Sean Gubbins tells us about Hackney’s Greens

With 15% of its land green space, Hackney must vie for the inner-London borough with the most open spaces. How did we get to enjoy these 58 parks and gardens?

Some of this land has been available for local people’s use for centuries. It was common land, not owned by the people but accessible for their use at a certain time of the year. In 1872 Clapton, Stoke Newington, Well Street Commons, Northand South Millfields, Hackney Downs and London Fieldswere bought up by the local authority of the time and laid out as public parks.

Others of our parks had been in private ownership as parkland surrounding big mansions. After local campaigns these lands were bought up by local subscription and the LCC: Clissold Park(1889); Springfield(1902).

Two of Hackney’s post war parks were returned to open green space where for about 130 years there had been housing and industrial buildings, built up beside the Regent’s Canal which came to the area in 1820. Haggerston Parkis built on the site of a gasworks and streets of houses behind. Shoreditch Parktoo was created from cleared bomb sites; traces of the roads they replaced can be seen in both parks.

Another derivation of today’s open spaces were burial grounds, the largest being the magnificent Abney Park. From the 1850s, central London churchyards were closed for burials, had gravestones cleared and paths laid, to become Recreational Grounds. Many can be discovered tucked away in various parts of the borough.

Shoreditch Churchyardbecame the largest open space for local people to stretch their legs and get away from overcrowded living conditions of what was the most densely populated part of Hackney. Otherwise, Shoreditch folk only had the front gardens of today’s Geffrye Museum, Hoxtonor Charles Squares. Hackney boasts some of London’s prettiest squares: de Beauvoirand Albion. But it was not always thus. In 1899 the local paper described neglected Albion Square as ”the greatest eyesore” in Dalston.

Of course, the borough’s largest open space is Hackney Marsh, also common land, purchased for public use in 1893. Hackney’s open spaces would have been greater had it still contained Victoria Park, which is now run completely by Tower Hamlets. One open space that got away was Kingsland Green, where fairs and cricket matches were held. After an attempt made to buy it for a public space, it was built over in 1882. The name survives, just north of Balls Pond Road.

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

Check out 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 ©Sean Gubbins