John Knox Church

The former John Knox Presbyterian Church was the heir of some of the oldest non-conformist congregations in east London.  After the Great Ejection of 1662, and the Indulgence that followed, there were five licensed Dissenting meetings in the old Stepney parish.  In 1668 one of these meetings built a Presbyterian church in Broad Street, Wapping.


Between 1665 and 1740 the names of 14 minister are recorded – many of whom were ejected vicars and rectors from the Church of England in east London and Essex.


In 1740, the Revd David Muir was ordained as the minister of the Wapping Presbyterian Church by the Scots Presbytery in London.  Either with him or his predecessor (Revd William Brewer), the Wapping congregation had sought communion with the London Presbytery of the Church of Scotland.  Mr Muir ministered to the congregation in Wapping for forty years until his death and was followed by two other ministers  at that church until 1822.


With the construction of the London Dock, the Wapping church lost its building in 1822 and moved north of what is now Commercial Road to a new building in Philpot Street, which it named St Andrew’s.  There were two ministries at St Andrew’s before 1843, when the effects of the Disruption in the Church of Scotland were felt in the Presbyterian congregations south of the border.  This was a division between those who accepted a state church and those who claimed freedom for the church.


The ‘state church’ congregations took with them the St Andrew’s building which continued in use for a Presbyterian congregation until 1892.  The majority of the congregation, however, left to become part of the Presbyterian Church of England and built John Knox Church in Oxford Street (the former name of the section of Stepney Way where the present church stands), which was dedicated in 1844.


Between 1844 and the destruction of the building by a land mine in 1941, there were ten ministries, including those of the Revd James A. Little (1915-32 and 1941-52) and the Revd Frank D. Mc Connell (1932-40).  After the bombing the congregation worshipped in several different places around the area, including the former St Andrew’s building (then belonging to the Mildmay Mission), the Presbyterian Bethnal Green Institute, and St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Millwall.  From 1950 it was based at a Cadet Hall in Ronald Street, before the current church was built in 1955, and dedicated by the Rt Revd Lesslie Newbiggin on 8th September 1956.


In 1972 the Presbyterian Church of England united with the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church, and in 1974 the congregation of the nearby Stepney Meeting House joined with John Knox in their building.  The Stepney Meeting House name, being the older dating from 1644, was taken for the joint congregation but the building still continues to be known as John Knox by the local community.