St George-in-the-East Churchyard

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St George-in-the-East Churchyard

Location
Cannon Street Road
Stepney, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Greater London, E1 0BH England
Memorials 154 added (66% photographed)

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The churchyard of St. George-in-the-East was laid-out as a public garden in 1886 and re-landscaped by the London Docklands Development Corporation in 1996. Headstones were relocated to the garden perimeter in the 1870s and now form a low barrier between the northern (Cable Street) approach and churchyard. The boundary wall opened out to reveal the northern entrance, is listed and historically protected, as are the original gate piers framing the principal entrance off Cannon Street Road. The garden’s Cable Street access is reached via a paved forecourt to the western flank wall of Town Hall, now decorated with a mural. It depicts the famous Battle of Cable Street (1936), when East End residents railed together and fought to to stop Mosely’s fascists marching through their neighbourhood. A second entrance from Cable Street is framed by the listed gate.

Hidden from view by perimeter development, the lantern tower of St George-in-the-East has provided a historic focal point for the parish and a prominent feature on the Borough’s skyline. Visual permeability through the area has been improved by the demolition of buildings lining The Highway. Although altering the historic presentation and, to a certain extent, the address of the church, the exposure has also increased passive surveillance and public use of the gardens.

Character
Until the Blitz in 1940, the south side of St George-in-the-East church was always screened by housing along The Highway. At the time of construction, Hawksmoor originally tried to persuade the Commissioners to demolish and replace the houses with more appropriate precinct buildings. The former Rectory (1726-9), at the north-western corner of the church, represents the only part of Hawksmoor’s Precinct Plan that was achieved. Its original street address has been lost to recent residential development. The eventual demolition of The Highway housing has provided a new formal entrance and has exposed the southern façade of the church and grounds.

St George-in-the-East has formed a landmark in this part of the Borough since its construction, and its prominence has been secured with the expansion of the gardens to the south. The church, rectory and associated walls, gates, railings and memorials form a significant group within the former churchyard. The urban character is further defined by the surrounding historic buildings lining the streets on the area’s perimeter and. The setting is enhanced by 128 The Highway, which, to the other side of the Highway, provides a period counterbalance to remainder of the area.

Area History
The first documentary reference to the Shadwell area dates back to 1223 (a corruption of ‘St Chads Well’). Between the 16th & 18th centuries, a rise in the population of the many riverside communities, of which Shadwell is one, reflected a growth in the shipping and ship building industries located along the banks of the Thames, east of the City. Tiny settlements grew into distinctive villages supporting the maritime trade,and by the time Shadwell became a separate parish in 1669, the local population had grown to about 8000.

During the 17th century, churches and chapels-of-ease were being constructed in response to London’s eastward spread, and in the 18th century a commission was established to implement the construction of fifty new Anglican churches in areas of population growth. The New Churches Act was passed by Parliament in 1711 and enabled money to be raised for the construction of the churches from coal tax. Of the 50 churches planned, only 12 were built to designs by architects associated with the Office of Works, including St George-in-the-East (Wapping) and St Anne (Limehouse).

These also represent two of the three Borough churches designed by architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, (the third being Christchurch, Spitalfields). Considered the most original of Hawksmoor’s East-End churches, St George-in-the-East, constructed between 1714-26, was dedicated in 1729 to serve Wapping-Stepney and the area to its north. The tower was added between 1720-3, plasterwork between 1723-4 and the pews and carving in 1729. Atthe time of its construction, the surrounding area was still largely rural, with open fields to the north of the churchyard (itself occupying an area known as the Gun Field), otherwise enclosed by buildings lining the principal roads. The 18th century church yard was lined with rows of trees along the north, south and eastern boundaries, and in 1862, when further land had been added; a new layout included a Rector’s Walk and Lime Avenue.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the adjacent fields and vacant land, (freed by earlier slum clearance) had been re-colonised, and a rope-making factory established to the north-east. The church and its yard were land-locked by the surrounding development, and its main entrance was through a narrow gap in the streetscape off Cannon Street Road. The church burial ground was extended in 1829 with the purchase of the rope walk, and in 1875 was amalgamated with the graveyard of St George’s Methodist Church (Cable Street), forming St George’s Gardens in 1886. The new public gardens had entrances off Radcliffe Street, Cannon Street Road and Cable Street. The former parish mortuary (1880) opened as the ‘Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Nature Study Museum’ in 1904, providing ‘hands-on’ nature education forEast End schoolchildren until it was closed in 1939.

The church and many of its surrounding buildings were gutted by fire in the 1941 bombings, the church lying derelict until the 1960s reconstruction by Ansell & Bailey, a contemporary insertion within the original (restored) shell.

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GPS Coordinates: 51.5099610, -0.0599100

  • Added: 17 Sep 2009
  • Find A Grave Cemetery: #2323524