RepositoryArchives
Ref NoL/SGE
LevelFonds
TitleRecords of the Parish of St. George-in-the-East
Date1717-1905
DescriptionCivil parish local authority records relating to the maintenance of the parish and its people.

The records include vestry minutes, day books recording baptisms, marriages and burials (1729-1879 with gaps, see L/SGE/B), rate books and poor law records including settlements. Churchwardens accounts include burials (see L/SGE/E/5). Also held is a register of the Tombs, Vaults, and Gravestones in the Burial Ground, as existing in 1885. This was made in preparation before their removal (see L/SGE/F/2).

These are key resources for tracing individuals in the parish.

The collection also includes records relating to the surveyor, treasurer, local charities, Paving Commissioners and public libraries.
Extent497 items
AdminHistoryOrigins and extent
The parish of St George-in-the-East, a largely rural area at the time of its creation, was detached from the large mother-parish of Stepney in May 1729 by a special Act of Parliament. It had formerly been a hamlet known as Wapping Stepney.

Prior to this, the 'Act for the building of Fifty New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster or the Suburbs thereof' had been passed in 1711, to be paid for by a tax levied on coal entering the City of London. Only 12 of these churches were built, one of which was St George-in-the-East, designed by the famous architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Construction began in 1715, the church was completed in summer 1729 and consecrated on 19 July. William Simpson, the first rector, was inducted on 25 July; he died on 19 July 1764.

At the time it was established, the boundaries of the parish bordered:
- The Hamlet Mile End Old Town
- The Hamlet of Ratcliff
- The Parish of St John Wapping
- The Parish of St Mary Whitechapel
St George-in-the East also reached down to the Thames, its short river frontage running along what was to become Wapping High Street. All told, the parish comprised some 244 acres.

By the 1790s most of the parish had been built on, and the inhabitants were mainly engaged in trades, such as ropemaking and rigging, which served the thriving maritime economy that had developed along the Thames. Swedes and Danes were a notable element of the population, with their churches in Wellclose Square (built 1696) and Prince's Square (built 1729).

Purpose
Before 1855 the parish vestry met to discharge the business of both ecclesiastical and secular local government. The vestries were committees of prominent householders and church officials. The name came from the way meetings took place in the church vestry or sacristy; this is the room where the priest prepares for a service and where vestments and articles of worship are stored. The St George-in-the-East Vestry was 'open' to all parishioners who paid 2 shillings a year for the relief of the poor.

This early form of local government across the country was a fusion of ecclesiastical and civil functions. The parish was originally responsible for:
- the physical care and maintenance of the parish and its people. This former local government function is a predecessor of the current
London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
- religious care and related ecclesiastical concerns of the Church of England. Parish clergy carried out religious functions, including ceremonies for baptisms, marriages and burials, alongside dealing with secular matters.

In the middle of the eighteenth century there was, in addition to the Parish Clerk, a total of 39 parochial officers for St George-in-the-East, as follows:
- Churchwardens: 2
- Overseers of the Poor: 4
- Constables/Headboroughs: 1/12
- Scavengers: 4
- Surveyors: 2
- Beadles: 2
- Watchmen: 12

Most of these officers ultimately derived their historical origins and authority from a variety of sources: the Churchwardens had always been elected by the parishioners; the Overseers were appointed by the County Justices of the Peace; the Constables, Headboroughs and Scavengers were all originally manorial officers appointed by the Court Leet; the Surveyors were appointed by the JPs from a list submitted by the parish. The Parish Clerk, the Beadle and probably the Watchmen were the only officials who derived their authority solely from the vestry. As time went on these arcane distinctions of origin, jurisdiction and responsibility became increasingly blurred.

The key officials in St George-in-the-East responsible for the 'local authority' parish functions were:
1. Overseer of the Poor: an unpaid office created in 1572. Officials were initially responsible for supervising endowments and charitable funds. Following the 1601 Poor Law Act, the churchwardens of the parish together with two or more substantial local landowners were to act as Overseers. Their role was to collect the poor rate and supervise the relief of the poor, including managing workhouses and arranging the apprenticeship of poor orphans. The 1662 Law of Settlement Act empowered Overseers to remove 'strangers' from the parish. Sometimes referred to as 'aliens' these were people who did not have rights to settle, because, for example, they were born outside the parish. Overseers were chosen at Vestry meetings to administer the Poor Law for the ensuing year. Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Boards of Guardians replaced the Overseers and administration of poor relief left the parish's powers.

2. Surveyor of the Highways: an unpaid position created in 1555. The parish Surveyor's role was to inspect roads and bridges three times a year and to organise repairs. The Surveyor could also raise rates.
The Surveyors and Overseers kept accounts and were answerable to the Justices of the Peace. A new system was introduced in 1835,
whereby JPs appointed paid surveyors to groups of parishes.

3. Constable: although the office was manorial in origin, vestries gradually acquired responsibilities for appointing constables. The position was filled by rotation and was unpaid. Constables' roles included dealing with petty issues of law and order, the collection of rates and taxes, maintenance of the forms of punishment (stocks and pillories - a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were formerly imprisoned and exposed to public abuse), inspection of taverns, supervision of jury service, apprehending escaped prisoners and convening parish meetings.

The early form of local government outlined here had evolved to meet the needs of the inhabitants as they arose. A generalised system of local government, separate to ecclesiastical concerns, slowly took shape during the course of the nineteenth century. The first concerted attempt to rationalise administration in London came in the form of the 1855 Metropolis Management Act. This created 22 vestries (and 12 district boards) in inner London endowed with municipal powers. Under the terms of the Act, the parish of St George-in-the-East was designated as a 'Schedule A' vestry (on account of its dense population), and provision made for elections thereto. See under L/SGE/A/2 for further details of these new administrative arrangements.

Key developments and dates
1729: completion of St George-in-the-East Church; consecration took place on 19 July

7 October 1759: death of Joseph Ames of Wapping, historian of printing, buried in St George-in-the-East churchyard

1792: the Universal Medical Institution, intended to provide medical treatment for the poor, founded in Old Gravel Lane

1794: a major fire destroys the riverfront area of the parish

1800: work begins on the construction of the London Docks in Wapping

31 July 1805: first vessel enters the Docks

December 1811: the notorious Marr and Williamson murders on Ratcliff Highway

1849, 1855 and 1866: outbreaks of cholera recorded in the parish

Sources
- Steven Friar, The Local History Companion (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2001)
- R. H. Hadden, An East End Chronicle (London: Hatchards, 1880)
- David Hey (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford: OUP, 2010)
- Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith, The History of East London (London: Macmillan, 1939)
Related MaterialThe parochial place of worship parish records including parish registers recording baptisms, marriages and burials are held by London Metropolitan Archives (collection references: P93/GEO with further churchwardens accounts under ACC/3248 and O/497). Digital copies of the parish registers are available to search on Ancestry.co.uk, the online database of family history records.

Printed material such as parish histories, reports, maps and plans are in the Local History Library. For maps and plans of the parish boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * to search across these formats].

The body which inherited many of the secular functions of St George-in-the-East parish was the post-1855 Vestry; see L/SGE/A/2 for minutes 1860-1867.
Subject(s)St. George-in-the-East (parish)
Access StatusOpen
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.
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