Sean Gubbins introduces us to Blind Fred

If you know the centre of Hackney, you will appreciate it boasts a medieval church tower, a Tudor mansion and a late eighteenth century church with magnificent 16th century tombs inside. As you walked through the old churchyard, did you notice the plaque to ‘Blind Fred’?  

Fred Peters, courtesy of Hackney Archives Department.

Always kept clear of surrounding foliage by Hackney Parks staff, the plaque reads: ‘Hereby was seen for many years Blind Fred a sunny soul’. Then in braille is a verse from St John’s Gospel: ‘one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’

For 40 years Fred Peters was a familiar sight in Hackney, as he sat, wet or fine, selling matches and reading his braille Bible, close by where the path through the churchyard between Sutton House and St Augustine’s Tower crosses Churchwell Path.

Fred was born in 1871 off Well St in Palace Road, since built over for the Frampton Park estate. His father was a cabinet-maker. The Peterses shared the house with one other family. Their neighbours included bricklayers, biscuit makers, laundresses, shirt ironers, carpenters, dressmakers and piano makers. Fred was baptised the following year, not too far away, in South Hackney’s St. John of Jerusalem Church.

The family moved around Hackney. By the time Fred was 10, they lived in Sheep Lane, just east of Broadway Market. 10 years later, they were living in Castleton Road, behind Hackney Town Hall. Fred was recorded as blind, as was his younger brother, John. Two other families shared the house with them: 12 in all lived there.

The censuses of 1901 and 1911 have Fred boarding with the Brown family in Marian Street, off Homerton High Street, where today’s Marian Court is about to be rebuilt. Fred is recorded as ‘dependent on charity’ and blind since birth.

Fred Peters died in June 1933, aged 62, in Hackney Hospital, Homerton High Street. Though baptised in an Anglican church, Fred attended the Lower Clapton Congregational Church, which until the 1930s stood at the junction directly opposite the Pembury Tavern. As Hackney churchyards had been closed for burials since the second half of the 19th century, Fred was buried in Bow (Tower Hamlets) Cemetery.  Blind Fred’s local fame earned him an obituary in the Hackney Gazette. It read that he “had endeared himself to many people by his cheery philosophy and never-failing smile.” Next time you pass his plaque give him a nod and a smile.

Looking for something to do one weekend?  Intrigued to find out more about Hackney?

Look up and pick a walk that takes your fancy. The next four are in this edition’s What’s On section. I look forward to welcoming you on one of my walks.

Main image: Sean Gubbins