Old Images of Stepney, London

Categorised as Greater London, London
View in Stepney Church yard 1740-1780
Etching called "View in Stepney Church Yard", author and publisher unknown. Probably published between 1740 and 1780. Now held in Topographical Collection of George III at the British Library

Glimpse history through old images of Stepney, in London’s East End.

Seige of Sidney Street

This short video explains what happened at the Seige of Sidney Street in 1911, the British police and army got ready to capture the Russian Latvian revolutionaries who had killed 4 British police officers in a street gun battle the year before.

You’ll see film recorded in Sidney Street in 1910 and 1911, recording not just the major incident but also the buildings of the time and some of the local people.

There’s also an old photo of Home Secretary Winston Churchill watching the events unfold.

It’s surprising how many people died between these two incidents, given how well supervised the second one was, and how few people know about it today.

The Siege of Sidney Street Gunfight | British Pathé – British Pathé on YouTube

West India House, Stepney

In 1946, Stepney Borough Council paid £40,000 for the construction of a block of flats called West India House.

Clement Atlee and his wife Violet came to officially open the new block of 31 flats. 27 years before, Celement Atlee had been the Mayor of Stepney.

The short newsreel includes shots of the new block, as well as people watching from the windows of nearby Victorian terraces.

The flats were built to house local working class East End families, who would be council tenants paying an affordable rent.

These small homes were presumably sold off at a significant discount under Right-to-Buy, as the two bedroom flats now cost in excess of £250,000 to buy and around £1,750 a month to rent.

Pathe Front Page – Stepney (1946) – British Pathé on YouTube

1940s Unexploded Bomb!

During the Blitz of 1941, large numbers of bombs and incendiary devices were dropped on Britain by the German Lufftwaffe bombers.

During one of these bombing raids, a 3,000lb bomb landed deep in a Stepney backgarden, but did not explode. It was not noticed because of the damage caused by other devices, and by landing 30 feet underground.

Seven years later, discovery of Britain’s second biggest unexploded bomb brought out the Royal Engineers No 2 Bomb Disposal Squad, police and safety officials, and the camera crews. Over a thousand local families had to be evacuated to a safe distance, and the roads were closed.

Bemused East End locals had to contend with all this activity on their Sunday morning.

Major Stanley Knights and his team worked around the lethal weapon for more than an hour and a half before safely completing their mission.

Stepney’s Sunday Bomb (1947-1949) – British Pathé on YouTube

Royal Stepney Visit 1950

During World War II, Stepney had been badly damaged by the Blitz bombs and incendiary devices. By 1950, rebuilding of the bombed areas was underway.

So George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to admire a model of the new Lansbury Housing Estate at Poplar, and to plant a tree on the construction site.

Two years later King George VI died, and his eldest daughter was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

ROYAL: Queen visits Stepney (1950) – British Pathé on YouTube

Warehouse Fire 1951

In 1951, a 6 storey warehouse in Stepney was completely destroyed by fire. More than 200 firement battled to contain the blaze. 21 of them were injured, with 6 requiring hospital treatment.

It was one of London’s worst fires since the Blitz almost a decade earlier.

The damage was estimated a more than a quarter of a million pounds, a very substantial amount of money at the time.

Big Fire In Stepney (1951) – British Pathé on YouTube

Stepney’s Elderly in the 1960s

In the 1960s, this black and white silent footage captured glimpses of the lives of elderly people living in Stepney.

It shows them enjoying a drink in the pub, painting wooden heads at the Derby and Joan Club (in exchange for money?) and doing gentle keep fit classes. Then there is singing and dancing, and laughing, and a show. They even enjoy a trip out to the funfair.

At the time the East End was full of slum housing and welfare systems would have been limited, but the images shown in this film suggest a busy and close knit community where elderly people found plenty of activities to do with their friends.

Old Women Of Stepney, 1960s – Film 41112 – HuntleyFilmArchives on YouTube

East End Market 1983

In 1983, some footage of the Stepney area was filmed for a Thames TV programme called ‘City Priest’. This is a one minute silent clip of that footage.

You see shopholders, customers, glimpses of the business behind the market, and some of the nearby Victorian streets and buildings.

1980s London | East End Market | 1980s East London | City Priest | 1983 – ThamesTv

Heavy Traffic 1983

A clip of just half a minute, recorded in Stepney in December 1983. It was filmed as part of a Thames TV item on the problems heavy traffic was causing in Stepney’s historic streets.

STEPNEY, HEAVY TRAFFIC – Thames News on YouTube

Exmouth Estate 1985

This is silent footage of Stepney’s Exmouth Estate in 1985, taken from the top of Ewhurst House which was demolished in 1994.

Exmouth Estate | East London | Stepney | TV Eye | 1985 – ThamesTv on YouTube

Stepney’s Facebook Groups

If you’re interested in the history of Stepney or enjoy seeing old images of the area, the Facebook groups you could join include:

Stepney and Wapping living in 60’s early 70’s

I grew up in Stepney

Sir John Cass Redcoat Foundation Secondary School Stepney Way London E1

Local History Videos also has a Pinterest Board with images of old Greater London

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