Spotlight on Stepney
Period terraces that survived the Blitz and an award-winning reborn housing estate characterise this no-nonsense spot. By Anthea Masey
ATOP state secondary school, the award-winning regeneration of a tired council estate, a much-visited city farm with sheep, goats, chickens and ferrets, and a church which can date its ministry back to the 10th century are the defining features of today’s Stepney.
This east London neighbourhood has over the centuries been moulded by waves of immigration, from France — the silk-weaving Huguenots — and from Ireland, Eastern Europe and more recently from Bangladesh. A third of Stepney was destroyed during the war as German bombers headed for the docks, and Sixties council tower blocks grew where streets of terrace housing once stood.
Stepney’s centre of gravity is St Dunstan and All Saints church in Stepney High Street. Surrounded by the greenery of its churchyard and roads of pretty, flat- fronted early Victorian houses built by The Mercers’ Company, a leading City livery company, the church is the oldest in the East End. This is a resting place for sailors and sea captains.
On the opposite side of the road, Stepney City Farm is where local families get a taste of the countryside, buy farm produce and visit the Saturday farmers’ market.
Sir John Cass (1661-1718) was a City merchant and MP whose educational legacy is seen throughout the East End with schools and colleges including the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design in Aldgate and the Cass Business School in the City. In Stepney the Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat School is a top-performing state comprehensive that is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Much of Stepney was rebuilt after the destruction wrought during the Second World War Blitz that wiped out so many of the buildings. This has left a legacy of post-war council housing now reaching the end of its useful life. The regeneration of the Ocean Estate has won housing industry plaudits and covers an area stretching half a mile from Mile End Road to Aston Street. Over the past seven years, a consortium including Tower Hamlets council, housing association East Thames and Bellway Homes has built 800 new homes and refurbished a further 1,000.
The new blocks are arranged around traditional roads with landscaped courtyards , while more than 376 trees and 7,000 shrubs have been planted. Homes in the final phase, which saw three tower blocks demolished, will be available early next year.
We all love a market: stallholder Rory Waitt sells organic produce at the Saturday market at Stepney City Farm