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.
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
"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,
"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. 24) ;—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. 25) ; and Mrs. Anne Hart in February 1765,
aged 102. (fn. 26)
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. 27) .
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
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