Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Steppin' into Stepney Green

August 21st, 2009 · No Comments




After a half-hour of travel along the Northern and District Lines of the Tube, we arrived at Stepney Green. We walked out onto a pavement lined with various ethnic restaurants and shops geared toward a Middle Eastern population. Trying to better understand the population of the area, we passed restaurants including A’la Pizza, Halal Bite, and Rama Thai restaurant. The women dressed in full or partial hijabs gave some indication of the local population as well. We searched for a literal Stepney Green or park as we walked down the moderately busy street. The locals we asked could not point us in the right direction, so we set off on our own.

On the way, we discovered several interesting aspects of Stepney Green, including several private colleges, residential areas, elementary schools, and unique alleyways opening up to even greater neighbourhoods.



Speaking to a doctor of marketing, we learned more about the Royel College of London and the London Crown, two of many private colleges in the area. These two housed 300 and 400 students, respectively, and provided a liberal arts education. The location of the colleges did not give any prominence to the building itself, though. Rather, each college was tucked in a obscure alleyway marked by graffiti and garbage. The signs blended in so well with the business signs dotting the building facades that we had to take a closer look just to notice them.


Still searching for Stepney Green, we wandered off the main road through a desolate tunnel into a rather lovely residential neighbourhood. We first saw a loading dock and an unglamourous site undergoing renovations. This opened up to two rows of tidy homes and ornate gardens (Amy even befriended a black cat along the way!).

There are many monuments erected in the honor of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. His founding of the organization began in Stepney Green at an Almes House, which opened in 1695. Captain James Cook is also immortalized in a series of plaques in front of his home in Stepney Green (Cook was a famed circumnavigator and explorer during the mid-1700s).


"On this site stood a house occupied for some years by Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. 1728-1779 Circumnavigator and Explorer"
“On this site stood a house occupied for some years by Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. 1728-1779 Circumnavigator and Explorer”

Our trip through the residential areas led us to an elementary school and adjoining playground. The high brick walls and gated backyard gave an impression of safety and comfort. This suburban area directly contrasted with our experience on the main road of town, which seemed more “run-down” and tired. There were no people in these residential areas, whereas people congregated on the main road for lazy conversation and commerce.


So what of the actual Stepney Green? We were ready to board a bus home in defeat when we realized (thanks to a bus map) that the actual Green was behind us the entire time. We wandered toward Stepney Green Road (go figure), which led us to a wide gated entrance to the park. Lined by tall trees, benches, and houses, the park stretched for as long as we could see. We stopped to take a break from our arduous journey (and to celebrate) and headed back home via bus. Walking the rest of the way from Tottenham Court Road, we arrived safely at the Arran House.


We expect to see more of these juxtapositions of poorer, run-down neighbourhoods and more surburban, gated communities. These proved to us how London is truly multi-faceted and cannot be defined by one’s initial  perception.

Tags: Amy · Brandon