Clockwise from top left: St. Dunstan's Church; Stepney Green tube station; Genesis cinema; route 135 at Arbour Square; Stepney Green; the Half Moon pub.
Stepney is located in Greater London
Location within Greater London
Population16,238 (2011 census. St Dunstan's and Stepney Green Ward)[1]
OS grid referenceTQ355814
• Charing Cross3.6 mi (5.8 km) WSW
London borough
Ceremonial countyGreater London
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtE1, E14
Dialling code020
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°30′55″N 0°02′46″W / 51.5152°N 0.0462°W / 51.5152; -0.0462

Stepney is an area in London, England located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is in East London and part of the East End. Stepney is no longer officially defined, and is usually used to refer to a relatively small area. However, for much of its history the place name applied to a much larger manor and parish. Stepney Green is a remnant of a larger area of Common Land formerly known as Mile End Green.[2]

The area was built up rapidly in the 19th century, mainly to accommodate immigrant workers and displaced London poor, and developed a reputation for poverty, overcrowding, violence and political dissent.[3] It was severely damaged during the Blitz, with over a third of housing totally destroyed; and then, in the 1960s, slum clearance and development replaced most residential streets with tower blocks and modern housing estates. Some Georgian architecture and Victorian era terraced housing survive in patches: for example Arbour Square, the eastern side of Stepney Green, and the streets around Matlock Street.[3][4]



The first surviving record of the place name is from around 1000 AD as Stybbanhyð, "Stybba's hyð"; hyð developed into hithe (meaning landing-place) in modern English, so "Stybba's landing-place". The parish of Stebbing in Essex also appears to have taken its name from an individual called Stybba.[5] The hithe itself is thought to have been at Ratcliff, just under one-half mile (800 metres) south of St Dunstan's Church.[6]

Changing scope

Historically, Stepney was a very large manor and Ancient Parish which covered most of what would become the East End. From 1900 to 1965 the place-name was applied to the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, which in 1965 became the south-west part of the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets which currently administers the area.[3] There is currently a Stepney episcopal area in the Anglican Diocese of London, which covers the London boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets, and has its own suffragan bishop.[7]

The area of Stepney has had no local government definition since 1965, but is used to refer to the whole former parish and also to a relatively small area within it.

Manor and ancient parish

For hundreds of years the term Stepney referred to the Manor and Ancient Parish of Stepney, with the first contemporary record of the Manor around the year 1000. The Manor covered an area stretching from the eastern edge of the City of London to the Lea and from Stamford Hill down to the Thames; in this way covering an area equivalent to the modern borough of Tower Hamlets, as well as the district of Hackney (in the wider modern borough of the same name).

The origins of the Manor (and Vill) are not known, but its large size, relatively rich soils and position so close to the walls of London have led to suggestions that the manor was the foundation grant of land made to the Bishop of London to support the creation of the new diocese of London (the East Saxon see) at the time of the establishment of St Paul's Cathedral in 604 AD.[8][9]

St Dunstan's church is recorded as being founded (or more likely rebuilt[10]) by Dunstan himself in 952, and as the first church in the manor, will have served the whole of that landholding. The proto-parish of Stepney will therefore have covered the same area as the manor.

Hackney appears to have been an early daughter parish of Stepney; a church at Hackney is first mentioned in 1275 but is likely to have been in place before then. From the 1100s, the development and improvement in enforcement of Canon law made it difficult to form new parishes,[11] so Hackney seems likely to have formed an independent parish in the 12th century, with the district remaining a sub-manor of Stepney.

It was usual for one or more manors to form a parish, but the manor of Stepney's great size meant that this was reversed with two parishes (Stepney and Hackney) serving the single manor of Stepney. For local government purposes, the parish sub-divided into Hamlets.[12]


The Domesday Book survey of 1086 gives the name as Stibanhede and says that the land was held by the Bishop of London and was 32 hides large, mainly used for ploughing, meadows, woodland for 500 pigs, and 4 mills. The survey recorded 183 households; 74 of villeins who ploughed the land, 57 of cottars who assisted the villeins in return for a hut or cottage and 52 of bordars. This is estimated to have given the manor a total population of around a thousand people.[13]

Bishop William held this land in demesne, in the manor of Stepney, on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead. In the same vill Ranulph Flambard holds 3½ hides of the bishop.[14]

The Bishop of London held many other estates around London, and one of them, heavily wooded Hornsey, was attached to Stepney as a remote exclave for a time (it was common practice for wooded exclaves to be attached to more intensely farmed and densely populated estates in that period). The sub-manor of Hornsey was not part of the original territory of Stepney but was subsequently attached as an administrative convenience, and detached once more around the late 13th century.[9] The earliest record of the district's Manor house, is from 1207, but the Bishop may have had a home in the Manor long before. The house was first known as Bishopswood, and later Bishops Hall or Bonner Hall, and was on a site in Bethnal Green later occupied by the London Chest Hospital.[8] Edward VI passed Stepney to the Wentworth family, and thence to their descendant, the Earl of Cleveland. The Manors of Stepney and Hackney were linked, until they passed into separate ownership in the 1660s.[8]

The system of copyhold, whereby land was leased to tenants for terms as short as seven years, prevailed throughout the manor. This severely limited scope for improvement of the land and new building until the estate was broken up in the 19th century.[15]

Church and parish

Main article: Stepney (parish)

St Dunstan's Church was founded (or rebuilt) around 952, by St Dunstan himself when he was Bishop of London, and therefore also Lord of the Manor of Stepney. Many bishops lived in the manor and Dunstan may have done the same. The church was dedicated to Dunstan after he was canonised in 1029, making him the patron saint of Stepney.[16] The bells of the church, cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, appear in the nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons

" 'When will that be'? say the bells of Stepney"

The church is known as "The Mother Church of the East End"[17] as the very large parish covered most of what would become inner East London, before population growth led to the creation of a large number of daughter parishes. It is also known as "The Church of the High Seas" due to its traditional maritime connections. In 1720 the historian John Strype wrote that Stepney (together with its daughter parishes) should be esteemed a province rather than a parish, due to its large population, area and the diversity of urban, rural and maritime industries.[18]

Stepney formed a large Ancient Parish in the Tower division of the Ossulstone hundred of Middlesex. The parish included the hamlets of Mile End Old Town, Mile End New Town, Ratcliff, Wapping-Stepney, Bow, Shadwell, Bethnal Green, Limehouse and Poplar. The Hamlets were territorial sub-divisions (as opposed to small villages), which ultimately became independent daughter parishes.

Ties with Shoreditch

The origin of the neighbouring parish of Shoreditch is obscure, but it primarily served the manors of Hoxton and Haggerston, both manors recorded at Domesday in 1086,[19][20] together with a part of the Manor of Stepney.[21] The parish church, St Leonard's, Shoreditch, was built on land that was part of the Manor of Stepney.

The manor of Hoxton, or a manor called Hoxton, was in Shoreditch, yet in 1352 is recorded as part of the parish of Hackney.[22] It is not clear if or how these links led to the inclusion of the parish of Shoreditch in the Tower Division.

Customs and obligations

The Manor of Stepney was held by the Bishop of London, but the Constable of the Tower of London had important rights and responsibilities in the area. The Constable had responsibilities for the Thames below the Tower and for the care of parts of the Lea. In return the people of the area helped garrison the Tower. The early origin of these arrangements is obscure and the first surviving record of the military obligation dates from 1554, but is thought to be much older, with varying estimates in the post-Norman medieval period.[23][24] These arrangements evolved into the creation of the Tower Division, also known as the Tower Hamlets.[25]

The manor was unusual in practising the gavelkind method of inheritance,[26] a custom largely limited to Kent.

St Dunstan's has a long association with the sea, with the parish of Stepney being responsible for registration of British maritime births, marriages and deaths until the 19th century. From the Tudor era onwards, the parish-level was responsible for mitigating the poverty of people born in the area. Stepney's additional responsibility for those born at sea was something of a burden.[26]

This maritime association is remembered in the old rhyme:

"He who sails on the wide sea, is a parishioner of Stepney"

Break-up of the ancient parish

The rapid growth in population meant that over time the parish was broken up. Hackney is thought to have become independent in the 12th century, Whitechapel in the 14th and Bromley in the 16th. Some sub-divisions for instance those that form Bethnal Green, Bow and Poplar are known to have been based on pre-existing hamlets forming new daughter parishes. Such parish divisions were unusual and required an act of Parliament.

From 1819 the rump of Stepney consisted of three hamlets; Mile End New Town (which was detached from the rest), Ratcliffe and Mile End Old Town (which included St Dunstan's church). This residual parish was 830 acres (340 ha) in extent.[27]

A map showing the 1870 boundaries of parishes which had been split from Stepney (excluding Hackney)

Until 1837, the boundaries of English civil and Church of England ecclesiastical boundaries were identical, but after that the Church of England sub-divided its parishes to suit local needs and circumstances, especially in densely populated areas such as Stepney, and the civil and ecclesiastical boundaries differed from that point on. By 1890 the ancient parish was divided between 67 ecclesiastical parishes (a number later greatly reduced) which had little relation to the civil parish boundaries.

In 1866 the rump civil parish of Stepney came to an end when its three component hamlets (Mile End New Town, Ratcliff and Mile End Old Town) became independent civil parishes.

Urban development

As with most of the East End of London, the contracted area now known as Stepney was sparsely populated until the 19th century, with a population focussed on scattered farms and small hamlets. The urbanisation of the area was driven by the maritime trades along the river, as well as ribbon development along the Mile End Road. Other factors included the development of London's docks and railways, combined with slum clearance, which pushed the displaced poor and various immigrants looking for work into cheap housing being built in the area.

The Trinity Green Almshouses were built in 1695 to provide housing for retired sailors. They are the oldest almshouses in Central London.[28]

Malplaquet House is named after the Battle of Malplaquet, one of the main battles of the War of the Spanish Succession, which took place in France in 1709. However, it is not known whether this naming came from the Jewish widow of the London merchant, who made his living selling war salvage, or from a later resident, the military surgeon Edward Lee.[29] It was home to a variety of small businesses including a bookmaker and a printer, before being occupied in 1910 by the Union of Stepney Ratepayers.[30]

The Leonard Montefiore memorial fountain on Stepney Green is named for a young writer and philanthropist, Leonard Montefiore, who at the time of his death in 1879 was known for his philanthropic work in the East End of London. Montefiore attended Balliol College, Oxford, where his posthumous memoir reports that he was a devotee of John Ruskin. Whilst at Balliol he became a friend of Oscar Wilde, who after Montefiore's death allegedly proposed to his sister Charlotte.[31] He was also influenced by Arnold Toynbee and Benjamin Jowett. Montefiore was chief assistant to Samuel Barnett in his work regarding the extension of Oxford University to London, and was secretary of the Tower Hamlets branch of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching.[32] The Jewish Encyclopedia[33] says "Montefiore was associated with many philanthropic movements, especially with the movement for women's emancipation." Montefiore died at Newport, Rhode Island, aged 27. According to the Women's rights activist Emily Faithfull in her book "Three Visits to America" published in 1884 Montefiore died "While he was visiting the United States, in order to see for himself what could be learned from the political and social condition of the people, must ever be deplored. The world can ill afford to lose men of such deep thought and energetic action."[34] The memorial fountain has the following poem engraved on its side:

"Clear brain and sympathetic heart, A spirit on flame with love for man, Hands quick to labour, slow to part, If any good since time began, A soul can fashion such souls can."

Map of 1792 of Stepney and around, when it was countryside
Map of 1853: The spread of London has reached Stepney

In 1883, Jacob P. Adler arrived in London with a troupe of refugee professional actors. He enlisted the help of local amateurs, and the Russian Jewish Operatic Company made their debut at the Beaumont Hall, close to Stepney Green tube station. Within two years they were able to establish their own theatre in Brick Lane.[35]

Stepney Green railway station was opened in 1902 by the Whitechapel and Bow Railway, a joint venture between the District Railway and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. The station passed to London Underground in 1950.[36]

In the early 20th century, Stepney was one of the most Jewish neighbourhoods in England;[37] it was eventually superseded as such by Stamford Hill.[38]

On 31 July 1987 the Docklands Light Railway, which operated over the old LBR line, commenced operations, with new platforms (platforms 3 and 4) built on the site of the old LBR platforms;[citation needed] at Stepney East which had been renamed Limehouse on 11 May that year.[39]


The former Stepney Town Hall, completed in 1860

The Lord-Lieutenant Ken Olisa is His Majesty's representative for Greater London, including Stepney. He has no political role and holds no office in any political party. The Lord Lieutenancy is purely an honorary titular position.[40]

Stepney is in the constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2010 by Rushanara Ali of the Labour Party.[41]

London overall has a directly elected executive Mayor of London, currently Sadiq Khan, and the City and East seat in the London Assembly is held by the Labour Party's Unmesh Desai.

Tower Hamlets London Borough Council is the local authority and also has a directly elected executive mayor, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs. Stepney has local councillors from three wards, St Dunstan's, Bethnal Green and Stepney Green.


Stepney Green, Stepney Green Court

The Stepney Green Conservation Area was designated in January 1973, covering the area previously known as Mile End Old Town. It is a large Conservation Area with an irregular shape that encloses buildings around Mile End Road, Assembly Passage, Louisa Street and Stepney Green itself. It is an area of exceptional architectural and historic interest, with a character and appearance worthy of protection and enhancement. It is situated just north of the medieval village of Stepney, which was clustered around St. Dunstan's Church.[42]

Stepney Green developed as a street of residential housing off the Mile End Road in the 15th century, and now refers to the area in north Stepney.[43][44] A brewery was founded in 1738 that developed into Charrington and Co. in 1897. The brewery building, the Anchor Brewery, was on the north side of Mile End Road, opposite Stepney Green; and is now the site of the Anchor Retail Unit, owned by Henderson Global Investors,[45] though the Brewery Offices still remain on the corner of Mile End Road and Cephas Avenue.[44]

Nearest places


The Stepney Community Trust, a community-led charity with a long history of local action, was set up in 1982 as the St Mary's Centre to respond to the severe housing and social deprivation in the area. The name was later changed to Stepney Community Trust.[46]

Stepney City Farm is a city farm which provides a number of community services, such as guided tours, workshops and other activities.,[47] was founded in 1979 by Lynne Bennett; at that time it was called Stepping Stones. Local residents, schools, churches and community groups were consulted and wasteland left after a World War II bomb destroyed the Stepney Congregational Church in 1941 was secured for the farm's use.[48]

The Stepney Historical Trust was set up in 1989 to advance the public's education on the history of Stepney and the surrounding areas. It is based in the London Dockers Athletic and Social Club[49] and has installed a series of plaques on sites of historic interest.[50]

Jewish Care was created in 1990 by the merger of two previous charities to care for the community needs cost-effectively. It is based at the Brenner Centre in Raine House.[51]

The City Gateway Women Programmes were established to provide opportunities for local women in Stepney to gain independence, grow in confidence and access employment and develop skills in a supportive community environment.[52]


Further information: Demographics of London

Due to the availability of cheap housing, the East End of London and London Borough of Stepney has been home to various immigrants who have contributed to the culture and history of the area, such as the French Huguenots in the 17th century,[53] the Irish in the 18th century,[54] Ashkenazi Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe towards the end of the 19th century,[55] and the Bangladeshi community settling in the East End from the 1960s onwards.[56] The area still contains a range of immigrants, particularly young Asian families, as well as elderly East Enders, some students, and the beginnings of a young middle class.[4] The 2011 UK Census revealed that 47% of the population was Bengali; the highest percentage of Bengalis in Southern England.[57] White British people comprise just over a quarter of the ward of St. Dunstan's and Stepney Green.[58]


Further information: List of schools in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Stepney All Saints School is a Church of England voluntary aided school that was opened in 1710 by Sir John Cass as the Sir John Cass School. It merged with the Redcoat Secondary School in 1966 and took the name of Sir John Cass's Foundation and Red Coat School that year. It took its current name in 2020.[59]

Stepney Green Maths, Computing and Science College is a community school for boys, the curriculum is broad, there is a wide range of extra-curricular activities offered before, during and after school.[60]


Stepney F.C. is a non-league association football team which currently plays in the Tower Hamlets-based Inner London Football League.[61]

The district's Senrab Street gave its name to Senrab F.C., a youth team now based in Wanstead Flats and notable for producing many future professional players.[62]


Stepney Green tube station.

Stepney is connected to the London Underground at Stepney Green tube station on the Hammersmith & City and District lines.[63][64]

The area overall is covered by London Buses services, mostly west–east by the 25, 205, N25, N205 on Mile End Road[65] and 15, 115, 135 and N550 on Commercial Road,[66] the 309 and 339 via Ben Johnson Road.[67]

An automatic air monitoring site in nearby Mile End recorded a 2017 annual average of 48 μg/m3. Alternative monitoring sites on Mile End Road also failed to meet air quality objectives with a site at the junction with Globe Road recorded 52 μg/m3 as a 2017 average.[citation needed]

Notable people

See also: Category:People from Stepney

The English physician Richard Mead, responsible for advances in understanding transmissible diseases, was born in Stepney.

Others born in Stepney are entertainer Des O'Connor,[68] actor Steven Berkoff,[69] playwright Arnold Wesker, gardener Rachel De Thame, television executive Alan Yentob, artist Frank Paton, drummer Kenney Jones, musician and writer Jah Wobble,[70] singer Kenny Lynch and his sister Maxine Daniels, singer Charles Coborn, footballers Ledley King, Ashley Cole, Mark Lazarus, Barry Silkman, and Darren Purse, heavyweight boxer "Bombardier" Billy Wells, former armed robber and businessman Roy Shaw, former British featherweight boxing champion Sammy McCarthy, sportswriter Norman Giller, and Labour politician Wes Streeting.

Clergymen John Sentamu, formerly Bishop of Stepney, and Father Richard Wilson, founder of the Hoppers' Hospitals at Five Oak Green, Kent, lived in the borough at one time.[71]

Actors born in Stepney include Bernard Bresslaw, Terence Stamp, Craig Fairbrass, Jeff Shankley, John Lyons, Eddie Marsan, Ben Onwukwe, Victor McLaglen, Roy Marsden, Ruth Sheen, EastEnders actress Anita Dobson and Nicola Walker.

Musicians Monty Norman (composer of the James Bond Theme) and Lionel Bart (known for creating the book, music and lyrics to the production Oliver!), were also born in Stepney, as was musician Wiley, widely considered to be the founding father of grime music.

British communist Alf Salisbury, who smuggled monetary funds to German anti-fascists during Hitler's rise to power, and fought in both the Battle of Cable Street and for the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, was born in Stepney. Later in life he led a successful campaign to convince the BBC and other British news outlets to stop using the term "Mongols" to refer to people with Down Syndrome. For this work he was awarded with special commondations from the Mongolian embassy.

In popular culture

In her 2002 memoir Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth writes a graphic account of 1950s Stepney at the height of its urban decay describing bombsites, condemned buildings, filth, and rampant prostitution.[citation needed]

In the 1965 Rolling Stones song Play with Fire, it is said an heiress whose wealth has been carried off by her husband “gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge anymore.”

Elton John refers to Stepney in the song "Bitter Fingers" which was written by Elton and Bernie Taupin.

Folk noir duo Ruby Throat released a song called "Forget Me Nots of Stepney" on their 2012 album O' Doubt O' Stars.

Mentioned in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels "Hand made in Italy, hand stolen in Stepney"

See also


  1. ^ "Tower Hamlets Ward population 2011". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Stepney: Communications | British History Online". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Christopher Hibbert; Ben Weinreb (2008). The London Encyclopaedia. Pan Macmillan. p. 877. ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Hot neighbourhoods: Stepney, E1 – Time Out London". Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  5. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place-names
  6. ^ "Stepney: Settlement and Building to c.1700 | British History Online". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  7. ^ "Stepney Episcopal Area". The Diocese of London. Archived from the original on 30 August 2005. Retrieved 10 May 2007.
  8. ^ a b c "Stepney:Manors and Estates pages 19-52". British History Online. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  9. ^ a b The Roman Pottery site in Highgate Wood, AE Brown and HL Sheldon p67
  10. ^ on Dunstan probably rebuilding, rather than founding, the church of the manor and parochia “Medieval London Suburbs, Kevin McDonnell, p136
  11. ^ Churches in the landscape, Richard Morris, 169-171
  12. ^ "Stepney: Local Government | British History Online".
  13. ^ Medieval London Suburbs, Pillimore Publishig, Kevin McDonnell p16
  14. ^ Domesday Book – A Complete Translation Folio 127V: MIDDLESEX. Penguin Books. Nov 2002. ISBN 0-14-100523-8
  15. ^ Stepney, Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 137–142 accessed: 17 November 2007
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  17. ^ "St Dunstan and All Saints Stepney". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
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  20. ^ "Haggerston". Open Domesday.
  21. ^ "Historical introduction: Shoreditch High Street, east side | British History Online". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  22. ^ Medieval London suburbs, K McDonnell, p30
  23. ^ The Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Official Guide – 10th Edition – 1961 – Published by Ed J Burrow and Co Ltd p26 - The publication gave the view that the arrangement dated from the Norman or early Plantagenet
  24. ^ East London Papers. Volume 8 Paper 2. M. J. Power - the author noted that some believed the arrangement was around the time of the conquest, but suggested a later medieval date was more likely due to the higher local population.
  25. ^ "Stepney: Early Stepney | British History Online". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  26. ^ a b "Stepney History". Genuki. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
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  31. ^ The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, Neil Mckenna, Random House, 2011-02-28
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  33. ^ "MONTEFIORE". Retrieved 7 October 2017.
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  35. ^ The Jewish Museum accessed on 31 March 2007
  36. ^ "Transport Act, 1947" (PDF). The London Gazette. 27 January 1950. p. 480. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 July 2013.
  37. ^ Jones, Catherine (27 September 2001). Immigration and Social Policy in Britain. Routledge. ISBN 9780415265003 – via Google Books.
  38. ^ Kosher in the country, The Economist 1 June 2006 accessed 14 August 2007
  39. ^ "Docklands Light Railway". Clive's UndergrounD Line Guides.
  40. ^ "Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London". Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  41. ^ "Rushanara Ali MP". UK Parliament.
  42. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 March 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  43. ^ "Stepney – Communications". British History Online. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  44. ^ a b Stepney Green Conservation Area
  45. ^ "Anchor Retail Park – Scheme Overview on Completely Retail". Retrieved 20 May 2010.
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  47. ^ "Community Groups – Stepney City Farm". 21 January 2013.
  48. ^ Winfield, Nigel (1986). Stepping Stones: Community Farm Project in Stepney, East London. UK: British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres. p. 32. ISBN 0950345253.
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  56. ^ The Spatial Form of Bangladeshi Community in London's East End Iza Aftab (UCL)
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  60. ^ "Mulberry Stepney Green – Maths, Computing and Science College".
  61. ^ "Stepney FC". Inner London Football League. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
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  68. ^ Dec O'Connor at IMDb
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Media related to Stepney at Wikimedia Commons