East Ham

We started this run of the series on “Far-Flung Lost London” with West Ham, and we end it with East Ham …

ChurchyardEast Ham was first recorded  in 1206 as Estham, from the Old English “hamme”, meaning area of dry land bounded by water, and referring to its  situation between the Rivers Lea, Roding and Thames (Ham was first recorded in 958 as Hamme).

Archaeological evidence that came to light when the Northern Outfall Sewer was laid in the 1860s indicates that there was a small settlement here as long ago as Roman times.  The church of St Mary Magdalene was built here in the early Medieval period.  By the end of the Medieval period, there were additional small settlements within the parish, at Green Street, Plashet and Wallend.

Lantern slide of Boleyn Castle

Lantern slide of Boleyn Castle

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the post-Medieval, Tudor period, much of the land in East Ham, which up until that point had been owned by Stratford Langthorne Abbey, passed to one Richard Breame, who built Green Street House here (the house, also popularly known as Boleyn Castle – it being erroneously believed to have been where Anne Boleyn lived during Henry’s courtship of her – stood until as recently as 1955, when it was demolished).

Later in the Tudor period, the Jesuit missionaries Campion and Parsons ran a secret printing press in East Ham.  And in the succeeding Stuart period of the seventeenth century, Plashet House was built here (the house stood until 1883, and was occupied by the Fry family from 1784-1829 and by Elizabeth Fry from 1808-1829).  East Ham remained semi-rural until it was swallowed up by an ever-expanding London in the middle of the nineteenth century (the underground railway arriving in 1858).  Most of its inhabitants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were employed in the nearby Royal Albert and George V docks, or in the factories in North Woolwich, or the gas-works in Beckton.  The area was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War.

Church of St Mary Magdalene

The parish church of St Mary Magdalene was built in the early Medieval, Norman, period, around 1130.


It remains little changed from its early days to the present (note, though, that the west tower is a sixteenth-century addition.  Inside the church are a timber ceiling dating to the twelfth century, a piscina dating to the thirteenth, a memorial to the daughter of Edmund Nevill, Lord Latimer, dating to 1613, and a font dating to 1639 (not to mention churchwardens’ “prickers” – used to poke awake anyone falling asleep during the sermon – dating to 1805).


There is also an anchorite cell measuring 6′ (high) x 3′ x 2′, dating to the  thirteenth or fourteenth century!


2 thoughts on “East Ham

  1. rafterd1972

    Beautiful church. It has been interesting to follow the ever swallowing of the small communities by a voracious London. I grew up in a Chicago suburb that started out as a farming community around 1830. The house we lived in had a large heavy door in the basement. When opened you could walk in about 20′ and then the tunnel was blocked. This house had been one of the stopping places for escaping slaves during the civil war (1861-1865.) Not nearly as ancient as your part of the world, but nevertheless, fascinating.


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