A top state secondary school, the award-winning regeneration of a tired council estate, a much-visited city farm with sheep, goats, chickens and ferrets, and a church which can date its ministry back to the 10th century are the defining features of today’s Stepney.
This east London neighbourhood has over the centuries been moulded by waves of immigration, from France — the silk-weaving Huguenots — and from Ireland, Eastern Europe and more recently from Bangladesh. A third of Stepney was destroyed during the war as German bombers headed for the docks, and Sixties council tower blocks grew where streets of terrace housing once stood.
Stepney’s centre of gravity is St Dunstan and All Saints church in Stepney High Street. Surrounded by the greenery of its churchyard and roads of pretty, flat-fronted early Victorian houses built by The Mercers’ Company, a leading City livery company, the church is the oldest in the East End. This is a resting place for sailors and sea captains.
On the opposite side of the road, Stepney City Farm is where local families get a taste of the countryside, buy farm produce and visit the Saturday farmers’ market.
Sir John Cass (1661-1718) was a City merchant and MP whose educational legacy is seen throughout the East End with schools and colleges including the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design in Aldgate and the Cass Business School in the City. In Stepney the Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat School is a top-performing state comprehensive that is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Much of Stepney was rebuilt after the destruction wrought during the Second World War Blitz that wiped out so many of the buildings. This has left a legacy of post-war council housing now reaching the end of its useful life. The regeneration of the Ocean Estate has won housing industry plaudits and covers an area stretching half a mile from Mile End Road to Aston Street. Over the past seven years, a consortium including Tower Hamlets council, housing association East Thames and Bellway Homes has built 800 new homes and refurbished a further 1,000.
The new blocks are arranged around traditional roads with landscaped courtyards , while more than 376 trees and 7,000 shrubs have been planted. Homes in the final phase, which saw three tower blocks demolished, will be available early next year.
The property scene
Set along Mile End Road and Commercial Road, Stepney’s main streets, some pockets of Georgian houses survive.
Of these, Albert Gardens, south of Commercial Road in the Albert Gardens conservation area, is particularly pretty and well preserved.
This conservation area also takes in Arbour Square, where a three-bedroom house is currently for sale for £1.4 million.
There are streets of pretty, flat-fronted two- and three-storey early Victorian houses in Stepney’s other conservation areas, which include Carlton Square, north of Mile End Road; Ford Square and Sidney Square conservation area, south of Whitechapel Road, and York Square — also known as the Mercers’ Estate — north of Commercial Road close to Limehouse rail and DLR station.
Stepney has a few warehouse conversions but it is also a good place to look for former Right-to-Buy flats on the neighbourhood’s many estates of social housing.
New-build apartments on the regenerated Ocean Estate include two-bedroom homes for £515,000 and three-bedroom flats for £675,000.
The final phase of the regeneration of the Ocean Estate has seen three council tower blocks in Aston Street demolished, to replace 120 homes with 225 new flats, comprising 92 for affordable rent, 104 for private sale and 29 for shared ownership.
They will be available early next year and housing association East Thames is taking expressions of interest. Visit east-thames.co.uk or call 0300 303 7333.
Titanium Point is a block of 72 flats in The Guinness Partnership’s Sutton Wharf development in Palmers Road. Five remain, with two or three bedrooms, priced from £645,000 to £665,000. Call Keatons on 020 8981 7788.
Help to Buy is available at St Clements the redevelopment of the old St Clements Hospital site in Bow Road. The development is a mix of converted hospital buildings and new build, and prices start at £445,000 for a one-bedroom flat and £600,000 for a two-bedroom flat.
There is a two bedroom converted lodge house for sale at £999,995. Call 020 3532 2492.
Queen Mary University of London is a big presence in Mile End Road and many students choose to live within walking distance, which makes Stepney a popular area for students and young professional renters alike.
Keatons’ Joe Harvey says rental levels are currently hard to predict; some have been declining, while others have remained steady, so the message to tenants is to bargain hard.
Stepney is in E1, the central postcode that stretches from Aldgate to Bow taking in Whitechapel, Shoreditch and Spitalfields on the way. On its eastern edge Stepney strays into E3, the Bow postcode.
Arbour Square has early Victorian four-storey houses arranged around a well-maintained garden square.
Up and coming
The Carlton Square conservation area is a hidden gem with two- and three-storey flat-fronted early Victorian houses. Keatons currently has a three-bedroom house for sale in the conservation area in Grantley Street for £915,000.
Stepney Green Underground station is on the District and Hammersmith & City lines.
Nearby Whitechapel Tube station is also on the Overground with trains to Canary Wharf via Canada Water, and with the arrival of Crossrail will become a major hub with trains to Bond Street in 10 minutes and Heathrow in 38 minutes.
Stepney is in Zone 2 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 is £1,296.
Tower Hamlets council is Labour controlled and Band D council tax for 2017/2018 is £1,246.82.
Shops and restaurants
There are branches of Asda, Currys PC World and Halfords at Anchor Retail Park on the site of the former Anchor brewery in Mile End Road.
There is a busy street market along the wide pavements of Mile End Road, and signs that café society is finally penetrating the neighbourhood with Foxcroft & Ginger, an all-day café and bakery, in the former Wickham’s department store, popular with desktop workers; a branch of Soho House’s Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger, plus vegan and vegetarian restaurant 90 Degree Melt, which describes itself as “serving American comfort food and grilled cheese”.
Verdi’s is an Italian restaurant specialising in the food of the Emilia-Romagna region and there is a branch of the Turkish chain Efes. Rinkoff Bakery in Jubilee Street is a long-standing Jewish bakery – it started in 1911 – which now does a tasty line in crodoughs, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut.
Tayyabs is a favourite Indian restaurant in Fieldgate Street and there is another street market, Watney Market, off Commercial Road.
There are pocket parks throughout Stepney but the area is bounded to the east by Mile End Park, the long, linear park that runs from St Paul’s Way in the south to Roman Road close to Victoria Park in the north.
Leisure and the arts
Genesis Cinema in Mile End Road is an art house cinema showing first-release and independent films in a renovated 19th-century building.
The Ragged School Museum in Copperfield Road gives visitors the chance to experience life in a 19th-century charity school.
Stepney’s state schools are all rated “good” or better by the Ofsted education watchdog.
The “outstanding” primary schools are: Stephen Hawking in Brunton Place; Sir William Burrough in Salmon Lane and Smithy Street in Smithy Street.
The “outstanding” comprehensive schools are Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat CofE (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Stepney Way, and Bishop Challoner RC (girls, ages 11 to 16 — there is a joint sixth form with the boys’ school) in Commercial Road. Stepney Green Maths, Computing and Science College (boys, ages 11 to 18) in Ben Jonson Road, and Bishop Challoner RC (boys, ages 11 to 16) in Commercial Road, are rated “good”.
There are two top-performing academic private schools in the City. These are City of London (boys, ages 10 to 18) in Queen Victoria Street and City of London School for Girls (ages seven to 18) in the Barbican.