliff and Limehouse, and 7 each from Spitalfields, Mile End with Bethnal Green, Poplar with Blackwell, and Wapping; two candidates chosen at the hamlet meetings, also called inhabitants' or town meetings, were to be presented for each vestryman. (fn. 99)

The incumbent continued in the 18th century to claim a right of veto at the parish vestry meetings, to which church matters were referred by the hamlets. (fn. 100) The creation of new parishes reduced the size of Stepney vestry to 24 by 1730, and in 1735 it was increased again to 32: 4 vestrymen from Mile End New Town, and 7 each from Mile End Old Town, Bethnal Green, Ratcliff, and Poplar. (fn. 101) Bethnal Green was omitted after it too became a separate parish in 1743. The select vestry continued until complaints by excluded parishioners in 1776 led to a lawsuit, and at a public meeting of the whole parish in 1778 the select vestry was dissolved, and replaced by open vestries. (fn. 102) Meetings were infrequent, about one a year in the 1790s, by which time they were concerned mainly with church repairs and quarrels with the rector. (fn. 103)

Vestry meetings were held in the church and in the church house in the churchyard by the 1580s. (fn. 104) From 1619 the vestry met in the 'new vestry house', (fn. 105) which presumably had been erected with money said in 1620 to have been collected towards the rebuilding of a house in the churchyard for the meetings. (fn. 106) Repairs were needed in 1655 and estimates were obtained for a new brick house, 50 ft. by 20 ft., but it may not have been built. (fn. 107) Further repairs were made in 1685, but the vestry house which apparently stood on the west side of the churchyard in 1696 was demolished in 1697 and the materials sold. The rectory house east of the church was taken on lease in its place, and by 1706 the curate occupied the house, with the use of the great room reserved for vestry meetings. (fn. 108) A new vestry house had been built by 1763 when the old rectory was demolished. A parish room was built over the south porch of the church in 1847 and a hexagonal vestry added beside the priest's vestry in 1872. (fn. 109)

Although Stepney in 1534 and 1542 apparently had only two churchwardens, (fn. 110) in the 1580s each of the four hamlets put forward one churchwarden, with two or more former officers chosen annually as auditors: in 1586 each hamlet chose four auditors, except Poplar which chose three. (fn. 111) Churchwardens apparently served for two years; Mile End and Poplar wardens were chosen in 1589, and those for Ratcliff and Limehouse in 1590. A sidesman was chosen for each hamlet in 1590. (fn. 112) By 1606 all four wardens were appointed together, apparently still for two years, and two of them hired substitutes to serve. (fn. 113) The vestry appointed a parish clerk, to collect Easter dues and write the churchwardens' accounts, and a sexton. (fn. 114)

By 1641 Ratcliff, which then also included the later parishes of Shadwell and St. George-inthe-East, was so populous that two men were chosen to perform the duties of the hamlet's churchwarden; one man was responsible for Stepney (presumably the area around the church), White Horse Street, Brook Street, Ratcliff Wall, and Ratcliff Street; the other for Wapping, which included upper and lower Shadwell, Ratcliff Highway, Foxes Lane, Wapping Wall, Prusons Island, King Street Wapping, Knockfergus, New Gravel Lane, and Old Gravel Lane. (fn. 115) By 1645 Ratcliff had been divided into Ratcliff and Shadwell, each with a churchwarden and auditors, (fn. 116) In 1656 an upper and a lower churchwarden were chosen for each of the 5 hamlets. (fn. 117) Spitalfields had its own churchwarden from 1662, making a total of six, (fn. 118) Wapping, often known as Wapping-Stepney, was substituted for Shadwell after 1670, and Bethnal Green had its own churchwarden from 1685. (fn. 119) Mile End New Town in 1689 successfully petitioned the justices for its own watchhouse, since it claimed to derive no benefit from Mile End's watch; in 1690 the New Town, having greatly increased, became a separate hamlet by agreement with Mile End, and had its own churchwarden from 1691. (fn. 120)

In 1703 the eight hamlets were surveyed and mapped at the parish's expense. (fn. 121) The hamlet meetings by the late 17th century had taken over almost all parish administration, except matters concerning the church, and formed the basis for local government not only in the new parishes but also in the four hamlets which remained within St. Dunstan's Stepney, where increased powers through Local Acts were obtained by the hamlets, not the parish. (fn. 122) Hamlet divisions overrode even new parochial organization: the incorporation of part of Ratcliff into the new parish of St. Anne's Limehouse in 1730 affected only the payment of church dues, other rates and the choice of officers remaining in 1795 with the rest of Ratcliff, which was still in the parish of St. Dunstan's Stepney. (fn. 123) In the 18th century the hamlets also chose their own constables and other manorial officers for presentation to the court leet. (fn. 124) In the 19th century the separate town meetings were called vestries for the purposes of local administration; the churchwardens and overseers continued to make and collect local rates. (fn. 125)

Parish income was obtained in 1580 from pew rents, later known as pewage money, set by the churchwardens and collected quarterly. Additional income, for building galleries, paying the lecturer, and other extraordinary needs, was obtained by levying an extra year's or half year's pewage on each pewholder, as in 1580, 1584, 1598, 1602, and 1605. (fn. 126) As no reference exists to a church rate levied on land, pewage apparently was the only rating then in use. In 1601 each parishioner without a pew was to pay 8d. 'according to the ancient custom of this parish', besides the usual quarterly due. The refusal of many residents without pews to pay the extra dues contributed to the vestry's decision to build galleries and thus increase income. (fn. 127) Until 1637 money raised by pewage also furnished contributions towards maimed soldiers, hospitals, and similar works of relief, thereafter met by voluntary collections. (fn. 128) Pewage was still the basis for regular repairs in 1659-60, when the parish clerk was ordered to record the sums raised, presumably in a book of rates that the justices were asked to confirm in 1662. (fn. 129)

As income could not be increased without increasing the rate of pewage on rich and poor alike, new methods of raising revenue were introduced. A landscot and assessment of all inhabitants and outdwellers occupying land was first mentioned in 1617, and one year's pewage for repairs and building in 1621 was supplemented by the imposition of a groat (4d.) on all tenants of non-resident landlords. (fn. 130) It was recognized that much of Stepney's wealth was not based on land: although a general assessment was made of landholders in 1632 at the rate of 6d. an acre, they were to pay a quarter of their poor rate assessment if that yielded more. Inhabitants not occupying land also paid one quarter of their poor rate assessment. (fn. 131) Later that year all occupiers of land were ordered to pay 6d. an acre, while non-occupiers were to be assessed according to their personal estates: Ratcliff's assessment amounted to £40, Limehouse's to £20, Mile End's to £12, and Poplar's to £9. (fn. 132) The combined land rate and assessments were again used for repairs in 1634 and 1656, although on occasion a voluntary contribution could be paid instead of the assessed sum. (fn. 133) Another assessment divided the sum required between the four hamlets in the proportions used to distribute a collection for the poor, whereby Ratcliff and Shadwell paid three eighths, Limehouse a quarter, Mile End with Bethnal Green and Spitalfields a quarter, and Poplar and Blackwall one eighth; (fn. 134) it was presumably left to each hamlet to decide how to raise the amount. These proportionate levies were used in 1664 and thereafter to the end of the 17th century, with Wapping substituted for Shadwell after 1670, but pewage was no longer mentioned after 1660. (fn. 135) In 1733, however, it was ordered that money for repairs or payment of debts should be raised in future by a levy according to the Land Tax quota: Ratcliff £15, Mile End Old Town £263, Mile End New Town £93, Bethnal Green £369, Poplar £255. (fn. 136) Smaller sums, for parish debts, repayment of loans, rent for the vestry house, were found after 1662 from the fees for burials and the use of the parish palls. (fn. 137)

Funds for the poor in the late 16th century came from regular church collections and from legacies, rents for rooms in the church house, and fines (1s. in 1602) for non-attendance by vestrymen. (fn. 138) They also benefited from paschal money, when each communicant paid 1d. at Easter towards the bread and wine. The vestry usually leased out the right to that sum to the vicar for 40s. a year (£4 from 1581 and £6 13s. 4d. in 1633), used for the poor, and during disagreements with him in 1605 itself collected the money. (fn. 139) In 1606 money collected and disbursed for poor relief was to be recorded in two separate books and kept in a chest with keys for the vicar and each of the four wardens, following criticism of earlier methods. (fn. 140) In 1615 money from collections at the communion table was distributed between the hamlets: three eighths to Ratcliff, a quarter each to Limehouse and Mile End with Bethnal Green, and an eighth to Poplar, the hamlets presumably being responsible for relieving their own poor; from 1649 Ratcliff's share was split equally between Ratcliff and Shadwell. (fn. 141) In 1681 it was ordered that a poor-man's box should be fixed by each door of the church, and in all taverns, victualling and other public houses in the parish. (fn. 142) A poor rate was mentioned in 1619 and 1632: the basis of the rate was not explained, although it was evidently not a rate per acre. (fn. 143) Overseers for the poor were mentioned in 1650, and collectors for the poor in 1654, (fn. 144) but in 1681 the churchwardens were also overseers and ordered to account for the money for the poor. In 1684 the churchwardens were required to meet to adjust the rates for poor relief in each hamlet, and join in a petition to the justices for their assistance with poor relief. (fn. 145) Spitalfields had five supervisors of the poor in 1684, and Bethnal Green had at least one. (fn. 146)

Rooms in the church house were let by the vestry to widows and other needy people, for rents paid for the use of the poor, or occasionally for nothing to curates, clerks or sextons as part of their remuneration. (fn. 147) In 1626 rooms over the new vestry house held by the curate, clerk, and sexton, were to be taken after their deaths for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 148) In 1657, however, damage was caused by water running down from the rooms, whereupon the occupants were ordered to move. (fn. 149) The parish had the management of Fuller's almshouses by 1641, of Cook's from 1673, and of Bowry's built in 1744. (fn. 150) In 1683 the vestry granted liberty to all charitably disposed persons to build houses for the parish's poor on the plot of land on the edge of the churchyard they had recently bought from Mrs. Bissaker, though there is no indication that anyone did so. (fn. 151)

Stock of £100 given for setting the poor to work was so inadequate for their numbers in 1654 that the churchwardens used it for apprenticing instead; (fn. 152) nothing further is known of it. In 1655 Stepney was among the parishes receiving money from the duty on seacoal to assist the poor: £400 was to be distributed by the vicar and two justices, to the annoyance of the vestry, which appointed three representatives to be consulted. By 1658 nearly 800 families and paupers had been relieved and the vestry, after requesting an account, registered approval. (fn. 153) In 1659 it was decided that pensioners of the parish should wear pewter badges with the name of their division. (fn. 154) By 1700 all poor relief was probably managed by the hamlets: in 1694 Ratcliff applied independently for an assessment. (fn. 155)

Public services were also largely provided by and for individual hamlets by the 17th century. The vestry allowed fire buckets belonging to the church in 1639 to be used elsewhere in the hamlets, with any loss being met by the hamlets contributing proportionately. (fn. 156) The parish clerk was ordered to prepare a petition to the justices for a watch and watchhouse for Stepney in 1662, (fn. 157) but some hamlets already had watchhouses: Bethnal Green had one in 1652, (fn. 158) possibly provided through the manorial court leet. The vestry ordered £3 a year to be paid to the watchmen in the churchyard to ring the great bell for half an hour morning and evening throughout the year in 1684. (fn. 159) The vestry also ordered that from 1665 two or more women were to be appointed in each hamlet as searchers of the dead. (fn. 160) In 1685 the vestry ordered that fines from tipplers were to be used to maintain a house of correction which they wanted for the parish, as it was troublesome and sometimes dangerous for peace officers to take malefactors to the county's house at Clerkenwell. (fn. 161)


  • 1. Taylor, 'Estates of Bishopric of Lond.', 140-2, 146.
  • 2. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 475-6.
  • 3. B.L. Add. MS. 15555, f. 39v.
  • 4. Eyre of Lond. 1321 (Selden Soc. lxxxvi), p. 212.
  • 5. Cal. Inq. Misc. ii, p. 16.
  • 6. P.R.O., CP 25/2/854/7 Wm. III/Trin.
  • 7. Ibid. C 66/3065, no. 1; CP 25/2/945/3 Anne/Trin.; CP 25/2/1037/10 Geo. I/Mich.; CP 25/2/1037/11 Geo. I/Hil.; CP 25/2/1037/13 Geo. I/East. Mkt. and fair reserved for treatment under Ratcliff; Mile End Old Town.
  • 8. P.R.O., E 372/72, m. 10d.
  • 9. Ibid. SC 2/191/60-63; Guildhall MSS. 10312/136; 25369/1-2; 25370; B.L. Eg. Rolls 2080-1; Eg. MS. 3006, ff. 57-204.
  • 10. G.L.R.O., M93/1 sqq.
  • 11. P.R.O., E 372/72, m. 10d.
  • 12. Ibid. SC 6/1139/18.
  • 13. From the 5 surviving accts.: ibid. SC 6/1139/19-23.
  • 14. P.R.O., SC 6/1139/24; SC 6/1140/24.
  • 15. Ibid. SC 6/1139/24; SC 6/1140/24; Guildhall MS. 10123/2.
  • 16. B.L. Lansd. MS. 109, f. 150; Eg. Roll 2081.
  • 17. Ibid. Add. MS. 22253, f. 16.
  • 18. G.L.R.O., M93/157.
  • 19. Above, Stepney manor; G.L.R.O., M93/208; M93/158, f. 1.
  • 20. G.L.R.O., M93/1, p. 53.
  • 21. T.H.L.H.L., TH/3711.
  • 22. G.L.R.O., M93/20, p. 36.
  • 23. Ibid. M93, ct. bks. passim.
  • 24. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 61, 65-6; H. G. C. Allgood, Hist. Bethnal Green (1894), 127.
  • 25. Two paras, based on extant ct. rolls: above n. 53.
  • 26. G.L.R.O., E/PHI/444.
  • 27. Ibid. M93/1; M93/157.
  • 28. Ibid. M93/1 sqq, passim.
  • 29. Ibid. E/PHI/444; Customs and Privileges of Manors of Stepney and Hackney (1736), article 3; above, econ. hist. (agric.).
  • 30. P.R.O., SC 12/11/31, f. 22.
  • 31. G.L.R.O., M93/1, pp. 53-4.
  • 32. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 66-8.
  • 33. P.R.O., SC 2/191/60; ibid. JUST 2/96, f. 5v.; B.L. Eg. MS. 3006, f. 57-7V.; Cal. Pat. 1385-9, 322.
  • 34. Edw. Bulstrode, Reports (1657), i. 174.
  • 35. B.L. Eg. MS. 3006, ff. 57-8, 61.
  • 36. G.L.R.O., M93/1, p. 54.
  • 37. Mdx. County Rec. iii. 252.
  • 38. T.H.L.H.L., 351.11 (pamphlet), 'St. Dunstan, Stepney, extracts of vestry mins. 1778 [recte 1798]- 1871' (TS. copy of mins. of Mile End Old Town vestry), pp. 3-4.
  • 39. Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. xiii. 231.
  • 40. Mdx. County Rec. iii. 13-14; iv. 16, 240-1.
  • 41. Guildhall MS. 25403/2.
  • 42. P.R.O., SC 6/1140/24.
  • 43. Acts of P.C. 1554-6, 27.
  • 44. B.L. Add. MS. 12505, f. 214.
  • 45. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1638-9, 262.
  • 46. G.L.R.O., M93/272; below, Bethnal Green, econ. hist. (ind.).
  • 47. Mdx. County Rec. iv. 210, 241.
  • 48. N. & Q. 8th ser. x. 4.
  • 49. Reg. Pecham (Cant. & York Soc.), 215.
  • 50. Guildhall MS. 25403/1.
  • 51. Ibid. 25403/2.
  • 52. P.R.O., SC 6/1139/18.
  • 53. Guildhall MS. 25403/3; P.R.O., SC 6/1139/21-2; SC 11/813.
  • 54. e.g. Guildhall Add. MS. 43.
  • 55. Taylor, 'Estates of Bishopric of Lond.', 164-5, 167.
  • 56. P.R.O., SC 6/1140/24.
  • 57. Guildhall MS. 10123/1-2.
  • 58. P.R.O., C 1/728/11-12 (defective).
  • 59. G.L.R.O., M93/208; above, econ. hist. (agric.).
  • 60. P.R.O., SP 1/153, f. 172d.
  • 61. L. & P. Hen. VIII, iii, p. 286.
  • 62. G.L.R.O., E/PHI/444.
  • 63. Customs and Privileges, articles 40, 43.
  • 64. G.L.R.O., E/PHI/444; Customs and Privileges, article 55.
  • 65. Customs and Privileges, articles 60, 62.
  • 66. G.L.R.O., M93/6, f. 197-7v.; marked on Gascoyne, Map of Mile End Old Town.
  • 67. G.L.R.O., M93/280.
  • 68. P.R.O., C 3/190/8.
  • 69. Customs and Privileges, article 66.
  • 70. P.R.O., C 54/3805, no. 24.
  • 71. B.L. Eg. MS. 3006, f. 8.
  • 72. P.R.O., SP 23/119, f. 267.
  • 73. Cal. Cttee. for Compounding, iii (2), p. 2156.
  • 74. P.R.O., C 54/3805, no. 24.
  • 75. G.L.R.O., M93/5; M93/6, f. 197.
  • 76. BNC, MS. Stepney 1.
  • 77. P.R.O., C 54/4038, no. 14.
  • 78. BNC, MS. Stepney 1.
  • 79. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 69 ('Praise and Vertue of a Jayle and Jaylers', 1623).
  • 80. P.R.O., C 107/285.
  • 81. Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. x. 114; xv. 21-2; xvi. 47.
  • 82. P.R.O., PC 2/57, ff. 116v., 118v.; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1663-4, 376, 509; 1664-5, 14, 22; Hist. MSS. Com. 23, 12th Rep. I, Cowper, p. 171.
  • 83. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1666-7, 548, 560.
  • 84. Datestone illus. in 19th-cent. drawing: P.L.A. MSS., Portfolio 'Stepney Church'; Mdx. County Rec. iv. 210; G.L.R.O., M93/20, p. 36.
  • 85. P.R.O., CP 25/2/853/6 W&M/Trin.
  • 86. Ibid. CP 25/2/945/2 Anne/Trin.; CP 25/2/945/3 Anne/Trin.
  • 87. Hist. MSS. Com. 17, 13th Rep. V, H.L., pp. 24-5.
  • 88. Stepney and Hackney Manor Cts. Act, 21 Geo. III, c. 73; Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 69.
  • 89. Referred to as par. of St. Mary Matfelon without the bar at Aldgate: Guildhall Add. MS. 9.
  • 90. Guildhall MS. 9531/12, ff. 58-60. Thereafter Bow was autonomous in local govt.; like Whitechapel, it is reserved for treatment elsewhere.
  • 91. Guildhall MSS. 9171/9, f. 162v.; 9171/10, ff. 137v., 180.
  • 92. Below.
  • 93. Vestry mins. from 1580 are in G.L.R.O., P93/DUN. Mins. for 1580-1662 (P93/DUN/327) are published as Mems. Stepney Par.; Mems. Stepney Par. 1, 3-4.
  • 94. Mems. Stepney Par. 18, 27.
  • 95. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 106.
  • 96. Mems. Stepney Par. 202-4, 235.
  • 97. Ibid. 232, 242-3.
  • 98. Act for Endowment of Ch. at Shadwell, 22 Car. II, c. 14 (Priv. Act); Endowed Chars. Lond. (1897), 599.
  • 99. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 109-10; G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 105.
  • 100. Ibid. 111; T.H.L.H.L., 351.11 (pamphlet), p. 24.
  • 101. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 334-5.
  • 102. 'Vestry mins. 1778-1871', p. 1; G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/237, p. 1.
  • 103. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/237, passim; Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 120.
  • 104. Mems. Stepney Par. 1, 3.
  • 105. Ibid. 85, 95.
  • 106. Ibid. 89.
  • 107. Ibid. 212-13, 215.
  • 108. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 141, 179-80, 186-7, 221.
  • 109. Smith, Hist. E. Lond. 111; below, churches.
  • 110. Guildhall MS. 9531/12, f. 260B; L. & P. Hen. VIII, vi, p. 43.
  • 111. Mems. Stepney Par. 3-4, 13.
  • 112. Ibid. 17, 22.
  • 113. Ibid. 54.
  • 114. Ibid. 6-7, 13.
  • 115. Ibid. 171.
  • 116. Ibid. 182.
  • 117. Ibid. 217.
  • 118. Ibid. 242.
  • 119. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 48, 142.
  • 120. Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. viii. 108-9; P.R.O., C 6/270/73; G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 160.
  • 121. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 203, 210; Gascoyne, Map.
  • 122. P.R.O., C 6/270/73; 'Vestry mins. 1778-1871', p. 3; below, Bethnal Green, local govt.
  • 123. Lysons, Environs, iii. 236.
  • 124. 'Vestry mins. 1778-1871', pp. 3-4.
  • 125. 2nd Rep. Sel. Cttee on Met. Local Govt. H.C. 452, p. 502 (1866), xiii.
  • 126. Mems. Stepney Par. 1, 3, 10, 44, 50.
  • 127. Ibid. 33, 38.
  • 128. Ibid. 159.
  • 129. Ibid. 135, 229, 241.
  • 130. Ibid. 77, 95.
  • 131. Ibid. 136-7.
  • 132. Ibid. 139.
  • 133. Ibid. 147, 216.
  • 134. Ibid. 153, 195.
  • 135. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 23, 47, 140.
  • 136. Ibid. p. 314.
  • 137. Ibid. passim.
  • 138. Ibid. 44, 52, 54, 78.
  • 139. Mems. Stepney Par. 4-5, 12, 15, 47, 49, 52.
  • 140. Ibid. 54. No poor relief recs. survive.
  • 141. Ibid. 72, 200.
  • 142. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 118.
  • 143. Mems. Stepney Par. 84, 136-7.
  • 144. Ibid. 72, 92, 196, 199-200.
  • 145. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, pp. 117, 139-40.
  • 146. Mdx. County Rec. iii. 364; iv. 240-2; G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 142; below, Bethnal Green, local govt. (manorial and early par. govt.).
  • 147. Mems. Stepney Par. passim.
  • 148. Ibid. 110.
  • 149. Ibid. 221.
  • 150. Below, charities.
  • 151. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 129; below, churches.
  • 152. Mems. Stepney Par. 199.
  • 153. Ibid. 214, 216, 223, 225.
  • 154. Ibid. 228.
  • 155. V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 95.
  • 156. Mems. Stepney Par. 167.
  • 157. Ibid. 241.
  • 158. Below, Bethnal Green, pub. svces.
  • 159. G.L.R.O., P93/DUN/328, p. 137.
  • 160. Ibid. p. 24.
  • 161. Ibid. p. 143; below, Bethnal Green, pub. svces. Other pub. svces. are reserved for treatment under hamlets.