TitleRecords of the Parish of St Mary Stratford Bow
DescriptionCivil parish local authority records relating to the maintenance of the parish and its people. There are key resources for tracing individuals in the parish as follows:

Records include minutes and related records of the vestry. These include workhouse committee minutes (1803-1830) and a record of the parish's boundary stones and markers. There are also extensive series of rate books and land tax assessments recording individuals.

The collection also includes churchwardens and Overseers account books (from 1719). Poor law records include registers of poor in the workhouse (1806-1825) and later individuals in the Poplar Union Workhouse (1859-1865), an apprenticeship register (1802-1827) and poor law 'pauper' examination and settlement records (1740-1866).

Also held are records of the treasurer, surveyors and highways, Bow Consolidated Charities, Commissioners of Public Baths and Wash Houses and Bow Library.
Extent421 items
AdminHistoryOrigins and extent
The parish of St Mary Stratford Bow can trace its origins to 1311, when a chapel was constructed to overcome the difficulties which local residents were having in travelling to the church of St Dunstan's at Stepney - several miles distant. The chapel was part of Stepney parish, but it was formally separated by Act of Parliament in 1719. The church was damaged during the Second World War and underwent later restoration.

The parish comprised some 460 acres bounded on the east by the Lea, to the north by Hackney, to the north-west by Bethnal Green, the west and south-west by Stepney. Just under half of the parish in the eighteenth century was arable land. Building development was limited to the areas immediately adjacent to Bow Road until well into the nineteenth century; maps indicate that virtually no open land remained in the parish by the 1880s.

The governing body of the parish of St Mary Stratford Bow was the Vestry. The parish Vestry was originally responsible for:
- the physical care and maintenance of the parish and its people. This former local government function is thus 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 alongside secular matters
including ceremonies for baptisms, marriages and burials.
The Vestry of St Mary Stratford Bow was a so-called 'close vestry', comprising 12 persons, together with the minister and churchwarden, vacancies being filled by co-opting people.

Before 1855 parish vestries 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.

This early form of local government across the country was a fusion of ecclesiastical and civil functions that 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. It was the 1855 Metropolis Management Act which saw a major break from the old tradition of local administration in London. The parish of St Mary Stratford Bow joined with St Leonard Bromley and All Saints Poplar to become became part of the newly created Poplar District Board of Works,

The Board was a separate unit of local government which oversaw public health and sanitary conditions (see ref: L/PBW). Some residual responsibilities remained with the three constituent parishes after 1855.

The two main secular functions of the parish of St Mary were:
(i) the care of the poor and the administration of parochial charities.
(ii) the maintenance of roads.
There was also some management of petty law and order

Key officials in St Mary responsible for '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 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.

National legislation passed in the mid nineteenth century led to new powers for the vestries:

- the Public Baths and Wash-Houses Acts of 1846 and 1847 enabled parishes to construct public facilities, the expense being met out of the Poor
- an Act passed in 1850 authorised local authorities to provide public lending and reference libraries.

However, many authorities - including St Mary Stratford Bow - did not take up these powers until much later. For instance, the records suggest that a parish Bath and Wash-Houses Committee did not meet until the late 1880s, and a vote of ratepayers in favour of the Vestry taking on the powers of the Commissioners of Public Libraries did not take place until April 1896.

Notable events and developments
1719: consecration of the existing chapel at Bow as a parish church; the first rector is appointed by Brasenose College, Oxford - Dr Robert Warren MA

1744: patent under which Bow pottery was produced taken out by Heylyn and Frye - the factory is known as 'New Canton' and employs 300 people: it lasts until 1776

7 April 1747: the church tower is damaged by a serious fire

1750s: scarlet dying, originally established on the Lea by immigrants from the Low Countries but later undertaken for the East India Company, becomes the principal industry in the parish for the next 40 years

1790s: large-scale calico printing, originally established by Huguenot refugees, carried on by the firm of Macmurdo, Lane and Tibbalds, supplanting dying as the main industrial activity

1790s: 13 acres of market gardens and nurseries are recorded in the parish; one nurseryman, a Mr Gordon, is noted for his cultivation of exotic plants here and in neighbouring Bromley St Leonard

January 1829: partial collapse of the church tower

1839: opening of the initial stretch of the Eastern Counties Railway from Mile End through the middle of Bow (still largely undeveloped at this time) to Romford

- Steven Friar, The Local History Companion (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2001)
- David Hey (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford: OUP, 2010)
- W. P. Insley, Memorials of the Church of Bow (London: Bowe Presse, 1885)
- Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith, The History of East London (London: Macmillan, 1939)
- Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London, Vol. 2 (London, 1795)
Related MaterialFrom 1855, many of the civil 'local authority' functions of the parish were inherited by the Poplar District Board of Works (ref: L/PBW).

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 parochial place of worship parish records including parish registers dating back to 1538 recording baptisms, marriages and burials are held by London Metropolitan Archives (collection reference: P88/MRY1). Digital copies of the parish registers are available to search on, the online database of family history records.
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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