Our setting - Tower Hamlets
Tower Hamlets Methodist Circuit is a local circuit within the London District, which is itself part of the whole Methodist Church in Great Britain, and worldwide. Local Methodists celebrate identity as Londoners as well as Christians. Local and city-wide contexts shape mission, spirituality and ways of working. For information about Methodist heritage, programmes, training, theology and much more, visit the Methodist Church website
LBTH Ward map:
The Methodist Circuit is co-terminus with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and is immediately east of the City bordered by the Boroughs of Hackney to the north, Newham to the east and the River Thames to the south.
LBTH Borough Postcode Map:
The historic images of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London now share
their place on the skyline with the towers of Canary Wharf.
This is inner urban London and an area of considerable history – from the 11th century Tower of London to the 21st century Docklands development; from the Victorian Whitechapel of Jack the Ripper to the 2012 Olympics and their ongoing legacy.
Along the way a succession of immigrant communities from Huguenots, Jews and Caribbeans to Bangladeshis, Africans and Eastern Europeans has been welcomed in. This is a city of constant change and one of the most exciting and challenging places to live in the UK.
Following a visit to Bethnal Green hamlet in 1777, John
Wesley drew attention to the appalling poverty that existed in this area. In various ways over the last 150+ years, the local
Methodist Church has fed the hungry, supported the poor, provided education,
taken in homeless children and been a place where people of all backgrounds and
ages could find a welcome and a safe space.
Celebrating 175 years of service in 2018, QVSR started life as the Seamen’s Mission of the Methodist Church in 1843. Known originally as the Wesleyan Seamen’s Mission, the aim was to minister to the spiritual needs and promote the social and morale welfare of seafarers and their families in the vicinity of the Port of London.
On Good Friday 1868, the original Approach Road Chapel opened its doors in Bethnal Green. With the main entrance on Bonner Road, the church was built in classical style with pediment and massive Corinthian pillars, seating 1,000. Attendance in 1886 was said to be around 500 morning and evening.
The church became closely associated with the adjacent Children's Home in Bonner Road, whose founder, the Rev Thomas Bowman Stephenson, came to be minister at Approach Road in 1871 when the Home opened, and, from 1893, was superintendent of the (then) Victoria Park Circuit.
The National Children’s Home and Orphanage was also the catalyst for what we know as the present-day Methodist Diaconal Order (MDO), for it was Thomas Bowman Stephenson who pioneered the special role of women as set-apart missioners, known as “Sisters”.
Bombing in 1940 killed the minister, the Rev’d W Gilbert, and two deaconesses, Sister Evelyn Palmer and Sister Evelyn Harrison, in the Manse, and further bombing in 1941 destroyed the original building completely.
Reopened with a new (smaller) building in 1959, in 2019 the current church has plans for major redevelopment to continue “to serve the present age”.
In 1883, the Rev’d George Piercy founded the Chinese Mission at 92 West India Dock Road in Limehouse. On his return to UK after 30 years in Canton, he still wanted to help the Chinese. There were seamen from the London Docks, but immigrant Chinese had also recently begun to settle in Limehouse, running restaurants, grocery stores and laundry houses where the lime was used specifically to bleach clothes.
In 1885, the Wesleyan Methodist Church established its first mission in Cable Street, Shadwell in recognition of a need for new ways of working in the East End of London, aiming to combat poverty and squalor with a combination of evangelism and social work. This developed into the East End Mission which used innovations such as hiring secular premises, like the Old Mahogany Bar at Wilton's Music Hall, as new-style mission halls. A new Stepney Central Hall opened as headquarters of the Mission in 1907.
Still needed as much as when it was founded , “since 1876, The Whitechapel Mission has been called to serve the men and women caught in
the cycles of poverty, hopelessness and dependencies of many kinds, and
to see their lives transformed to hope, joy and lasting productivity.” Its day care centre is open 365 days a year and would expect to see between 150 and 200 people on a normal weekday. Of those, 49% are from the UK, but predominately from Scotland and Ireland. 19% are Eastern European. 20% are Afro/Caribbean, mainly from North African states. 5% British born Asians and the final 7% are a mixture from around the world. Night shelter is not the norm but is offered when the temperature drops around freezing
The Methodist Church exists to serve the community around it and beyond. There has been, and still is, plenty of work to be done in the East End!
The 2011 census showed that Tower Hamlets has had the fastest growing population of any Local Authority in the country over the last 10 years. According to current figures from the council, the population is diverse: 32% Bangladeshi, 31% White British, 14% White (other) 9% Asian (non Bangladeshi) 7% Black or Black British, 4% Mixed Ethnicity and 2% Other. 43% of the local population were born outside the UK. 38% are Muslim, 30% Christian, with smaller groups from the Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh communities, plus 21% stating no faith, and 7% religion not stated.
Photo credit: Alan Stanton/Flick
The number of Hindus has trebled since 2001. Tower Hamlets has the highest percentage of Muslim residents in England and Wales: 38% compared with a national average of 5%.
Conversely, the borough has the lowest proportion of Christian residents nationally: 30% compared with a national average of 59%.
Here in high percentages; one parent/carer households, the low income/benefit
dependent, council/housing association housing – mostly estates and high
rise living with significant overcrowding as well as many who are
homeless or vulnerably housed.
With a population of 296,300 in 2016 - which is expected to rise to
374,000 by 2026 - in a borough of 8
square miles, the poor and rich live cheek by jowl . In the Referendum, the borough voted to remain in the EU (68% for, 32% against). Tower Hamlets has a dense-built environment, with multi-million pound new apartments alongside
its Victorian terraces and remaining 1960s tower blocks. It is a very busy place,
alive 24/7. So as well as millionaires and a sprinkling of the
'famous' there are also some of the most deprived people and families in
the UK. Increasing gentrification means that often only the very poor and very
rich can afford to live here, alongside those in key worker or tied
There are excellent transport links to regenerated Stratford, to Docklands, the City of London (10 mins away) and the City of Westminster in the West End. Despite constant change, the area retains the character and vibrancy of the old East End. All the wonders of
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