1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stepney
STEPNEY, an eastern metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded N. by Bethnal Green, E. by Poplar, S. by the river Thames, and W. by the City of London and Shoreditch. Pop. (1901), 298,600. It forms part of the "East End" of London; the parish, indeed, formerly covered practically the whole area so termed. Here are squalid streets and mean houses typical of the poorest class of inhabitants. The thoroughfares of Mile End Road and Whitechapel Road and that of Commercial Road East traverse the borough from the east and converge near the City boundary, where stood the ancient Aldgate. In the north Stepney includes the districts of Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Mile End; and in the south Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliff and Limehouse. The southern districts are occupied by sailors and labourers in the St Katherine and London Docks and the wharves and factories lining the river-bank. The parish church of St Dunstan, Stepney, is a perpendicular building, much restored, containing many monuments and curious inscriptions. The church of St Anne, Limehouse (1730) is by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The district of Spitalfields has an old association with the silk-weaving industry; a trade in singing birds is also characteristic of this district; and in Ratcliff the well-known naturalist's firm of Jamrach is situated. In the extreme west the borough includes within its bounds the historic Tower of London, the Royal Mint and the fine Tower Bridge over the Thames. There is no bridge below this, but the construction of the Rotherhithe Tunnel was authorized in 1900. The Thames Tunnel is used by the East London railway. Among institutions the principal is the People's Palace, Mile End Road, opened by Queen Victoria in 1887 as a place of intellectual and physical recreation and education. The Drapers' Company contributed largely to the cost of erection. Toynbee Hall, Commercial Street, was founded in 1884 under the trusteeship of the Universities Settlements Association and named after Arnold Toynbee (d. 1883), a philanthropist who devoted himself to work in this part of London. Other institutions are the London Hospital, Whitechapel, the East London children's hospital, the headquarters of Dr Barnardo's Homes, Stepney Causeway, and Her Majesty's Hospital for waifs connected therewith; the Stepney training college of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and the Spitalfields trade and technical school. There is a fish market in Shadwell, and a vegetable market in Spitalfields. Stepney is a suffragan bishopric in the diocese of London. The municipal borough comprises the Stepney, Whitechapel, Mile End, Limehouse and St George divisions of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary borough, each division returning one member. The borough council consists of a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 60 councillors. Area, 1765·6 acres.
The name appears in Domesday and later as Stevenhethe. The suffix is thus the common form hythe, a haven; but for the prefix no certain derivation is offered. At Mile End, so called from its distance from the City (Aldgate), the rebels from Essex under the leadership of Wat Tyler assembled (1381), and here Richard II. first met them in parley. Pepys records the village as a favourite place of resort.