Contrasting ‘19s past

The Hackney Gazette’s review of the year in December 1919 recalled local flooding, similar to the  horrendous event in north-west Hackney just a few months ago. Unlike this year, in 1919 the floods were due not to burst water mains but to the overflowing River Lea. They made motor and tram traffic impossible along parts of Lea Bridge Road and flooded Hackney’s electricity works at Millfields.

As now, there was a housing problem in 1919. No fewer than 3 million people lived in a state of overcrowding; 758,000 in London. One street in Hoxton, reported the Gazette, had 733 people living in 29 houses, divided into 168 lettings. Innovative Shoreditch Borough, taking advantage of recent powers given to councils by the 1919 ‘Homes Fit For Heroes’ Housing Act, was planning to erect 40 new flats in New North Road (St. Leonard’s Court, recently demolished).

A sight not familiar to us 100 years on is a terrified horse galloping down Mare Street. Just before 1919 ended, a tramcar collided with, and overturned, a horse-drawn van near Hackney Station. Extricating itself, the horse bolted. PC Herbert Dignan (of 108, Graham Road) dutifully tried to apprehend the animal but was knocked down in the process and recuperated at the German Hospital.

As the New Year approached, had a young woman come to Hackney for a job, she might have taken this one of many advertised in the Hackney Gazette: daily servant in Stamford Hill at 15 shillings (75p, or about £42 in today’s money), per week, with two hours off per day. Had her “beau” followed her to Hackney, he could have worked as an Ostrich Feather apprentice at up to 17 shillings and sixpence (17/6) per week, taking a front room in a house close by, with use of gas ring, for 6/6 per week.

To celebrate the festive season, they might have gone to see Noni and Horace Nathano Bros in comedy at the Hackney Empire with Toni Hearn, the Lazy Juggler. Or maybe she would have preferred to see the comedy drama Men Happy Though Married featuring Enid Bennett at the Alexandra Cinema Theatre, Stoke Newington Road, while he went with his mates to play billiards on 10 of the ‘finest tables’ at 134 Kingsland Road. Had they been able to afford it, they could have hired a 6-seater ‘motor Landaulette’ from Coles in Southgate Road for a Christmas outing with friends.  In answer to its appeal for funds, at this time of giving, the couple might have spared a few pennies for the struggling Metropolitan Hospital.

Just as the Hackney Gazette signed off its last editorial of 1919, I too wish you, “A Happy and Prosperous New Year. May it be abundantly realised in the experience of all.”


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.

Image: Sean Gubbins