Layers of Hackney

Hackney, like all London, is layered with history: physically, where once open land has been covered by iterations of building; different communities, industries and walks of life coming, some going, others gone; changes in fortune with areas, once affluent, falling into poverty, then climbing back to prosperity.

To discover Hackney’s history used to mean looking for it in many places: searching libraries and bookshops; visiting museums; traipsing from one archive to another. But now, more and more is being brought together, available at the click of a mouse on layersoflondon.org.

This website, produced by London University’s Institute of Historical Research (IHR), not only brings together a fascinating collection of digitised historic maps of London, it allows everyone to add records associated with different locations in London: pictures, films, recordings or stories about people who have lived and worked in London down the centuries.

A collection of historic material for 200 places throughout Hackney has been added by a team of Friends of Hackney Archives (FHA). The information was drawn from 35 years’ worth of FHA publications, digitised by IHR and now available online at hackneyhistory.org.  The earliest of these records relates to 12th century Holywell Priory; the most recent to fighting fascists in Ridley Road in 1962.

Go to layersoflondon.org and have a shufti! Search for a place of interest. Open up the maps of your choice to give you different layers through time: medieval, Tudor, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, Charles Booth’s Poverty, 19th and 20th century Ordnance Survey, WWII bomb damage, 1940s RAF aerial or modern satellite maps. Was your street built by 1827? Did Charles Booth colour it yellow for posh or black for ‘vicious, semi-criminal’? Was it bombed in the Blitz; if so, how badly? Move your cursor around your place of interest; find a pop-up record to click and discover something more about the history of your area. Or enjoy browsing through the various collections of records, as diverse as Georgian Coffee Houses, Punk London and Black History.

Maybe you have an old photograph, a collection of letters, a recorded interview, a video, or the results of a local research project which you think you could share by adding it to Layers of London. Just create an account on the website and start contributing. Or, if you would prefer to work with others in doing this, FHA is running workshops for groups to map more of Hackney’s history onto Layers of London by adding records of histories that have yet to be captured. Contact FHA via hackneyhistory.org to find out more.


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

Look up walkhackney.co.uk 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.

Images are screenshots from the Layers of Hackney website