Bethnal-Green (St. Matthew)

BETHNAL-GREEN (St. Matthew), a parish, and a union of itself, in the borough of the Tower Hamlets, Tower division of the hundred of Ossulstone, county of Middlesex, 2½ miles (N. E. by E.) from St. Paul's; containing 74,088 inhabitants. This very extensive parish was separated by act of parliament, in 1743, from the parish of Stepney, to which it was formerly a hamlet; and is divided into four districts called Church, Green, Hackney-road, and Town divisions. It is supposed to have derived its name from Bathon Hall, the residence of a family of that name, who had considerable possessions here in the reign of Edward I., and from a spacious green, to the east of which is the site of an episcopal palace called Bishop's Hall, said to have been the residence of Bonner, Bishop of London. The popular legendary ballad of the "Blind Beggar of Bethnal-Green," the hero of which is said to have been Henry de Montfort, the son of the Earl of Leicester, has reference to an ancient castellated mansion, built in the reign of Elizabeth by John Kirby, a citizen of London, and now converted into a private lunatic asylum.

The houses in general are meanly built of brick, and consist of large ranges of dwellings, inhabited chiefly by journeymen silk-weavers, who work at home for the master-weavers in Spitalfields; but considerable improvements have been made, and some handsome ranges have been erected on the line of the Hackney-road, in the district of St. John's, and at Cambridge-heath, and more recently in that part of the parish once called Bonner's Fields, but now Victoria Park. This park, designed as a place of healthful resort and recreation for the population of the east end of London, already attracts an immense number of visiters; great progress has been made in the plantations, and building speculation is very active in its vicinity. The parish is lighted with gas; the streets are partially paved, and the inhabitants are supplied with water by the East London Company's works: an act making further provision for paving, lighting, and cleansing the public ways, was passed in 1843. There are a very extensive cottonfactory; a large manufactory for waterproof hose, made of flax, without seam, and of any length and diameter, chiefly for the use of brewers and for firemen; a mill for the manufacture of all kinds of printing-paper; some white-lead and colour works; two extensive establishments for the manufacture of worsted lace and gimp; and a brewery. A great quantity of land is in the occupation of market-gardeners. The Regent's canal passes through the parish, which is also crossed by the Eastern-Counties railway.

The living is a rectory not in charge; net income, £614; patron, the Bishop of London. The church, erected in 1746, is a neat brick building, ornamented with stone. St. John's district church was built in 1828, by grant from the Parliamentary Commissioners, at an expense of £17,638, and is a handsome edifice of brick faced with stone, in the Grecian style, with a tower surmounted by a cupola: the living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £190, in the gift of the Bishop. Ten additional districts or ecclesiastical parishes have been formed; and the expense of erecting a church in each of them has been estimated at more than £75,000, raised by subscription, aided by a grant of £10,000 from the Metropolitan Society, and of £5000 from Her Majesty's Commissioners. The church of St. Peter, in the Hackney-road, consecrated in July, 1841, is a spacious structure of brick, intermixed with flints, and ornamented by facings of stone, in the early Norman style, with a tower surmounted by a low spire: net income, £200. The church of St. Andrew, in South Conduitstreet, consecrated in December, 1841, is a neat structure of brown brick having stone dressings, in the Norman style, with a tower at the end of the north aisle surmounted by a campanile turret of stone: net income, £224. The church of St. Philip, in Friar's Mount, is a neat building of light brick, with red mouldings and dressings of stone in the Norman style, and two square towers at the west end, surmounted by low octagonal spires: net income, £224. The church of St. James the Less, in Victoria Park, of which the first stone was laid in January, 1841, is also a spacious edifice of brick with stone facings, in the Norman style, with a tower at the end of the south aisle, and a circular window in the western gable: net income, £150. The church of St. James the Great, in the Bethnal-Green road, is a handsome structure of red brick with dressings of stone, in the early English style, and has a campanile turret richly canopied and terminating in a crocketed finial: net income, £150. The church of St. Bartholomew, in Cambridge-road, the first stone of which was laid 27th Jan. 1842, is of brown brick with facings of stone, also in the early English style, with a tower surmounted by a well-proportioned spire of stone; it was consecrated on the 8th June, 1844: net income, £230. The foundation stone of St. Matthias' church, Hare-street, was laid in the autumn of 1846; it is in the Byzantine or Romanesque style, and is the largest of the ten churches, the length being 117½ feet: the cost was £7000. The net income amounts to £180. St. Jude's church is also in the Romanesque style, and was built at a cost of about £5000: the interior is well arranged; a series of massive chandeliers depend from the roof by chains, and form a novel and effective mode of lighting. The net income is £200. St. Simon Zelotes' was consecrated July, 1847: the style of the edifice is early English; it was erected at a cost of about £4000, and accommodates 800 persons. The net income is £150. St. Thomas' church is in course of erection: net income, £200. The livings are perpetual curacies, and are all in the gift of the Bishop of London: attached to some of the churches are residences for the incumbents, and in the several schools connected with them several hundred children receive instruction. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Methodists, and others.

An episcopal chapel was erected in 1814 by the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, attached to which are two schools, wherein 50 boys and nearly 60 girls are maintained, clothed, and instructed; the schools are supported by voluntary contributions. St. Matthew's school, founded in 1771, by the inhabitants, for clothing and instructing 50 boys and 50 girls, is supported by the interest of funded property and voluntary contributions. There are also national and Lancasterian schools. In 1722, Mr. Thomas Parmiter left an estate in Suffolk, now producing £25 per annum, for the erection and endowment of a free school and almshouse in the parish, for the promotion of which purpose, other gifts have been made; the schoolroom has been taken down for the line of the Eastern Counties railway, and rebuilt on a new site. Another, called "Friar's Mount school," contains seventy boys, and is partly supported by subscription. The almshouses founded by Captain Fisher in 1711, and those belonging to the companies of Drapers and Dyers, are situated in the parish. Trinity Hospital at Mile-End, was erected in 1695, on land given by Captain Henry Mudd, an elder brother of the Trinity House, and endowed, in 1701, by Captain Robert Sandes, for twentyeight masters of ships, or their widows. The union workhouse, recently erected, is near Victoria Park. The Roman road from the western counties of England to the ferry over the river Lea, at Old Ford, passes through the northern part of the parish. Sir Richard Gresham, father of Sir Thomas Gresham who built the Royal Exchange; Sir Thomas Grey, Knt.; and Sir Balthazar Gerbier, a celebrated painter and architect, who designed the triumphal arch for the entrance of Charles II. into London on his restoration; were residents at the place. Ainsworth, the compiler of the Latin Dictionary, kept an academy here for some years; and Caslon, who established the celebrated type-foundry in Chiswellstreet, lived here in retirement till his decease in 1766.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.