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St Paul's Churchyard, Shadwell Tower Hamlets


The church here was first established as a chapel of ease of St Dunstan's Stepney, becoming a separate parish in 1669 and consecrated as St Paul's Shadwell in 1671. It became known as the Church of Sea Captains due to the many mariners in the congregation, including Captain James Cook. The old church was later rebuilt in 1820. It was once surrounded by trees on all four sides but in the 1840s part of the churchyard was compulsorily purchased when the London Dock Company built Shadwell New Basin. After it closed for burials, the churchyard was laid out in 1886 as a public garden by the MPGA, with a partially flagged area in front.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
St Paul's Shadwell with St James Ratcliffe; The Church of the Sea Captains

Site location:
The Highway, Wapping

E1W 3DH ( Google Map)

Type of site:

C17th; 1886

Garden 1886: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)

Listed structures:
LBII*: St Paul's Church. LBII: Church House, railings, gates and wall

Tower Hamlets

Site ownership:
St Paul's Church

Site management:
St Paul's Church

Open to public?

Opening times:
most of churchyard is unrestricted access (area of churchyard to The Highway boundary not accessible but visible)

Special conditions:



Public transport:
London Overground: Wapping, Shadwell. DLR: Shadwell. Bus: D3, 100

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2010
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:

Conservation Area name:
St Paul's Church Shadwell

Tree Preservation Order:

Nature Conservation Area:

Green Belt:

Metropolitan Open Land:

Special Policy Area:

Other LA designation:

St Paul's Churchyard, Shadwell

St Paul's Churchyard, April 2010. Photo: S Williams

Click photo to enlarge.

Fuller information

The origins of the church here were established in 1656 with the erection of a Chapel of Ease of the manor of Stepney, built by Thomas Neale, a speculative builder of much of Shadwell. As the population expanded during the C17th the residents petitioned for a separate parish, which was granted in 1669 when it became the Parish Church of Shadwell, the last of five London churches built during the Restoration. The land was in the ownership of the Bishop of London who required the new church to be called after St Paul's Cathedral, and St Paul's Shadwell was consecrated on 12 March 1671. It became known as the Church of Sea Captains for the many mariners who were among the parishioners, which included Captain James Cook whose marriage banns to Elizabeth Batts were read in the church and whose son, also James, was baptised here in 1763. The maritime trade led to Shadwell being a point of arrival for immigrants such as the Huguenots in the C17th, and a mulberry tree in the Rectory garden may have been planted for their silk industry. In 1811 the church was closed as it was in danger of collapse and the parishioners then petitioned for a new church. By this time the local population mainly worked in the docks or on the Thames. The petition was successful and in 1820 the church was substantially rebuilt as a Waterloo Church by the architect John Walters and builder R. Streatham, which is recorded on a plaque on the church.

John Rocque's map of 1746 shows the churchyard surrounded by trees on all four sides. In the 1840s part of the churchyard was compulsorily purchased when the London Dock Company built Shadwell New Basin, during construction of which in 1858 it was discovered that the church was collapsing into the excavation, so buttresses were added to the churchyard wall. After it closed for burials, the churchyard was improved by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association in 1886 when it was laid out as a garden, with a partially flagged area in front for recreation. The design was by Fanny Wilkinson, the MPGA's landscape gardener. Many chest tombs, monuments and headstones were retained, some of which are enclosed with C19th railings, and the churchyard also has notable plane trees. The churchyard was largely cleared of memorials in the 1920s and was used for nature study, and a war memorial cross was erected in 1923. Some restoration works took place to the church in 1931 and later in 1956 for the church's 300th anniversary, supported by among others John Betjeman, former Prime Minister Clement Atlee and the High Commissioner for Australia. At that time the churchyard was also renovated, including its Victorian rose garden that contained over 80 varieties. In the early 1980s funding from the London Docklands Development Corporation enabled refurbishment to the steeple, a new path from the churchyard to Shadwell Basin and the crypt was converted as a youth training centre, when 200 lead-lined coffins were removed to vaults under the western steps of the church. New railings were created to separate burial areas from the forecourt, and the C19th railings to The Highway were restored by English Heritage. There are brick walls on other boundaries, which in the south-west corner of the gardens has a gate leading to steps down to Shadwell Basin, now surrounded by contemporary housing.

Famous parishioners included Jane Randolph, who lived in Shadwell and was baptised here in 1720. She married Peter Jefferson of Virginia in 1739 and their plantation there was named Shadwell after her birthplace. Their son was Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. Henry William Perkin, who founded the modern dye-stuff industry, was born nearby in 1838 and baptised here. John Wesley preached here more than once.

The Green Gables Montessori Nursery was for a time housed in the Crypt and used the churchyard gardens.

Sources consulted:

Lieut. Col J J Sexby, The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Space of London (their History and Associations, Elliott Stock (London) 1895 (1905 edition). Detailed History of St Paul's Shadwell by Alan Baxter Associates on church website. Postcard of the Month No 43 December 2003

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