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Politics and puritans

Politics and puritans

Remains of a large medieval and post- medieval manor house surrounded by a walled moat have been revealed at Stepney Green. The Tudor manor house, built c1450–1550, was originally known as King John’s Court (later called Worcester House). It played an important role in the political and religious non-conformist movement in east London.

Foundations of King John’s gatehouse, the focal point at the centre of the house were also uncovered along with a timber baseplate that may have supported a bridge across the moat. 16th century fine glassware was found in the moat sediments that may represent a ‘house clearance’ around the time that the first Marquis of Worcester bought the house in 1597.

The manor house was extensively remodelled by the royalist Marquis, but it was confiscated in 1645 during the Civil War. Treasons and offences were cited as cause for the seizure. The high status property was acquired by a prominent parliamentarian, William Greenhill, who used his political influence to provide a safe haven for early Protestant nonconformists or Puritans to meet.

The Bull Lane meeting house was added to the grounds in 1644. This was one of the earliest purpose-built nonconformist meeting houses in London. The nonconformist activities at the site continued through to the 20th century. During this period a Baptist College, a Congregational Church and a school were built.

The church and school were damaged beyond repair during the Second World War. The Baptist College moved out of Stepney and the area was then converted to terrace housing in the 19th century. Cellars, walls, cess pits and wells associated with these houses have been uncovered, along with household goods including a distinctive chamber pot with ‘what I see, I will not tell’ inscribed inside.

A Tudor bowling ball made from an exotic South American wood was found
at Stepney. Lignum vitae (Latin for ‘wood of life’) is very dense making it popular at the time for making bowling, cricket and croquet balls. Chips of the wood were also brewed into a tea to give relief from a range of ailments including coughs and arthritis.

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