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East Ham Nature Reserve Newham


St Mary Magdalene Church was built in c.1130 and is one of the oldest in the country, its churchyard one of the largest in London. It is now managed as East Ham Nature reserve, which is an important teaching resource for Newham schools. The ancient parish church indicates where the medieval settlement o East Ham was centred; it is also near the site of a Roman cemetery discovered in 1864. The churchyard was officially closed for burials in 1974 and was a wilderness until its value as a wildlife reserve was realised in c.1977. In 1981 hedges were planted, a copse of Scots pines was planted and the Visitors Centre was built.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
St Mary Magdalene Churchyard, East Ham Parish Church

Site location:
Norman Road/High Street South, East Ham

E6 4HN ( Google Map)

Type of site:

C12th onwards; C20th


Listed structures:
LBI: Church of St Mary Magdalene


Site ownership:
Church of England leased to LB Newham

Site management:
Parks Service (formerly managed by Passmore Edwards Museum)

Open to public?

Opening times:
Tues-Fri 10am-5pm (summer)/4pm (winter); Sat/Sun: 2pm-5pm (summer), 1pm-4pm (winter). Church open by appointment

Special conditions:
No dogs except guide dogs

Shop, museum displays, toilets, nature trails; schools programme


Public transport:
Tube: East Ham (District, Hammersmith & City). DLR: Beckton. Bus: 101, 104, 173, 300.

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Further Information

Grid ref:

Size in hectares:

Green Flag:

On EH National Register :

EH grade:

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:

In Conservation Area:

Tree Preservation Order:

Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Boro Importance I

Green Belt:

Metropolitan Open Land:

Special Policy Area:

Other LA designation:

Fuller information

East Ham, at the time of the Norman Conquest, was owned by Leofric and Edwin and in the Domesday survey is recorded as consisting of '38 villagers, 30 small-holdings and 3 slaves', with '17 ploughs, 15 cattle, 180 sheep, 44 pigs with woodland for 700, 59 acres of meadow, and 3 beehives'. The word 'Hame' meant 'low-lying pasture', and in medieval times the area was largely arable land and woodland although intensive farming led to the disappearance of the latter by the late C13th. The ancient parish church of St Mary Magdalene indicates where the medieval settlement was centred. The church was built in c.1130 and is one of the oldest in the country. Numerous building materials were used in its construction including Roman tiles, Kentish rag, flints and chalk, and Norfolk pudding-stone; the original Norman timber roof over the apse remains, held together by wooden pegs. A tower was added in the C13th, although the tower today dates from the C16th. It once housed five bells, of which only one remains, 'Gabriel', the oldest bell in London, which was cast in 1380 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. In the church are two church-wardens 'prickers' of 1805 which were used to wake those who slept during the sermon. There is an anchorite's cell in the north side of the chancel, and the church has a number of monuments and brasses dating from the C16th and C17th including a large Jacobean monument to Lord Mortimer, his wife and 7 children, and a marble and onyx monument to Giles Breame and his wife. Breame's father was granted the patronage of the living of East Ham after the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne was dissolved in 1532.

Among the many graves and tombs in the churchyard is a memorial for two of the crew of the SS Titanic; a relative of Fletcher Christian is buried here, as is the C18th antiquarian William Stukely who surveyed and recorded Stonehenge. The churchyard was officially closed for burials in 1974 and was for many years a wilderness until its value as a wildlife reserve was realised in c.1977. In 1981 hedges were planted around the oldest part of the churchyard, a copse of 20 Scots pines was planted in the south, and the Visitors Centre was built. Various areas of the Nature Reserve have been named after people and places associated with the church, such as Roll's Plantation after the Revd. Sir James Roll, vicar here between 1944 to 1958. The Nature Reserve was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1983.

In 1990 the Wren Conservation Group co-ordinated the planting of 5,000 young native tree species to increase woodland, with a grant from the Nature Conservancy Council. At this time paths were upgraded and nature trails were laid out, one for wheelchair users to use unassisted, and another for their use with assistance; additional support came from the Area Museum Service for South-East England. The National Churchyard Conservation Campaign was launched from here in May 1991.

Sources consulted:

John Archer/Ian Yarham, Nature Conservation in Newham, London Ecology Unit, 1991; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Memories of St Mary's (Eastside Community Heritage publication (2000)

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