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Cook's Stepney (now named Tower Hamlets)

 

One of the links Tower Hamlets has with Australasia is that the house where Captain Cook once lived was in the Mile End Road. The house in its last days was a shop (a Kosher butcher's) but in Cook's time was a comfortable small house, in a region that still retained rusticity.

When the house was condemned in 1960 it was offered to the Australian and British Columbian Governments as a building of historic interest. Neither felt that the expense of moving it was justified. Consequently this old landmark disappeared. The site is now owned by the Curtis Distillery Co.

After Cook was killed in Hawaii Mrs Cook lived in the Mile End house for many years.

A mile or so down the road towards the Thames is the riverside tavern (very olde worlde) called "The Prospect of Whitby". The old sign brings to mind that in 1755 Captain Cook was the mate of a Whitby boat that was lying off Wapping when - the press gang being about and one volunteer being worth three pressed men - he joined the Royal Navy as a seaman on the Eagle.

Cook married a Wapping girl, and they lived at Shadwell before taking the house in Mile End Road. Round the corner to the "Prospect of Whitby" is the church where Cook was an active parishioner. It is St. Paul's Shadwell, traditionally known as the Church of Sea Captains. Built in 1656, rebuilt in 1669 and rebuilt again in 1820 James Cook, eldest son of the Captain, was baptised here in 1763. There is a board outside with a full roll of honour, including Cook's name.

Across the road, called "The Highway", is Betts Street, named after the Wapping girl that Cook married. Round the corner was Swedenborg Square. This was the centre of the Swedish community in London. The centrepiece of the Square was their church. In the vaults, in 1782, Daniel Solander was buried. He went on Cook's first voyage and became Joseph Bank's secretary. His remains were removed to Stockholm by the Swedish Government in 1908. Now all the grand Swedish houses have gone and are replaced by flats.

Across the Thames from Shadwell is Deptford, once a great shipyard where Cook's ships were fitted out. The great river has seen some great men, but none greater than Cook.

Peter Gardner

Plaque at Mile End (52k) | Tower of St. Paul's (57k) | Board at St. Paul's (56k)

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 206, volume 6, number 3 (1983).

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Great and most interetsing history - thanks for all the effort
By David Gray on 11/3/2015 4:53:54 PM Like:0 DisLike:0

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