Derek Morris: Early Modern Stepney History

Derek Morris


For over thirty years I have been researching London's eastern parishes in the eighteenth century. Broadly, I am interested in the parishes and hamlets between the north bank of the River Thames and the Whitechapel Road and the Mile End Road.

In the thirteenth century "Stepney" referred to "almost all the area between the suburbs of the City of London and the river Lea, the eastern boundary of Middlesex". In subsequent centuries daughter parishes were created and the area of the parish of Stepney gradually reduced.

Current research is focussed on placing Stepney in the eighteenth century in the context of contemporary ideas of urban development.

Detailed research has been completed and published on:

London's Sailortown 1600–1800 cover

London's Sailortown 1600–1800, A Social History of Shadwell and Ratcliff, an Early-Modern London Riverside Suburb by Derek Morris, Ken Cozens, 2014

Revelatory is not too strong a term for the work undertaken here. The popular understanding of the East End of London at any time up to the First World War is of a uniformly bleak, often terrible, place of desperate poverty. This monochrome picture has been challenged by historians who have stressed the importance of an indigenous merchant and industrial class, especially in the years before 1800. But we have never before had revealed to us in such immense and convincing detail just how prosperous, diverse and cultured this East End heritage was in fact. And we have never been given such a picture before because no one had undertaken the sheer hard work of uncovering a history long buried in land tax returns, rate books, wills, deeds and insurance policies.

London’s Sailortown 1600-1800, Shadwell and Ratcliff – is, then, a fitting conclusion to these same authors’ study of the East End riverside. Given their past achievements that is praise indeed. Professor Jerry White, Birkbeck College, University of London

Details available from:
The East London History Society

Whitechapel 1600–1800 cover

Whitechapel, 1600–1800 A Social History of an Early-Modern London Inner Suburb by Derek Morris.

Peter Guillery of the Survey of London, English Heritage, has written in the Preface: ""Whitechapel has not fared well with history. Stereotyped if not neglected, it has stayed a shadowy and myth-ridden place. In this book Derek Morris sets about shedding some historical light. Through systematic, thorough and, above all, indefatigable documentary research he takes hold of a broad range of material from two centuries of the recent past of a complex, variegated and mutating district, peoples it with communities and individuals, and organizes its affairs into intelligible categories."

Details available from:
The East London History Society

Wapping 1600–1800 cover

Wapping, 1600–1800 by Derek Morris, Ken Cozens (Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich)

Professor Sarah Palmer, Director, Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich, in her Preface writes that the authors "are to be congratulated on producing such a fascinating, informative and ground breaking study."

This book is now only available as a PDF file for £6 from:
The East London History Society

Mile End Old Town 1740–1780 cover

Mile End Old Town, 1740–1790 by Derek Morris

Professor Michael Port, University of London, wrote that the book was " a remarkably thorough and lively account" which "presents a markedly different picture from that traditional one of East London still presented in a dismissive paragraph even in well-reputed histories".

This book is now only available as a PDF file for £6 from:
The East London History Society

Mile End Old Town Residents CD-ROM

Mile End Old Town Residents, 1741–1790

CD-ROM with detailed information on the residents of Mile End Old Town between 1741 and 1790

Available from:
The East of London Family History Society

My research starts with the creation of a database of the land tax payers in a hamlet or parish, who were assessed as paying a rent of £10 or more per year.

We then search through a wide variety of resources such as wills, deeds, newspapers, manorial records, Admiralty records and other publications in order to build up a picture of the business and social networks for many of the families.





All articles by D. B. Morris unless otherwise stated.

Published 2020

Published 2019

Published 2018

Published 2017

Published 2016

Published 2014

Published 2013

Published 2011

Published 2010

Published 2009

Published 2002–2008

Published in 2000 and 2001

Published before 2000



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