BOW, or Stratford-le-Bow (St. Mary), a parish, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, union of Poplar, Tower division of the hundred of Ossulstone, county of Middlesex, 4½ miles (E. N. E.) from London; containing 4626 inhabitants. This place derives its name "Stratford" from an ancient ford over the river Lea, on the line of the Roman stratum, or road from London to Durolitum (Layton, in Essex). It is said that Matilda, queen of Henry I., passing this dangerous ford, narrowly escaped being drowned, and consequently ordered a bridge to be erected, from the arched form of which the village received the adjunct to its name. This bridge, which is supposed to have been the first of its kind erected in the kingdom, was by some referred to the time of Alfred the Great, whose arms were carved on the central stone: it consisted of three groined arches, of which the central arch was considerably larger than the rest; and from the inconvenient narrowness of the bridge, a wooden platform was constructed on the outside of one of the parapets, for the accommodation of foot passengers. An act for rebuilding it was obtained in 1834, and a new bridge was opened with much ceremony on the 14th of Feb. 1839, consisting of one flat elliptical arch, 66 feet in span, rising to the height of 13 feet from the water level, and defended with solid parapets. The village is pleasantly situated; the streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are supplied with water by the East London Company's works. The manufacture of porcelain, formerly carried on to a considerable extent, has been discontinued; and the fair held at Whitsuntide has, within the last few years, been entirely suppressed. A little to the north of the town, runs the Eastern Counties railway. The powers of the county debt-court of Bow, established in 1847, extend over the parishes of Bow and Bromley, and the registration-district of West Ham. Three headboroughs and a constable are annually appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor.
It was formerly a chapelry in the parish of Stepney, from which it was separated in 1730. The living is a rectory; net income, £319; patrons, the Principal and Fellows of Brasenose College, Oxford, by whom an addition was made, a few years since, to the stipend of the rector. The church, founded in the reign of Henry II., is an ancient structure, partly Norman, and partly in the early English style, with a low square tower having a small turret at one of the angles; the east window is ornamented with figures of Moses and Aaron, and the Twelve Apostles, in stained glass. There are places of worship for Wesleyans, Baptists, and Roman Catholics; that for the first-named, though belonging to the congregation in this place, is situated within Bromley parish. A free school was founded in 1613, by Sir John Jolles, who endowed it for thirty-four boys of this parish and that of Bromley. Another school for fifty boys was founded in 1701, by Mrs. Prisca Coburne, who endowed it with houses and lands at that time producing £40 per annum; and from the increased value of the property, the income, on the expiration of the present leases, will amount to £500: a schoolroom has been built for 100 children of each sex, the school being under the inspection of the rectors of Bow, and four adjoining parishes. Sir John Jolles also founded and endowed almshouses for eight people; and there are other charitable bequests for the relief of the poor, including one of £1400 in the funds under the will of Mrs. Margaretta Browne, dated in 1826, out of the dividends of which the sum of £20 is paid to the rector.