St George-in-the-East, Tower Hamlets
This quaint parish name for the northern part of Wapping has dropped out of use although it is still shown on some 21st-century maps
The parish was created in 1729, the year of the church’s completion on Cannon Street Road. St George-in-the-East was one of three East End churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the others being at Spitalfields and Limehouse.
There was never a recognisable settlement called St George-in-the-East, but the parish name provided a useful identity for the formerly anonymous area north of the docks. The central thoroughfare was Cable Street, so called for its ropeyards. Two squares and a handful of streets were laid out but market gardens occupied much of the parish until the end of the 18th century.
With the construction of the Commercial Road and the coming of railways and heavy industry to the East End, St George-in-the-East became a solidly urban and extremely poor parish over the course of the 19th century.
The Prince of Denmark pub was enlarged in the 1850s to become Wilton’s Music Hall, which survives today as a rare example of its kind.
Jewish immigration changed the character of the area from the end of the century, creating a garment district in the north of the parish.
After the First World War the municipal authorities began to build blocks of flats and to provide public health amenities.
In the 1930s Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists attempted to divide Christians and Jews in the East End. Mosley organised a march of 3,000 of his blackshirted followers in October 1936, which was blocked by protesters’ barricades at the junction of Cable Street and Leman Street.
A mural painted on the side of the former St George’s vestry hall depicts this ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in heroic fashion. Part of the mural is shown in the photograph at the top of the page.*
Following devastating bomb damage in the Second World War, St George-in-the-East was redeveloped as an almost entirely residential area, including high-rise flats in the 1970s. Subsequently, Docklands regeneration has impinged on the parish, without transforming it.
After decades of patchwork repairs and tireless campaigning, Wilton’s Music Hall Trust secured sufficient funding to fully restore the Grand Hall in 2013 and the rest of the work was completed in September 2015.
The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s rock-folk song ‘Ghosts of Cable Street’ recalls the events of 1936.
Ensign Street and Grace’s Alley were used as locations for the 1994 film Interview with the Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.