E9 is Homerton and also Hackney Wick. We should really start out walk at Homerton Post Office at 226-228 Homerton High Street. But there are a couple of things I have to mention in Hackney Wick, so I am going to have a prelude there.
So let’s start the prelude at Hackney Wick Station. This is a fairly modern station dating from 1980 when the North London line was rerouted and reopened to run from Dalston to North Woolwich via Stratford. Not much of a station but some great views from the platforms and footbridge. First towards Canary Wharf:
To the Shard. (The City is over to the right but obscured by trees)
And to the Olympic Park.
But the real reason for coming to Hackney Wick is to visit a site just north of the station on the corner of Berkshire Road and Wallis Road.
This was apparently the site of the Parkesine Works, where the world’s first plastic was created by Alexander Parkes. Here is a link to a site called the History of Plastic (yes, really) http://www.historyofplastic.com/plastic-history/history-of-plastics/
This was in 1866. Would you believe it? (or rather as they might say here: would you Adam and Eve it?)
He went bust in 1868 – Parkesine cost too much to make, would easily break and was flammable. It would take a few more years before someone made a commercial success of making plastic.
Now take a 276 bus from Berkshire Road to Glyn Road.
So we start our walk proper from the Post Office at Numbers 226 -228 Homerton High Street. Our first stop is across the road.
Stop 1: Adam and Eve pub
And it is the Adam and Eve pub. Architectural guru, Pevsner says “a daring front of 1915; purple glazed tiles below cream terracotta with a large relief”
And the rather lovely relief is not surprisingly of Adam and Eve – I suppose this depiction might have been considered daring. And above the panel is the date of 1915.
But the sign on the left side of the pub was a bit of a surprise. Whilst the middle word is not unexpected these days, I am not sure I have ever seen the other two words on a pub sign before!
Wonder what the locals thought of that …
Continue walking along Homerton High Street. You will pass the modern library.
And just beyond that is a side street called Brooksby’s Walk.
Stop 2: Former Homerton Library
Going along Brooksby’s Walk, there is a rather incongruous sight on the right.
It is a classical stone facade – a little temple in what is a rather ordinary looking street
This was built as Homerton Library and dates from 1913.
It is now the Chats Palace Arts Centre. As we saw the Library is now housed in a somewhat less grand building nearby.
Stop 3: Castle Cinema, 64 Brooksby’s Walk
Ans just a little further along the street on the same side is another out of character building.
This looks like it was a cinema and it was, as can be seen if you look down the left hand side of the building.
According to the wonderful Cinema treasures site, this was the Castle Electric Theatre which first opened its doors in September 1913. It was an independently operated cinema for most of its life. But it spent its last few years under the control of Essoldo circuit who acquired it in 1954.
The cinema closed in May 1958 and became a glass factory. In the 1970s, it was converted into an independent bingo club. That closed around 1979. It was then used as a storage warehouse until 1983, when it became a snooker club. In March 1994 the building was split by extending the balcony across the building with the former stalls becoming a bingo club and a snooker club in the newly extended balcony area upstairs.
In April 2006, the building became a snooker club on two levels. But in April 2014, the upstairs section was converted into a restaurant, while the downstairs became a Spar supermarket.
The wonderful Cinema Treasures site says: “In 2016, there are plans to convert part of the upstairs into a 60-80 seat cinema which could possibly open in June 2016.”
Today there is a catering outlet called Eat 17 on the ground floor inside the supermarket but with regard to the upstairs, their site says: “The restaurant is now closed until late summer. The plan is to re-launch with the adjacent cinema from Pillow Cinema.” So watch that space.
In the meantime go into the somewhat upmarket Spar and at the back you see this above the eggs.
Our next stop is just next door.
Stop 4: Frances House, Brooksby’s Walk
Flat 4 in this building was once home to broadcaster, writer and agony aunt, Claire Rayner (1931 – 2010). The fascinating “Notable Abodes” site indicates her autobiography “How Did I Get Here From There?” says she lived here as a child in the years between 1934 and 1937.
When she died, the BBC said she told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him”. (You can still find this quote on BBC on line)
Continue along Brooksby’s Walk and take the next left which is Clifden Road (this is actually E5 but is the most direct way to get to where we want to go)
At the end of this street turn right and then cut through the Jack Dunning Estate by taking Tresham Walk . This is the second turning on the right. At the end of Tresham Walk, you will see our next stop ahead of you in Urswick Road.
Stop 5: The Strand Building
This is a surprising sight – an Art Deco edifice.
This was built as the Hackney Electricity Demonstration Halls and Offices. It has two principal facades; the other one facing Lower Clapton Road is more classical “Palladian’ with some art deco details but that is actually in E5.
The Urswick Road side of the building is in E9 and so I felt I had to include it. Today it has been converted into flats with some shops round the corner in E5. There are some nice deco touches and of course the pastel colour scheme and type face on the entry sign in Urswick Road picks up the deco-ness.
Continue down Urswick Road (as if you had turned left) and our next stop is just as the road bends.
Stop 6: Sutton House
This is a fascinating survivor of when this area was in the country.
The core of the building dates from 1535 and was built for a man called Ralph Sadleir. He was a courtier and worked for Thomas Cromwell. As Sadleir prospered he built himself a house in Hertfordshire and sold this one in 1550.
It has had a chequered history. from being a merchant’s house, it became a girls’ school in the latter part of the 17th century. Then it was split in two. By the end of the 19th century it had become the St John’s Institute, a recreational centre for young men. They moved out in 1936 and the National Trust were given it – according to the plaque outside in memory of two brothers killed in the first world war.
The Trust leased it out to various institutions but by the 1980s it was vacant, vandalised and squatted. Finally the Trust recognised what it had and undertook a major restoration in the early 1990s. It is well worth a visit. and there is also a quirky little extra addition at the side which is called The Breakers Yard.
But interestingly the house should not really be called Sutton House. It is a case of mistaken identity. Thomas Sutton lived in an adjoining house to the west which was demolished for the building of Sutton Place, a rather lovely side street which you have just passed.
Now go down Isabella Road (which is to the left of Sutton House and at the end turn right into Mehetabel Road.
Mehetabel is one of those biblical names you do not hear very often. But I always remember hearing it at school but in relation to the stories of Archy and Mehitabel (slightly different spelling). They were two fictional characters created in 1916, by a man called Don Marquis for a column in a New York newspaper called The Evening Sun. Archy was a cockroach, and Mehitabel, an alley cat, and they appeared in lots of humorous verses and short stories.
Archy did the typing and as he was a cockroach, he could only reach one typewriter key at a time, so he was not able to use the shift key. That meant all the stories are written in lower case. Bizarrely logical, I guess.
Anyhow at the end of Mehetabel Road turn left in the church yard and go along the path which goes under the railway. You will reach Morning Lane and find yourself surrounded by outlet shops – in Hackney of all places!
Stop 7: The Outlet Shops
As you approach Morning Lane you will see a whole new row of what I guess will be more outlet shops . But when you get to Morning Lane, you will see what is there today: Nike, Pringle, Aquascutum, Anya Hindmarch, and if you go down the alley just past Aquascutum (Ram Place) Joseph.
Now somewhere around here is supposed to be a plaque for Joseph Priestley. It is a Greater London Council plaque erected in 1985 and it is supposed to be at Numbers 7 – 8 Ram Place, but none of the buildings have numbers and there is no sign of a blue plaque..
The English heritage site http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/priestley-joseph-1733-1804 has a photo of the plaque which says “JOSEPH PRIESTLEY 1733-1804 Scientist, Philosopher and Theologian was Minister to the Gravel Pit Meeting here in 1793-1794”
It notes the plaque is on the northern elevation of a building, along an alley off Chatham Place and there is a picture which suggests it was on the side of what is now the Aquascutum building. The plaque seems to have disappeared.
Priestley is best known for discovering oxygen but this is just only one of his many scientific achievements and innovations, others of which include:
- Discovery of other gases including: carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide(NO2), ammonia (NH3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrogen sulphide (H2S), silicon fluoride (SiF4) and nitrogen peroxide (N2O4)
- The discovery of the “carbon cycle” (the conversion of carbon-dioxide to oxygen by photosynthesis in plants and the reverse process by respiration in animals)
- The invention of the rubber pencil eraser and also first coining the word “rubber”
- The invention of artificially carbonated water, which was later commercially produced by one Johann Jacob Schweppe.
By the by, deep below Ram Place lies the Channel Tunnel Rail Link unseen and unheard here – at least I did not hear it.
Now carry on down Chatham Place.
Stop 8: Site of Braidwood Academy for the Deaf and Dumb
A little way along Chatham Place, you will see a side street on the left called Retreat Place. At the corner, at the end of a modern block called Rowe House, there is this Hackney borough plaque.
This was notes the location of the first school in England for the education of the deaf and dumb. It was run by Thomas Braidwood (1715 – 1806) and was here from 1783 to 1799. Note it says England because Braidwood was Scottish and his first school for deaf and dumb people was in Scotland in 1760.
Continue along Chatham Place and the road swings to the left and becomes Elsdale Street. Follow this to the end and do a right left twiddle and you will be in Cassland Road.
Walk pass this rather lovely terrace on he right (with a little crescent and a garden on the left)
According to Pevsner the terrace was built around 1800 and it was organised as a building society with subscribers – so it was literally a building society as opposed to one which just lent money for mortgages to build or buy houses.
The crescent opposite dates from the 1860s.
Just past here is our next stop which is on the left.
Stop 9: Number 41 Cassland Road
We are stopping here because this was the birthplace of Maria Dickin (1870 -1951).
As it says on the plaque, Maria Dickin was a promoter of animal welfare and the founder of PDSA – that is the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. The PDSA was founded in 1917 by Maria Dickin to provide care for sick and injured animals of the poor. I had not appreciated it still fulfils this role, as even today they focus on helping the pets of people in receipt of benefits
Maria Dickin also instituted the Dickin Medal in 1943. This was to acknowledge outstanding acts of bravery by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units. It has become recognised as the animals’ Victoria Cross, and is administered by PDSA. The PDSA created a second animal bravery award, the PDSA Gold Medal, in 2002, which is now recognised as the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
Now cross over and go down the side street – Meynell Road
Stop 10: Well Street Common
Ahead you will see Well Street Common which confusingly is not actually in Well Street.
It is a very pleasant green space.
Take a right across the common and on the other side, in Church Crescent you will see our next stop
Stop 11: Monger Almshouses
Here on the right of the street going away from the Common, we have some almshouses.
They are called Mongers Almhouses, not because they relate to some trade like Fishmonger or Ironmonger but because they were originally built with a legacy from Henry Monger in the late 1660s. The buildings we see today date from the 1840s.
Go kind of straight ahead and son you will get to Well Street itself when you do a left. Our final stop is right at the end of Well Street
Stop 12 Celia Fiennes House (8 – 20 Well Street)
This is Celia Fiennes house, so named because this was the location of the home of traveller and writer Celia Fiennes (1662 – 1741) for the last years of her life
In 1691 she moved to London, where she had a married sister. She travelled around England on horseback between 1684 and the early 1700s. At this time the idea of travel for its own sake was somewhat unusual. Fiennes worked up her notes into a travel memoir in 1702, which she never published, intending it for family reading. Some extracts were published in 1812 and the first complete edition appeared in 1888 under the title Through England on a Side Saddle. A scholarly edition called The Journeys of Celia Fiennes was produced by Christopher Morris in 1947, and since then the book has been in print in a variety of editions.
Sounds a fascinating insight of a world that was fast changing.
So that brings us to the end of our E9 walk. We have gone from the world’s first plastic to an early travel writer via some interesting survivors of building a 16th century courtier’s house, an old cinema and some industrial building which have found some new uses.
We are now at the corner of Well Street and Mare Street, where there are lots of buses for onwards travel. We are also quite close to London Fields station – just follow the signs.