Clapton is a treat. Sitting right at the top of Hackney and forming the northern border with Waltham Forest and Haringey, it features some wonderfully eclectic, little-known sights, shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a fantastic selection of green spaces. These are our top 10 things to do in Clapton.
Georgian Orthodox Cathedral Church
North of Clapton Common, on Rockwood Road, the Georgian Orthodox Cathedral Church was built by the Somerset-based nineteenth-century Agapemonite sect and funded by their wealthy female recruits, with whom the founder and his successor enthusiastically practised free love. The interior, restored by the Georgian Orthodox Church, is dazzling, with a wide hammer-beam roof and Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts stained glass, some of it inspired by William Blake’s fiery images of the apocalypse.
J Grodzinski & Daughters
The founders of this famous Stamford Hill bakery left Tsarist Lithuania in the 1880s for the East End, settling in Spitalfields; by the 1960s the business had become the largest kosher bakery in Europe, despite the destruction of the original Fieldgate Street shop during the Blitz. Today Grodz is still successfully turning out borekas (stuffed pastries), bagels, challa rolls and cakes to a mixed local crowd.
Springfield Park was established in 1905 with the intention of keeping the locals out of the pubs; Georgian Springfield House is now a café with lovely floor-to-ceiling windows and garden tables where you can enjoy home-cooked food. Near the café, you’ll find a kitchen garden run by Growing Communities – visit on a Tuesday (10am–4pm) to meet the volunteers and wander the veg beds and greenhouses.
Clapton Pond, with its rustic bridge and fountain, is surrounded by some great little independent restaurants and pubs, such as my neighbours the dumplings and the Clapton Hart as well as Hackney’s favourite corner shop, Palm 2.
Hackney Marsh is no longer a marsh but a huge grassy expanse – it was drained from the medieval period onwards. Still one of London’s largest common lands, the Marsh was for centuries protected by the system of lammas, whereby locals had the right to graze cattle from Lammas Day, following the summer harvest, until Lady Day (March 25). Used as a dump for rubble created by Blitz bombings, the area is now home to 82 rugby, cricket and football pitches – David Beckham trained here as a lad.
Head here on a Sunday for the Chatsworth Road Market, which focuses on food. The street is lined with some excellent eating and drinking options, including L’Epicerie, the bustling French-run deli at no 56 and The Elderfield (just off Chatsworth Road) a lovely local pub with Art Deco wood panelling and fireplace.
At the bottom of Chatsworth Road (where it becomes Brooksby’s Walk), this impressive Grade II listed building began life as Homerton Library, but now houses Chats Palace, a community arts centre. Gather for gigs on the beautiful parquet dance floor, or break into song with London’s first sea shanty choir. Chats also hosts ballet and karate classes for kids and a varied range of music and cultural events.
The area’s most distinguished building is the Clapton Park United Reformed Church, better known as the Round Chapel. It was completed in 1891 by nonconformist Congregationalists, whose desire to escape the strictures of the Church of England is evident in the circular temple-like design. Inside, slim iron columns rise from the gleaming wooden gallery to support graceful latticed arches. Beautifully restored by the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust, the church welcomes all for worship, and hosts community arts and food events.
Umit & Son
An extraordinary and fantastically jumbled shop selling cinema collectibles, including rare Soviet cameras, Super 8 and Super 16 reels, VHS tapes, posters and toys. Fans of 16mm should check out Ciné-Real, where Umit is the projectionist.
St John at Hackney
This capacious late eighteenth-century church also acts as an atmospheric music venue, with a focus on ambient, electronic and experimental sounds. It also hosts Adrenalin Dance, providing an array of dance classes: romp and roll for toddlers, breakdance, contemporary dance and street moves. And Hackney Children’s Theatre puts on monthly shows here, geared to children.