N16: The perfect location in which to stay lost

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.





SW13: A white swan … and other birds

NOTE: Sorry for the delay in continuing the London Postcodes Walk blog. This was because I went on holiday (a trip across the US by train) and decided to blog about that. If you would like to read about my american journey, follow the link:


If you want to stay in south west London, read on with this post about SW13.

We start our SW13 walk at the Post Office in Church Road which is near the Red Lion pub, a little bus ride from Hammersmith.


Turning right out of the Post Office we walk down Church Road and at the traffic lights by the Red Lion pub, we continue straight. This is Queen Elizabeth Walk and soon on the left is our first stop

Stop 1: London Wetland Centre

This is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It was formed out of four disused Victorian reservoirs.


The centre first opened in 2000 and covers more than 100 acres. Apparently many birds which have now made their home in the Centre cannot be found anywhere else in London, Unfortunately this is also on the flight path to Heathrow, so you get one of those big shiny metal birds flying over every 90 seconds when they are landing from the east!

The Wetland Centre is well worth a proper visit, but sadly not today as we have the rest of Barnes to see. More info at: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london/

Keep walking down Queen Elizabeth Walk and on your right are the Barn Elms Playing fields

Stop 2: Barn Elms

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It may not look much now, but somewhere on the land over there on the right of the path was the manor house of Barnes, known as Barn Elms. Before the reformation, the manor house was in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it was home to Sir Francis Walsingham – known as “Elizabeth’s Spymaster”. By the 1660s Barn Elms had become a fashionable destination for picnics and Samuel Pepys arranged boating parties here. The house was remodelled in the 1770s by Sir Richard Hoare (whose great grandfather founded the private bank C Hoare & Co), and his son Richard Colt Hoare extended it in the early 19th century. Sadly the house became derelict in the 20th century and was burnt out then demolished in 1954. And now it is just playing fields, although somewhere there is an ice house, an ornamental pond and a lodge. But it not anywhere near here.

Keep walking down the path until you reach the river.

Stop 3: Riverside walk

On this side is a tranquil pathway and it is hard to believe you are actually in London. Across the river (in SW6) is Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC.

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Retrace your steps back along Queen Elizabeth Walk to the Red Lion, cross over and go down Church Road. Almost immediately on the right is our next stop.

Stop 4: Olympic Building

This building started life in 1906 as the Byfield Hall, a theatre for the Barnes Repertory Company. It became a cinema with various names (none of which were “Olympic”) and then in 1966, it became Olympic Studios. This was the name the studios had had in the previous locations and so the name came along with the studios. Many famous rock and pop stars have recorded here including the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Queen and U2. It was closed down by the then owners EMI in 2009 and has been converted back to being a cinema.

(Note: since I researched this postcode the Cinema and Cafe have now opened. More info at:

http://www.olympiccinema.co.uk/?page=8 )

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Just a little further along Church Road on the same side is the Homestead.

Stop 5: The Homestead house


This is a delightful 18th century house with a lovely garden. Sadly we can’t pop in for tea.

Keep walking down Church Road, and not surprisingly you get to the Church, which is on the right.

Stop 6: St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s is an old church, with bits dating back to medieval times. But it suffered a major fire in 1978. The Victorian and Edwardian additions were lost but the Tudor tower and much of the original Norman chapel survived. It has been substantially rebuilt, not that this is obvious from the road. It has a great sundial on the clock tower with the motto “Abide with us for the day is far spent”. Not entirely sure what this means! Perhaps the word “from” should be in there between “far” and “spent”?

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Keep walking along Church Road and on the right we get to the Grange.

Stop 7: The Grange

This is another lovely house. It is described by architectural historian, Pevsner, as early 18th century but altered and added to. He goes on to say it has good early 19th Century railings and overthrow. The overthrow, I deduce from the glossary in Pevsner, is the bit over the gate – in this case where the name of the house is spelled out.

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We continue along Church road to a pub and opposite is Barnes Green

Stop 8: Barnes Green

Barnes Green has what I guess might be described as the village pond – with ducks. It is all very pretty and makes you feel like you are in a village. Indeed there is a very enthusiatic website about the “village”:  http://www.barnesvillage.com/ which tells of all sort of open-air and covered markets each month. Barnes Green is also the site of the Barnes Fair, held each year on the second Saturday of July.


We follow the path as the road veers to the right and becomes Barnes High Street. This has a higgledy piggledy range of buildings which do not quite come together as a satisfactory whole. We are going to walk down the whole of the High Street, avoiding the temptations of coffee shops (or pubs) until we come to the river again.

Stop 9: Barnes Riverside

The river of course does a huge loop around Barnes and we have cut across from one side of the loop to the other. The view along the river here is also lovely here. It is so undeveloped – particularly on the other side, where there are playing fields.


On the right is the Bull’s head pub, for many years a famous Jazz venue. Unfortunately it is now closed but said to be undergoing a major refurbishment. Not yet clear though whether it will continue the live jazz tradition.


Walk back along the river walk towards the railway bridge (which is listed and dates from the 1840s). On the left, are two famous people’s houses. First comes Gustav Holst who lived here from 1908 to 1913, but apparently the river air, frequently foggy, affected his breathing. So he and his family moved.

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And just a little way along at No 14 is the house lived in by the dancer Dame Ninette de Valoise from 1962 to 1982. She was named Edris Stannus by her parents  which is unusual enough but she changed her name to Ninette de Valoise when she was about 13. Clearly this was deemed a more suitable name for a ballet dancer. She went on to have an illustrious career. Most notably, she danced professionally with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and later established The Royal Ballet. And she lived to be 102!

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Return back along the riverside and turn back down Barnes High street. At Barnes Green take the right hand road (Station Road) and follow this. The traffic veers off to the left but you keep walking along Station Road, which not surprisingly leads you to Barnes Station.

(if you want to short circuit this, you can get the train from Barnes Bridge Station which is just along from Dame Ninnette’s old house)

Stop 10: Barnes Railway station

Amazingly Barnes Station has one of the oldest surviving station buildings in London. It dates from 1846 and is the only one of the Tudor style buildings constructed for the Richmond line stations which still stands. It was designed by William Tite, who was responsible for a number of the early London and South Western Railway stations. This of course is the man after whom the Metropolitan Board of Works named a new street in Chelsea after his death in the 1870s. (Tite Street is where Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sergeant lived – see my SW3 walk)

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Sadly the building is no longer part of the working station, but at least it is still here.

Go up the steps to Rocks Lane which is the road that passes over the station. Go down Rocks Lane away from Barnes, until you reach the major road junction.

Stop 11: The Red Rover

This junction where the A306 (Rocks Lane/Roehampton Lane) crosses the South Circular is called the Red Rover, for no obvious reason today.


But until about 20 years ago I would guess there was a pub on the corner called “The Red Rover”. It was demolished and replaced by this block of flats, And all there is to remind us now is the name over the road sign.


Turn back on yourself and go along the road called Queen’s Ride. Stay on the left hand pavement for now and go up the slope towards the railway bridge. Across the road you will see the shrine to Marc Bolan.

Stop 12: Marc Bolan

This is the location of the car crash which killed glam rock star Marc Bolan in 1977.  In 2007, this site was recognised by the English Tourist Board as a “Site of Rock ‘n’ Roll Importance” in its guide “England Rocks”.


To see the shrime more closely retrace your steps and you will see over the road how the right hand path leaves the side of the road. It should be possible to cross Queen’s Ride at this point. Do this and go down this path to see the shrine in detail.

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It is a remarkable collection of stuff. There are a couple of formal memorials. There is a small plaque and nearby is a (rather ugly) bronze bust of Bolan installed in 1997  to mark the twentieth anniversary of his death.

And then there is the informal stuff – the flowers, ornaments, messages, poems. There were at least three white swans when I visited – a reminder of his first hit: “Ride a White Swan” from 1970.

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We are now at the end of our SW13 walk. At first SW13 appears just a bit suburban. But it does have the historic connection with Barn Elms, there is also one of London’s oldest railway station buildings, the wonderful Wetlands Centre and music connections: Gustav Holst, Olympic Studios and the Bolan shrine. Not bad for what looks like a bit of a backwater. A shame this lovely area is so blighted by aircraft noise.

For onward travel, return to Barnes Station, or else there are buses at the Red Rover to Putney or Richmond.