Stepney, London

John Wesley preached in St. Dunstan’s in 1785, describing it as ‘one of the largest parish churches in England’.

St. George’s WM church, Cable Street was once the spiritual home of respectable middle-class Wesleyans in the area, but by the 1880s many of its affluent members had moved to the suburbs and Stepney became known for its slums. In 1885 it became the centre of an East End Mission led by Peter Thompson, as a response to Andrew Mearns’ The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883). Thompson launched a raft of social activities in response to the widespread local poverty, including soup kitchens, second-hand clothing stores and popular entertainment to combat the attraction of the gin palaces. Two of the latter were bought by the Mission: ‘Paddy’s Goose’ and the Old Mahogany Bar in Grace’s Alley off Cable Street became centres of its work. (The latter has more recently been rescued from dereliction and restored under its other name of ‘Wilton’s Music Hall’.) By 1892 the Mission was able to report 995 new members , with another 216 on trial. In 1907 new purpose-built Mission premises were opened on the Commercial Road, with extensive provision for social outreach, including a medical clinic and a student hostel.

Other outstanding names associated with the East End Mission include F.W. Chudleigh (1906-1911 and, as Superintendent, 1919-1932).

With widespread changes to the area in the post-war years, the emphasis has shifted to meet the needs of homeless men, immigrant families, single parents, the disabled and the unemployed. There is also a Social Studies Centre, and at Leigh-on-Sea a home for the elderly.

Sources
  • John Vickers and Betty Young, Methodist Guide to London and the South-East (1980) pp.31-2; 2nd edition (1991) pp.33-4
  • Methodist Recorder, 6 October, 1 & 8 December 2011