E8 is Hackney, or should I say ‘Ackney – and it is a lovely spot.
We start our walk at the Post Office at 398-400 Mare Street, Turn left out of the Post Office and head a little way down Mare Street. Our first stop is on the other side of the street.
Stop 1: Number 373 – 375 Mare Street
According to Hackney Council and the Open Plaques website there is supposed to be a local Hackney borough plaque here at 373 -375 Mare Street to commemorate Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797).
She was a writer, perhaps best known for her 1792 book “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education.
She had brief ill fated affairs with Swiss born painter Henry Fuseli and American businessman and author, Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay). She then had an affair with the philosopher William Godwin and married him in March 1797 when she became pregnant with his child. Sadly she died on 10 September at the age of 38, eleven days after giving birth to her second daughter. This daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, is herself famous as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
But I cannot see a plaque of any kind!
Continue along Mare Street. our next stop is on the left.
Stop 2: St Augustine’s Tower (and St John’s Churchyard)
Just set back off Mare Street behind Hackney old town hall is a free standing church tower.
One might have thought that this tower was all that was left of a church that had been bombed out, but no. The church that used to be attached to this particular tower was actually demolished in 1798, when a larger replacement church St John was completed round the corner. The tower survived because the new church did not have a tower big or strong enough for the bells
Beyond the tower lies the churchyard of St John’s.
But do not venture too far because we are right on the edge of E8 here. St John’s church is to the left and is actually in E5. We should really have looked at this at the end of our E5 walk but we ran out of time.
And if you head straight on you leave the churchyard into Sutton Place which is in E9.
Go back out of the Churchyard and our next stop is just along Mare Street on the left.
Stop 3: Clapton Bus Garage, Bohemia Place
Our next stop is just down the side street called Bohemia Place and is today a bus garage.
Although right by Hackney Central station, this bus garage is called Clapton Bus Garage.
The garage goes back to 1882 when it was a Horse Tram Depot for the North Metropolitan Tram Company. London County Council bought the company in 1896 and subsequently used the garage to house electric trams. When they were withdrawn in 1939, it became a trolleybus depot and then in the 1950s it was used to house diesel buses.
By 1950 the depot had changed its name to Clapton to avoid confusion with the already existing Hackney Bus Garage in Well Street. That garage closed in 1981 and was demolished, so we have the odd situation that the bus garage in the middle of Hackney is called Clapton Bus Garage.
Our next stop is just over the road.
Stop 4: Hackney Central Station
The railway arrived here in 1850 when the North London Railway opened their line between Camden Town and Poplar. From 1852 there was a connection on to Fenchurch Street. A station named Hackney was opened on 26 September 1850, to the east of Mare Street. This was replaced in December 1870 with a new station to the west of Mare Street, also named Hackney. This station had the misfortune not to be on a direct line into central London and along with the rest of the North London Line east of Dalston Junction it closed to passenger traffic in 1944.
But it had a revival in the 1980s when the North London line was diverted from Broad Street to Stratford and North Woolwich. A new station was built here, opening in May 1980. It was a little to the west of the 1870 station and it was named Hackney Central.
The 1870 station building is not used by the railway and is a bar/restaurant called Oslo. Access to the modern Hackney Central station is from an alleyway adjacent to the 1870 building, or from Amhurst Road.
But there is another station nearby on the route into Liverpool street and this is called Hackney Downs. They are close and you can see one from the other. Here is a picture taken from Hackney Central of a train entering Hackney Downs station.
However it was only in the summer of 2015 that a footway was created to link the two stations and form a more convenient interchange.
Hackney feels a bit off the radar as it is not on the tube. There have been proposals to build a tube line here for decades – with a route going across central London from Chelsea in the south west to Hackney in the north east. However in its latest incarnation as Crossrail 2, the line formerly known as Chelsea – Hackney no longer includes Hackney in its core route, although a branch to here may be added later.
Go back to Mare Street and go under the railway line. At this point there is an optional detour along Graham Road which is the main road to the right after the railway bridge.
Stop 4a: Number 55 Graham Road
The house we are heading for is almost at the other end of Graham Road at Number 55.
This was the home of Music Hall singer Marie Lloyd (1870 – 1922)
She was a big star of the music hall. Amongst the songs she was known for were “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery”, “My Old Man (Said Follow the Van)” and “Oh Mr Porter What Shall I Do”.
Her name was actually Matilda Wood. As her popularity grew, her agent, George Ware suggested that she change her name to Marie Lloyd – “Marie” because it sounded “posh” and “slightly French”, and “Lloyd” after Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (which sounds an odd choice but apparently it was a best selling Sunday newspaper at the time). Ware by the way was a Music Hall song writer and “The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery” is one of his songs, dating from 1885.
Now retrace your steps to Mare Street and turn right.
Stop 5: Number 290 Mare Street
Our next stop is just after the junction with Graham Road on the left as you go down Mare Street.
Today this site is occupied by a not very interesting building which contains a Barclays Bank. But it was the site of the Hackney Pavilion cinema which opened in May 1914. It was taken over by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) in 1928 and the next year PCT were taken over by Gaumont British Theatres.
It closed as a cinema in January 1972 and was demolished almost immediately to be replaced by this less than distinguished building.
Our next stop is across the road.
Stop 6: Hackney Empire
Whilst the Hackney Pavilion did not survive, the wonderful Hackney Empire just over the road did,
The Hackney Empire Theatre of Varieties was designed by Frank Matcham and opened in December 1901. It was built for Oswald Stoll. He had originally intended it to have the head quarters of his company Stoll Theatres here. But he changed his mind when he decided to build a West end flagship, the London Coliseum, which opened in 1904
Hackney Empire has spent most of its life as a live theatre, but it was briefly used as a Television studio from 1956 to 1963. Well known shows filmed here included “Take Your Pick” one of the first TV Games Shows in the country with its Quiz Inquisitor Michael Miles, and “Oh Boy” which was a weekly pop music show.
It was a Mecca Bingo Hall from 1963 to 1986. According to the wonderful Arthur Lloyd site:
“In 1984 the building was granted a Listed Grade II status and the owners, Mecca, found themselves faced with the prospect of restoring the Mare Street Facade’s domes and restoring the rest of the Facade of the building to its original state. They took down the domes and the central pediment with the intention of replacing them with substitutes but soon found themselves embroiled in a public enquiry due to the restrictions of ‘Listed Building Consent’ and evidence from the GLC’s Historic Buildings officers. Consequently they were forced to replace the recently demolished parts of the building, and to do it in the original material (terra cotta) which was vastly more expensive than their originally proposed substitute. The work was eventually completed and to a very high standard too, but faced with the huge cost of restoring the Facade to its original condition as well they decided instead to put the building up for sale.”
So it would seem these distinctive features of the building are actually 1980s copies.
But at least it survived long enough to be rescued and revived as a working theatre.
Our next stop is just over the road.
Stop 7: Hackney Picturehouse
This building was originally constructed in 1907 as the Central Library and Methodist Hall. In the early 2000s, it was remodelled as a live music venue called the Ocean. This closed around 2005 and the building was reborn as 4 screen cinema in 2011. It is operated by the Picturehouse chain.
Our next stop is back on the other side of the road next door to the Empire.
Stop 8: Hackney Town Hall
This is a fine example of an inter war Town Hall, completed in 1937.
Architectural expert Pevsner says it is “conventional but not showy”. It is certainly a dignified additon to the street scene here.
Continue walking along Mare Street. Our next stop is a little way along on the left.
Stop 9: St Thomas’s Square and Cordwainers Court
We come to a little garden square off the main road. this is called St Thomas’s Square. According to Pevsner, St Thomas’ Hospital was one of the main landowners here, hence the name.
On the Mare Street end of the square in a granite drinking fountain which Pevsner dates to 1912.
And just after the garden is this building, is a stone saying “St Thomas’s Square 1772” and one saying “Cordwainers Court opened by HRH The Princess Royal, 13 November 1996.”
It turns out that this is a Hall of Residence for the University of the Arts, London, which has an outpost just a little further down Mare Street. But why Cordwainer?
A cordwainer was someone who made fine leather leather shoes and the name derives from Cordoba in Spain which was the source of some of the best leather.
In 1946 the Cordwainers Technical College moved here from Bethnal Green into what had been previously a school. The college had started as the Leather Trades School in 1887 with help from the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, one of the City Livery Companies. In 1913 the Worshipful Company took overall responsibility for the trade school and it became the Cordwainers Technical College. In 2000 it was incorporated into the London College of Fashion (which subsequently became part of the University of the Arts London).
The college has produced some well known shoe designers, including Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox. It continues run specialist courses in shoes and footwear.
But this site had an interesting history before Cordwainers Court was built. According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures website, in 1777 there was a place of worship built here, St. Thomas’s Square Presbyterian Chapel. This was enlarged in 1824.
In 1912 the building was converted into the Empress Electric Theatre. In early 1933 it was closed and the building was totally gutted apart from the four walls. Architect George Coles redesigned it as an Art Deco styled cinema, and it reopened in September 1933.
It remained an independently operated until 1955 when it was taken over by the Essoldo Circuit and renamed Essoldo Cinema. It closed in November 1967 and was converted into a Bingo Hall which lasted until 1993. The building was demolished in August 1995 and the student housing we see today was built on the site.
But the original arched gateway to the former Chapel’s burial ground was retained next to the new building.
Now here is a curious thing, the normally ultra reliable reference book Pevsner suggests the cinema here was the Regal Cinema designed by W R Glen. But it is wrong. It was further along Mare Street as we shall see.
Here is a little article which confirms the site by the St Thomas Burial Ground arch was the Empress and not the Regal.
This corroborates what the Cinema Treasures site says.
Continue walking along Mare Street
Stop 10: Numbers 102 – 110 Mare Street (site of ABC Regal Cinema)
A little way after Well Street, there is this modern block of flats
And there is a sign which says 104 Mare Street.
According to the Cinema Treasures site, the Regal Cinema was at 102 – 110 Mare Street. In other words just where this block now stands. But is also says this cinema was built on a difficult triangular site bounded by Mare Street and Well Street, which is further back up the street. I think it may have been where Iceland is today, so Cinema Treasures may have the address wrong!.
The Regal was built for Associated British Cinemas and designed by their in-house architect William R. Glen. It opened in March 1936, being renamed ABC in January 1962 and closing in March 1975. It was reopened in January 1977 by an Independent operator as the Mayfair Cinema, finally closing for good as a cinema in March 1981
From October 1982 until 1994, the stalls area was used as a Snooker club, a false ceiling hung across from the underside of the balcony to the proscenium, leaving the balcony unused. After the Snooker club closed, the building remained unused until it was demolished in July 1998.
Now take a right turn down Westgate Street, going under the railway. Soon ahead you will see the bottom end of London Fields.
Stop 11: London Fields
There is a bit of history in Hackney Council’s London Fields Management Plan:
This says : “In 1275 the area that is now London Fields was recorded as common pasture land adjoining Cambridge Heath. However, it was not until 1540 that the name London Field was recorded (it didn’t become plural until the 19th century). Although it is unclear how the name came into being, the most likely explanation is the field’s position, on what was then the main foot route from the village of Hackney to the city of London. This route ran from Hackney Grove, the sight of the present Town Hall Square, down Church Path, the present cycle route from Martello Street to Broadway Market, along what are now Columbia Road, Virginia Road and Shoreditch High Street and on to Bishopsgate Without. The route was used mostly by market porters taking produce from Hackney farms and nurseries to the City.”
“The names of the inns surrounding London Fields; Lamb Inn and Shoulder of Mutton, and the local street names Lamb Lane, Sheep Lane and Mutton Lane, suggest that the area was very much involved in sheep farming.”
This land mutated into public open space in the 19th century with sports pitches and a Lido was built in the 1930s. This was closed for a time but reopened in 2006. It is apparently the only outdoor heated Olympic size pool in Greater London.
But we are just dipping our toes into the southern corner of London Fields to see this rather intriguing artwork.
This work is what Pevsner calls “an endearing pebbly sculpture of flower sellers and sheep by Freeform artworks, 1988-89, commemorating the use of the Fields by drovers on their way to Smithfield market”
Sadly it is showing its age as some bits have chipped off. But it is kind of appealing.
From here you can see the end of Broadway Market, our final “stop”.
Stop 12: Broadway Market
Broadway Market is a mix of old London and new. And just to set the scene look down the street of modest two storey 19th century shops and you can see the towers of the City ahead.
It is all very pleasant and low key.
With some signifiers of a gentrified area – cafes with distressed interiors, a trendy looking wet fish shop and an artisan bakery.
Then you find this. A genuine old pie, eel and mash shop.
This traditional family business has been trading in Broadway Market since 1900 although the shop we see today dates from the 1930s.
Here is a nice potted history of the market from the Broadway Market site http://broadwaymarket.co.uk/history/:
“Fred Cooke started selling jellied eels on Broadway Market in 1900. His restaurant served shepherds driving their flocks to the City of London.
The Cat and Mutton pub was named after the Cat and Mutton bridge over the Regent’s Canal – coal barges on the canal were called “cats”, the mutton speaks for itself. Sheep Lane still exists – running parallel to Broadway Market from London Fields to the canal.
This was a bawdy, drunken, vibrant street, the heart of an East End community that was to survive social turmoil and the bombs of two world wars.
But by the eighties, the community was crumbling. The Thatcher recession and planning blight killed shops. Many residents bought their council houses, sold up and moved out. The street market all but died.
Successive attempts by Hackney Council to revive the market failed. Then in 2004 the community renewed itself. Volunteers from Broadway Market Traders’ and Residents’ Association revived the Saturday market as a project to repopulate the street. New shops and restaurants arrived. Now the community is thriving once more.
And Fred Cooke’s grandson, Bob, is introducing a new generation to pie, mash, liquor – and jellied eels.”
We are now almost at the edge of E8. The boundary is the bridge over the Regents Canal – the Cat and Mutton bridge.
So this is the end of our E8 walk. This area is fascinating and there is so much more I could have covered. But we saw some reminders of a long vanished country world and equally long vanished entertainments, although somehow the Empire Theatre managed to survive, when all the later cinemas along Mare Street are now just fading memories.
For onward travel probably best to follow Andrews Road alongside the canal. This will take you back to Mare Street where if you turn right you will soon be at Cambridge Heath station. Or else there are plenty of buses along Mare Street.