N16 is Stoke Newington or Stokey as some locals call it. It also covers Stamford Hill and Shacklewell, the latter of which has sort of disappeared as a distinct place. But we will focus on Stoke Newington which the writer Iain Sinclair described as follows:
“the perfect location in which to stay lost: limboland. London’s interzone. Large shabby properties that ask no questions. Internal exile with a phoney rent book”
(from “Lights out for the Territory” (1997) as quoted in the third edition of the London Encyclopedia).
We start out walk at Stamford Hill Post Office which is at 82 Stamford Hill. Turn left out of the Post Office and walk along Stamford Hill.
Stop 1: Stoke Newington Station
Although there has been a station here since 1872, the current street level station building dates from the mid 1970s.
This does not look too bad but things go down hill rapidly if you venture down onto the platforms. The staircases have been stripped of their covers and the platforms are also rather forlorn.
Not very inviting, even though London Overground have cleaned it up and resigned it since they took over the service.
Continue walking along the main road (which is now Stoke Newington High Street). At the next main junction turn left down Northwold Road. Our next stop is a short distance on the left.
Stop 2: West Hackney Almshouses
The original almshouses were built by a man called Thomas Cooke in 1740, although they were later rebuilt in 1888 and this is what we see today.
But what is unusual about these almshouses is the mid 20th century funding stream that was created and which is remembered in this sign.
Continue along Northwold Road, over the railway almost to the end of the green area (which is Stoke Newington Common). Our next stop is near the end of the last triangle of green, over to your right.
Stop 3: Number 25 Stoke Newington Common
The reason we are stopping here is that Marc Bolan, of the band T. Rex and later solo artist, lived at 25 Stoke Newington Common, on the south side, from birth until the age of 15, although he was called Mark Feld then.
We saw the spot where he died in a car crash in SW13, but his formative years were spent here.
Now return along Northwold Road to Stoke Newington High Street. Our next stop starts immediately across the road at the junction.
Stop 4: Abney Park Cemetery
Here we are at one of the gates of Abney Park cemetery, one of the so-called Magnificent Seven (we have already seen three: Brompton, Kensal Green and Highgate so far), but this one is slightly different. It opened in 1840 and was originally the grounds of a house.
According to the Abney park website http://www.abneypark.org/ , the site was formed from the estates of Fleetwood House and Abney House, the latter of which had been the home of renowned non-conformist and hymn writer Isaac Watts. This association quickly made Abney the foremost burial ground for Dissenters – those practising their religion outside the established church. It was founded on these principles, with a non-denominational chapel at its core, and was open to all, regardless of religious conviction.
Uniquely in London, Abney was also originally laid out as an arboretum, with 2,500 varieties of plants.
We enter via this unusual entrance way with this Egyptian motif.
Go through this gate and head in on the right hand path.
It is soon obvious this is not like many of the other big cemeteries. This is more like a wood into which graves have been strewn.
Keep going along this path and soon you will reach this sad site – the main chapel, obviously no longer in use.
The Chapel is an early example of a non denominational chapel dating from around 1840. Apparently in keeping with its non denominational ethos, this chapel consists inside of four equal arms coming out from the central crossing. The arm nearest the entrance is elongated to allow for a carriage porch.
Not surprisingly this building is on the Historic England’s “Heritage At Risk” register where it is in priority category A “Immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric; no solution agreed” In fact the whole cemetery has an entry on the register, as well as two specific monuments but the Chapel is clearly the bit that needs most attention.
It is hard to believe that the money cannot be found to rescue this. But hopefully something will happen before it is too late.
Now to get out from here I am suggesting you head towards Church Street rather than go back the way you came. So from the side of the Chapel you will see a First World War war memorial. Go around that and keep heading straight. There is a kind of a path. You will pass the Second World War memorial for the borough of Stoke Newington.
Keep walking and you will reach a path crossing you and you are in the Salvation Army bit of the cemetery.
To continue you need to go right and then left down a little path or else left and then right.
You will see the gate ahead.
(this picture is of course taken from the other side, just to confuse you)
But look back and you will see the monument to William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army and his wife Catherine.
Plus their son, Bramwell is on the other side of the path.
Go out the gate and turn right into Stoke Newington Church Street. Go along this street with its collection of shops and cafes, some hangovers from an older age and other stripped back places indicating major gentrification. It is an intriguing mix of the useful and the useless. Some interesting looking cafes and some trendy looking shops.
Our next stop is a little way along on the right (after the Lion pub)
Stop 5: Number 172 Stoke Newington Church Street
This building has not one but three reminders of a connection with the writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), which came as a bit of a surprise to me as I thought he was American. Well he was.
He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809 and was christened as Edgar Poe. His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died the following year. A merchant of Scottish origin called John Allan in effect fostered him and he became known as Edgar Allan Poe. The Allans came back to Britain in 1815 and Edgar became a pupil at the Manor House School (1817-20), which stood on this site.
But in 1820 he went back to the States and it is there he became a published writer. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is also considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. And strangely there is this connection to North London.
There is a little bust of Poe on the front up on the right.
And below there are a couple of plaques, unfortunately covered over in plastic at the time of my visit because of building works.
Continue walking along Church Street and our next stop is just opposite the Library (this would have been a stop if it had been in a neighbourhood less favoured with interest, but we have plenty else to see here)
Stop 6: Number 173 Stoke Newington Church Street
This is a pleasant enough 18th century house. But the interest is that on this site stood a medieval mansion. The plaque says it was sometime home of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550 – 1604). He was prominent at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I.
Originally built c. 14th century, the house was demolished about 1710 to be rebuilt as Sisters’ Place built about 1714.
Continue along Church Street. Our next stop is soon on the right.
Stop 7: Stoke Newington Town Hall
The Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington was formed in 1900 and was the smallest London borough at the time with a population of only 50,000. The council got its own coat of arms in 1934 and its motto was Respice Prospice (which translates as “Look to the past and the future”).
And soon after it got a new town hall which was completed in 1937, which is kind of out of keeping with the rest of the street, and a bit tucked away from the main road we started on.
The borough became part of the new London Borough of Hackney in 1965, but is still used by Hackney Council.
There is a little Plaque to the left of the main entrance which says “On this site stood Stoke Newington Manor House c.1500 – 1695 And the terrace called Church Row 1695-1700 – 1936”
Turn left down Albion Road. Continue along here until just after the road bends to the right. Turn left into Albion Grove and then almost immediately right into Milton Grove (this is a one way street with the traffic coming towards you). Continue along Milton Grove, go past Allen Road and our next stop starts just on the left.
Stop 8: Butterfield Green
This is the beginning of a little green space called Butterfield Green which has been created by the Council like a series of green rooms along the line of an old footpath.
According to the Council’s website, the area that is now home to Butterfield Green was developed in the 1850s when the land was sold by the National Freehold Society to private developers to build terraced housing. By the 1890s the area was densely populated, 172 people per acre against 50 people per acre today, and much of the housing was not well maintained.
The area was heavily bombed during the Second World War and in 1949 damaged housing began to be replaced. Development continued throughout the 1950s and 60s creating a mix of low rise council housing and privately owned original Victorian terraces, though not all the cleared land was built on.
In the early 1960s it was clear this area was lacking in open space. In 1979 the Shakespeare Walk Adventure Playground was set up by volunteers on an area of wasteland and in the 1980s funding was secured from Hackney Council and from the Government’s Urban Programme Scheme to develop the open space in phases. The western part had a BMX biking and skateboarding area, but this became damaged and disused and in 2007 was replaced by the community orchard we see today.
Here is a little link with more info.
Walk all the way through the park and go along the road straight ahead of you (Palatine Road). When you reach the main road (Stoke Newington Road) turn left. Our next stop is a short way along on the left, but to get a better view cross the road.
Stop 9: Number 117 Stoke Newington Road
Today Number 117 is a Mosque, community centre – and shop!
But beneath the mosaic is actually an old cinema. Opened as the Apollo Picture House in 1913, it was modernised and reopened as the Ambassador Cinema in August 1933. In 1937 it was acquired by Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon Theatres Ltd, although they never operated it. It was leased out to another independent operator but ran Odeon release films.
The Ambassador Cinema closed in December 1963. After a short while of closure it was taken over by Star Cinemas and converted into a Star Bingo Club by 1965.
It became a cinema again in September 1974 and was known as the Astra Cinema. It staggered on and by the end was a cinema club showing uncensored martial arts movies and soft core sex films. It finally closed in July 1983.
It was converted into a mosque and in 1994 the auditorium was gutted, removing all traces of the former cinema. The exterior always had two domed features each side of the entrance but this was covered in highly coloured mosaic making it look like a purpose built mosque. Although it functions as a Mosque and Community Centre, the former foyer is rather oddly a small grocery store.
Retrace your steps along Stoke Newington Road.
Stop 10: Alexandra Court (site of Alexandra Theatre)
This uninteresting block of flats stands on the site of a theatre. The Alexandra Theatre was designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham, opening on 27 December 1897. It was built as a playhouse drama theatre for Frederick William Purcell who also operated other London suburban theatres including the Marlborough Theatre, Holloway, the site of which we saw in N7.
It changed ownership in 1905 and became the Palace Theatre of Varieties. In March 1909, it was taken over by Oswald Stoll for Stoll Moss Empires Ltd., and became the Alexandra Theatre once again. As often happened, it was equipped to screen films as part of the variety programme, showing films exclusively on a sunday, as live performances were not permitted.
By 1932, it had become a full time cinema but then it reverted to a mix of variety and plays performed on weekdays and Sunday films.
It was mainly closed during World War II. It limped on through the late 1940s and finally closed in October 1950. It lay empty and unused for many years, and was demolished in the early 1960s.
A nine storey tower block of council flats named Alexandra Court was built on the site.
More information on the wonderful Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/AlexandraTheatreStokeNewington.htm
Continue walking along Stoke Newington Road
Stop 11: Numbers 31 -33 Stoke Newington Road
Yes you guessed it, I am stopping here because this was the site of another cinema. The one here opened in January 1913 as the Electric Coliseum Cinema, and it later became known as the Coliseum. It was always an independently operated cinema. It closed in February 1972.
In the 1980s, it was to be converted into a car salesroom, but finances dried up and it remained in a half finished limbo for several years. The building was hit by fire in December 1992 and the burnt out shell remained until it was finally demolished in 2001. The current building dates from 2012. And today there is no sign that there was ever a cinema on this site.
Continue walking along Stoke Newington Road
As you walk you cannot but help notice the City straight ahead.
(This picture is of course a bit of a cheat as you do not quite get that image in real life. You need a zoom lens)
Stop 12: Numbers 11- 15 Stoke Newington Road
At numbers 11- 15 Stoke Newington Road there is still a building which externally at least is recognisable as an old cinema.
This was built for Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and was called the Savoy Cinema when it opened in October 1936. It became the ABC from 1961 and was closed on 12 March 1977 . The following day it re-opened as the Konak Cinema, screening Bollywood movies. It changed hands again in March 1982 and renamed as the Ace Cinema it began screening regular release films again. This did not last long as the Ace Cinema finally closed in February 1984.
The stalls area was converted into a snooker hall. By the summer of 1995, the foyer had been converted into two shop units. Today in addition to the shops, there is a Turkish community centre operating in the former balcony foyer and the stalls space now seems to be a function room going by the name of Epic.
Strange to think now that if you had come along this strip of road in the late 1930s you would have found three cinemas and a theatre – and none have survived in their original form. Also this area should perhaps really be called Shacklewell but that seems to be hardly used as a place name, perhaps because it never made it as a railway station name.
So that brings us to the end of the N16 walk. The area is fascinating and I feel I have not quite done it justice, especially as we have not covered Stamford Hill, with its orthodox Jewish community. But we have managed to see a rather special cemetery, connections with a couple of well known people, and a reminder of some places of entertainment. And having walked the streets of Stokey I am not sure that Iain Sinclair’s description is quite spot on given how gentrified much of it has become.
We are actually almost in E8 now and just down the road are Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction stations, plus there are plenty of buses along this main road for onward travel.