Well-known for producing some of entertainment’s greats (Michael Caine, Marc Bolan, Jessica Tandy and, um, Jeremy Beadle to name a few), Hackney is actually a treasure trove of unsung stories. Here’s our favourite facts about Hackney that you might not already know…
Shoreditch, once full of brothels, slaughterhouses, bear-baiting pits and tanneries, was also home to Curtain Theatre, built in 1577, where Shakespeare’s Henry V and Romeo and Julietwere first performed.
The handmade ‘round eye’ specs produced at the still-surviving 1932 Algha Works factory on Fish Island, were worn by Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon, and also feature in the Harry Potter and Indiana Jones films.
Hackney is home to a stunning Tudor country mansion – Sutton House – built in 1535 for Sir Ralph Sadleir, a statesman who served Cromwell and Henry VIII. Through the years it has also been a home for Huguenot wool and silk merchants, a boarding school, a church institute, a trade union HQ and a squat.
A film studio based in Poole Street, Hoxton, Gainsborough Pictures lasted until 1951 and was where Hitchcock’s 1938 thriller The Lady Vanisheswas filmed.
Jack Cohen, founder of the Tesco empire, began his business selling groceries from a market stall in Well Street. On his first day he raked in £4 and made a princely profit of £1.
From the middle ages London Fields was a grazing spot for cattle being driven south from Hackney Marsh to slaughter at Smithfield Market.
Designed in 1901 by prolific theatrical architect Frank Matcham, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and Stan Laurel have all performed at Hackney Empire.
Abney Park was laid out in 1840 as an arboretum with 2500 species and varieties of trees and shrubs; these now support a surprisingly rustic population of tawny owls, sparrow hawks, great spotted woodpeckers, bats, wood mice and bank voles.
Dating from 1817 and considered at the time of its construction a daringly light and modern building, this was the first gaslit church. It’s now the key location in BBC sitcom Rev.
Opposite Hackney Town Hall and beyond the Picturehouse cinema is Paragon Road, around where, between 1785 and 1852, Loddiges Nursery grew 1600 varieties of tropical orchids in world-famous hothouses that inspired those at Kew Gardens. Abney Park still has descendants of trees and plants sold there. One of the finest specimens, a thirty-foot palm tree, was towed across London to Crystal Palace by twenty horses, following the demise of Loddiges.