Before there were LTNs…..

Today’s Hackney has thousands of roads, currently being patterned into Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. 250 years ago, there were only about 20 roads in this area. Some carried local traffic down the ‘main drags’ of the different villages, e.g.  Homerton High Street, Hoxton Street, Stoke Newington’s Church Street. Others connected Hackney to the outside world: Lea Bridge Road took traffic east into Essex; until the 1870s, when Graham Road was completed to Mare Street, Dalston Lane, first recorded in 1553, was the only route west from Hackney to Islington. Some roads linked the different settlements: Lower and Upper Clapton Roads connected Stamford Hill, via Clapton, to Hackney village. Only two were through roads carrying national traffic. Both had been Roman roads: Ermine Street, heading north out of the City via Shoreditch, Kingsland, east of Stoke Newington, to Stamford Hill and beyond, and Old Street bringing traffic from Colchester.

Since the 1300s the Crown had helped pay for the maintenance of roads carrying national traffic. Otherwise, roads were the parish’s responsibility. Parishioners had to provide four days’ labour annually to maintain them. Carrying cattle, carriages and wagons, the roads became deep in mud in winter, dusty and rutted in summer, leading to accidents, loss of goods and costly delays. They were so bad that in 1713 some Hackney farmers switched to transporting potatoes using a pannier slung over a horse, which was easier than using a cart.

To address the situation, turnpike trusts were set up to collect tolls at gates and supervise repairs with income raised. 1713 saw the first in Hackney: the Stamford Hill Turnpike Trust for Stamford Hill to Shoreditch. A second trust was set up in 1738 for Stamford Hill via Clapton, Mare Street and Hackney Road to Shoreditch. Making this route ‘safe and passable’, Hackney Vestry hoped, would attract people to occupy the 120 houses of ‘considerable value’ in the parish lying empty because of ‘the badness of their roads.’

Two other trusts were established: Old Street and Lea Bridge Road. In all, Hackney had nine toll-gates, where traffic had to stop to pay to pass through. These roads, now ‘A’ or ‘B’ roads, were also residential. Hackney started to develop into a London suburb through ribbon development: building homes along existing roadsides. From the end of the 1700s, bricks and mortar spread north-eastwards from the City fringes to cover all the once open fields of Hackney. As new roads were laid out, more gates and bollards were installed to prevent toll evasion, which had become widespread by the 1850s. Clapton Gate, at today’s Lea Bridge roundabout, was the first to go; the last at Lea Bridge in 1872. Whilst the turnpikes have gone, some things never change: road users in 1838 had to contend with ‘the quantity of water injudiciously suffered to run to waste upon the roads’ – caused by one of Thames Water’s predecessors.

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