Stepney, England — Our Sister City
Brief History of Stepney, England (continued)
It was from the Stepney parish that the Elizabethan adventurers set off for India and the New World. In the 17th and 18th centuries Seafaring men came and went within Stepney many of them buried in the churchyard. St. Dunstans had such a strong association with the sea that many captains of British merchant ships sent certificates to the rector to register baptisms which had taken place on board. The phrase “born in Stepney” became interchangeable with “born at sea”.
The beginning of the change that altered the character of the whole district occurred in the second half of the 16th century, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, when England awakened by the spirit of adventure, took to the sea and laid the foundations of it’s maritime power, the Indian Empire and the oversea Dominions. Stepney played a great role is this movement. Many of the ships were built here with the timbers from its forests. In fact, England’s armada of Naval ships was build in this area and the Stepney port played a major role in England’s establishment of naval power. In the words of John Strype: “It is further to be remarked that the Parish of Stepney, on the Southern Parts of it especially, that it is one of the greatest Nurseries of Navigation and Breeders of Seamen in England, the most serviceable Men in the Nation; without which England could not be England for they are its Strength and Wealth.’
Stepney has had its share of ups and downs over the centuries. It has seen royalty, it has seen scoundrels, aristocrats and shore men. During the sixteen hundreds the Plague was very predominate in England and also in Stepney. During this time the Stepney Church churchyard had to be enlarged to make room for the victims of the Plague, of which no less than 6,583 died in the parish in eighteen months, 154 being buried in one dreadful day in September 1665.
Today row homes and buildings populate the area inhabited by middle class workers with strong work ethics.