We went out for breakfast as usual and got our weekly shopping done good and early so decided we deserved an outing. The number 30 bus dropped us in Hackney Wick.
There is a lot of ugliness in Hackney but there are a few interesting places to see as well, fortunately. The first we came across was this church, St Mary of Eton. Quite frankly. I think it is an uninspired ugly lump but its origins are unusual and worth remarking upon.
In 1880, Eton College decided to undertake a charitable work in Hackney, a poor area. Accordingly, a church mission with a priest was set up, funded by the college. (I bet the poor people of Hackney were really chuffed to have another church.) The mission was at first in makeshift premises but the college was able in due course to raise funds to build a permanent church.
This was built of red brick with Bath stone dressing in two phases, the first in 1890-2 and the second in 1910-12, almost all of the finance being raised by Eton College and the Old Etonians.
This is the local lodge or temple of the Independent Order of Mechanics, founded in 1757. Not much seems to be known about this order, despite the fact that, although it was founded in Lancashire, it has lodges both in this country and abroad, principally in the US and the Netherlands. Said by some to have formed as a schism from the Freemasons, it has itself split into a number of orders. This one appears a fairly modest lodge with no sign of occupancy while we were there.
Hard as it may be to imagine it today, Hackney was once a rural village and until the early 19th century at least, was known for its gardens and as a place where the rich built homes away from the city. Samuel Pepys mentions in his diary a happy afternoon when he went there to eat cherries and cream.
As the inexorable expansion of London continued, Hackney’s gardens were eventually covered with bricks and cement. In 1840, 30,000 local residents petitioned Queen Victoria for the formation of a Royal Park to improve the environment and their quality of life. The Queen assented and Victoria Park, which the Queen visited personally in 1873, was laid out in 1845-50.
Included in the park was land beside the Regent’s Canal known as Bonner’s Fields, after Bishop Bonner of Bethnal Green, whose manor house had stood there (it was demolished in 1800) . The grounds had been a place where heretics were burned at the stake and in 1848 they were the scene of Chartist riots. The police turned out in force to quell the riot but this fortunately ended peacefully when the crowd was dispersed by a thunderstorm!
Today, the park is a place for strolling, dog walking, playing games and taking part in athletics – there is a running club attached to it.
We stopped for refreshments at what was once called the Kenton Arms and today simply “The Kenton”, a rather bare but clean and friendly pub.
My eye was later caught by this wonderful Victorian warehouse dating from 1893. On the rear, it still has one of the hoists in place and loading bay doors will fold-down platforms. (See picture on the right). Today it serves as a not-for-profit art exhibition gallery.
We took the bus but jumped off again when Tigger spotted something she knew I would like to see – a city farm! That is where we saw the above ducks of a species that adopts this unusual upright posture. These three, by their demeanour, seemed to be gossiping about the other ducks!
There was a good range of animals represented, some unusual, like the above fluffy hen. I would have liked to take this one home but I expect Freya would have taken an unwelcome interest in her!
The inmates are well used to people and some of them quite friendly. However, fears of cross-contamination have induced city farms to put up notices discouraging physical contact with the animals. That seems a pity but I suppose safety is always the first consideration.
The animals seemed well cared for and healthy and mixing species didn’t appear to cause any difficulties as they all behaved companionably together, although we did see a goat and a couple of calves head-bumping one another and were unable to decide whether this was play or disagreement.
It was fun seeing the animals, because even the docile ones are not easy to photograph and you have to be ready to seize the moment. The time came for us to wash our hands and move on.
As we approached Shoreditch, I spotted this building. I couldn’t see a date on it but it looks Victorian. A deliciously extravagant design, this pub was once called Ye Olde Axe but the name has been painted over and the swinging sign has all but lost its paintwork. The building looks neglected and in need of repair, like something out of a Gothic horror film. An illuminated sign on the side reads “Striptease”. Unsurprisingly, the clock no longer works. It is very sad to see buildings like this being allowed to fall into a state of neglected disrepair.
We waited for a bus here, in front of Shoreditch town hall. It was built in 1902, at the beginning of the Edwardian era, and is an evident declaration of civic pride. Shoreditch was absorbed into the borough of Hackney in 1965 so the town hall no longer serves its original purpose and is itoday used as a venue for a wide range of events. Placed on English Heritage’s “Buildings at Risk” register in 1996, it is today managed by a charitable trust. I think that with a bit of a clean it could look quite impressive.
The bus brought us to Old Street where we wanted to take a look at St Luke’s Church. Commissioned under the 1711 Act to provide 50 new churches for London, St Luke’s was built in 1727-33. This date may surprise you in view of the spire which is rather unusual for a church of this type and date.
The church was designed by John James and that ubiquitous architect of churches, Nicholas Hawksmoor, the latter being responsible for the spire. Within a year of completion, the church suffered structural and subsidence problems and has led a chequered existence ever since, unable to be used as a church and virtually ruinous.
In 1996, St Luke’s was taken over by the London Symphony Orchestra as a centre for its education and community work and funding was found to stabilise the building and adapt it to its new purpose.
As is usual with old churchyards in the city, this one has been landscaped as a garden but some of the tombs have been left in place, including the one below, which I photographed and thought no more about.
It turned out, however, that there is more complication here than meets the eye. The dedication on the side of the tomb is to Thomas Hanbey Esq who was, I believe, Master (1775) of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, in whose records he is shown on his death in 1786 to have endowed in perpetuity places at Christ’s College for two boys. The land on which the church is built was bought from the Ironmongers’ Company in 1721.
However, it seems that this tomb is also known, especially to typographers, as the Caslon tomb. This is because it was originally the grave of William Caslon (1692-1766), famous as a gunsmith and designer of typefaces who had a typefoundry nearby.
Now we come to Mary Hanbey, daughter of William and wife of Thomas. She is recorded as having left money in her will to paint and repair what was described as the monument of her husband at St. Luke’s. It seems that Mary bought the tomb of William and either replaced it or modified it to serve as a monument to her husband.
See what you let yourself in for when you go around innocently photographing people’s tombs…!