There have been a couple of developments since I last wrote about the changes to ward names in Tower Hamlets. The deadline for public objections to the dropping of Banglatown from ‘Spitalfields and Banglatown’, and St Dunstan’s from the proposed new Stepney wards is on Monday.
Do please write to the Local Government Boundary Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have strong views on either. I submitted my letter yesterday.
While dropping Banglatown was a Tory proposal (one I think they now regret), removing the name of St Dunstan was a Labour idea.
The current ward name is St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green. The final Labour proposal, which has been provisionally accepted by the Commission, is Stepney East and Stepney West.
However, I understand that Labour councillors had actually wanted to call one of the wards ‘St Dunstan’s and Shahjalal’. Shahjalal (named after Shah Jalal, who is credited with the spread of Islam in Bengal) is the name of the popular but rather ramshackle mosque in Duckett Street, which over the past few years has also been a centre of feuding over various management and funding arrangements.
It was only after a vote of the wider party hierarchy that they decided on no religious names at all.
All this seems to sum up what is wrong with politics in Tower Hamlets. The Tories objected to something that wasn’t that objectionable in a move that was bound to create tension and ill-feeling, while, at the same time, Labour councillors were trying to earn their vote-winning spurs with the leaders of a local mosque. And when wiser heads realised that the inclusion of Shahjalal might be a bit controversial, they went with the lowest common denominator solution by dropping St Dunstan’s as well.
Including St Dunstan’s is, I think, more about honouring 1,000 years of history in the area than favouring one religion over another.
After writing my last post on this subject, two of the Stepney ward councillors, Oliur Rahman and Abdal Ullah, have supported the idea of retaining the name of St Dunstan’s, so all credit to them. In fact, I’m told that Labour has now resubmitted its proposal and suggested naming the ward St Dunstan’s and Stepney East.
The East London Advertiser reports on this issue today, here. As far as I am aware, Mayor Lutfur Rahman hasn’t made any pronouncements; if so, it’s in stark contrast to his campaign to retain Banglatown…
In the meantime, the Rector of St Dunstan’s and All Saints Church, the Rev Trevor Critchlow, has written the following letter to the Commission:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Tower Hamlets Proposed Ward Name : Stepney East
I write to object to the proposed new name for our ward, Stepney East. The previous name of our ward was St Dunstan and Stepney Green, which it is now proposed be split into two new wards, Stepney East and West.
The removal of St Dunstan from the ward name is highly regrettable given that;
1. Dunstan (909-988 AD) was a real historical figure, Bishop of London (958-960 AD) and holder / owner of the Manor of Stepney.
2. Dunstan personally ordered that the wooden church of All Saints Stepney should be rebuilt in stone. That church was later named after him and is today known as St Dunstan and All Saints Stepney.
3. Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury (960 -978 AD) and after his death was canonised, becoming the most popular English Saint until the death of Thomas Becket (1170 AD)
4. The name of St Dunstan’s Church and the association of the name with the local area has existed for more than 1,000 years.
Given this important and significant historical connection I would like to propose the name of new ward should be;
St Dunstan and Stepney East
I would also like to be clear that I’m not claiming any special privilege for the church where I serve as Rector but rather I’m arguing for the retention of St Dunstan’s name on the basis of a substantial, important and ancient link.
The Reverend Trevor F Critchlow
Rector of St Dunstan’s Stepney