The northern suburbs: Hoxton, Kingsland and Dalston

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'The northern suburbs: Hoxton, Kingsland and Dalston', in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) pp. 524-530. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

In this section



"Dalston, or Shacklewell, or some other suburban retreat northerly."—C. Lamb, "Essays of Elia."

Kingsland Road—Harmer's Almshouses—Gefferey's Almshouses—The Almshouses of the Framework Knitters—Shoreditch Workhouse—St. Columba's Church—Hoxton—"Pimlico"—Discovery of a Medicinal Spring—Charles Square—Aske's Hospital—Balmes, or Baumes House—The Practising Ground of the Artillery Company—De Beauvoir Town—The Tyssen Family—St. Peter's Church, De Beauvoir Square—The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St. Joseph—Ball's Pond—Kingsland—A Hospital for Lepers—Dalston—The Refuge for Destitute Females—The German Hospital—Shacklewell.

Here, it is true, we have no historian or old annalist to guide our steps, for the district had no entity of its own till quite a recent date, and it is not old enough to have a history. Its records are the annals of a "quiet neighbourhood." Beyond an occasional remark, too, we can glean nothing of interest about the neighbourhood from the pages of Strype, Maitland, or honest John Stow;
"The quaint and antique Stow, whose words alone
Seem letter'd records graven upon stone."

These close-lying suburbs—which we scarcely know whether to reckon as parts and parcels of the great metropolis or not—have been wittily defined by Mr. G. O. Trevelyan, in his "Life of Lord Macaulay," as "places which, as regards the company and the way of living, are little else than sections of London removed into a purer air." And so rapidly is London growing year by year that even Mr. Trevelyan's words will soon prove out of date, so far as regards purity of air.

This district is approached from the City by Bishopsgate Street and the broad and open thoroughfare called Kingsland Road, which runs northward from the end of Old Street Road, diverging at Shoreditch Church from the road by which we have travelled towards Hackney.

On the east side of the road we pass several almshouses. The first of these belong to the Drapers' Company, and are known as Harmer's Almshouses. The buildings, which were erected in 1713, have a somewhat picturesque appearance, and afford homes for twelve single men and women. Gefferey's Almshouses and Charity, in the gift of the Ironmongers' Company, are situated close to the above; these were founded in 1703, for the purpose of providing homes and pensions for a certain number of poor persons. Next we have the almshouses belonging to the Framework Knitters' Company. These were established in the early part of the last century as homes, &c., for twelve poor freemen and widows of the abovementioned company.

The only buildings worthy of mention in the Kingsland Road, which we pass on the west side on our way northward, are the Workhouse of the parish of Shoreditch, and St. Columba's Church. The latter building, a large and lofty red-brick edifice, with a clergy house adjoining, was built about the year 1868 from the designs of Mr. P. Brooks; and the services in the church are conducted on "Ritualistic" principles.

Hoxton, which lies on the west side of the Kingsland Road, and north of Old Street Road, now included in Shoreditch parish, was formerly, as we have stated in the previous chapter, reckoned as part of Hackney. The locality in bygone times acquired a certain celebrity from a noted tavern or ale-house, called "Pimlico," which existed there; it is referred to by Ben Jonson, Dodsley, and others in plays of the seventeenth century. The name of "Pimlico" is kept in remembrance by Pimlico Walk, near the junction of the New North Road and Pitfield Street. The origin of the name of Hoxton is somewhat involved in obscurity. The place was formerly sometimes called Hogsdon, as we have already seen; (fn. 1) and Hog Lane, in Norton Folgate, close by, would lead to the inference that it was so named in consequence of the number of hogs that might have been reared there; but this seems doubtful, for in the "Domesday" record we find the name of the place entered as Hocheston, and in a lease of the time of Edward III. it is mentioned as Hoggeston. Stow, in 1598, describes the place as "a large street with houses on both sides;" but it has long since lost all pretensions to a rural or retired character. A medicinal spring was discovered at Hoxton in the seventeenth century, on digging the cellar for a house near Charles Square; but it does not appear to have attained any eminence or reputation. In Charles Square lived the Rev. John Newton, Cowper's friend and correspondent, many years rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, in Lombard Street, and who died in 1807. Peter Cunningham, in his "Handbook of London" (1850), speaks of the house of Oliver, third Lord St. John of Bletsoe, who died in 1618, as still standing.

Hoxton has long been noted for the number of its charitable institutions, among which Aske's Hospital, at the upper end of Pitfield Street, held a prominent place. It consisted of some almshouses and schools, founded by Robert Aske, an alderman of London, and a member of the Haberdashers' Company, in 1688, as homes for twenty poor freemen of that company, and for the education of 220 sons of freemen. The buildings were extensive, and had in front a piazza upwards of 300 feet in length. The chapel was consecrated by Archbishop Tillotson in 1695. In 1875–6 the almshouses were removed, and a large middle-class school, called Aske's Haberdashers' School, now occupies the site.

Hoxton in former times boasted of at least one mansion of some importance; this was Balmes House—termed in old writings Bawmes, or Baulmes. In the early part of the seventeenth century the old house was rebuilt on a scale of great magnificence by Sir George Whitmore, who was Lord Mayor of London, and a considerable sufferer for his loyalty to Charles I. The mansion was purchased about fifty years afterwards by Richard de Beauvoir, a Guernsey gentleman, who lived there in great style. Foreigners visited the mansion as one of the sights of London; and it was noticed as a memorable show place in French and German works on architecture and landscape gardening. At the end of the last century it was surrounded by a moat spanned by drawbridges, and there were beautiful gardens, watered by streams from Canonbury Fields. But Time's progress worked strange changes in Baumes; and in the end the "old house at Hoxton," as it was popularly called—a melancholy high-roofed dingy building, enclosed by high walls—came to be occupied as a private lunatic asylum. Some few years ago the building was pulled down; but Whitmore Bridge preserves the memory of the hospitable alderman of the Stuart days, and the smart De Beauvoir Town, near at hand, is a handsome memorial of his successor in the splendour of Baumes.

The fields near the old building appear to have been formerly used by the Artillery Company as a place of exercise; and the "Baumes March" is said to have been "a favourite exercise at arms." A melancholy interest attaches to the fields hereabouts, from the fact that it was in one of them that Ben Jonson killed in a duel Gabriel Spenser, the player. (fn. 2)

Nearly all the land round this part belongs to the Tyssen and De Beauvoir families, after whom and their connections and alliances, streets, squares, and terraces are named in almost endless succession. One district, indeed, is collectively named De Beauvoir Town.

The Tyssens were formerly merchants at Flushing, in Holland, but about the reign of James II. they settled in London and became naturalised subjects. Like many other City merchants at that time, they seem to have fixed their abode at Hackney and Shacklewell, and several of them were buried in Hackney Church. Francis Tyssen, of Shacklewell, married Rachel, the youngest daughter of Richard de Beauvoir, of Guernsey, and subsequently of Baumes, as mentioned above; and on his death, in 1717, he was buried at Hackney "with great funeral pomp" by his brother merchants, who had resolved to do honour to his memory. His body lay in state in Goldsmiths' Hall (from which we may infer that he was very rich indeed), surrounded by a magnificent display of plate, gold and silver sconces and trophies. Then the corpse was borne to Hackney Church with a great procession of horse and footmen, and such an abundant following, that the Earl of Suffolk, deputy Earl-Marshal, became alarmed for the funeral privileges of people of quality, and published a notice in the Gazette to the effect that the display "far exceeded the quality of the deceased, being only a private gentleman," and that "funerals of ignoble persons should not be set forth with such trophies of honour as belong only to the peers and gentles of the realm." The funeral must really have been a grand affair, for it cost £2,000, a large sum in those days. Three days after Tyssen was laid in the grave with so much pomp, his widow was confined of a son, the heir to the large property. This his only son, Francis John Tyssen, lord of the manor of Hackney, died in 1781, leaving a daughter, who subsequently conveyed the property by marriage to the Amhursts, of Rochester. At the close of the last century, through failure of male heirs, the property passed, by marriage of an heiress, to Mr. William George Daniel, of Foley House, Kent, and Westbrook, Dorset, who thereupon assumed, by royal sign-manual, the surname and arms of Tyssen. His eldest son, who inherited the manor of Hackney, took the additional name of Amhurst, a name given to one of the principal thoroughfares connecting the main street of Hackney with the high road at Stoke Newington.

De Beauvoir Town is that part of this neighbourhood lying on the north side of Hoxton, stretching away from the Regent's Canal on the south to Ball's Pond Road on the north, and from Kingsland Road on the east to the New North Road and Canonbury on the west. Its centre is formed by De Beauvoir Square, which is surrounded by a number of small streets and terraces. St. Peter's Church, in the south-west corner of the square, is a pseudo-Gothic edifice, and was erected about the year 1830.

In Tottenham Road, near the Kingsland main road, is the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady and St. Joseph, which was solemnly opened in the year 1856 by the late Cardinal Wiseman. The presbytery, which adjoins the church, fronts the Culford Road. The church is a spacious brick edifice. It was originally built for manufacturing purposes, but was converted to its present use under the direction of Mr. Wardell. Externally, the building has not much pretensions to beauty or ecclesiastical architecture. It is, however, spacious, and will accommodate about six hundred worshippers. The division of the chancel from the body of the church is formed by a flight of steps of considerable elevation, and on each side is a screened enclosure—the one used for the organchamber and choir, and the other for the sacristy. At the western ends of these enclosures are the side altars. The high altar is arranged with baldachino, reredos, and frontal; and the roof of the chancel is divided into panels of a blue ground, relieved with sacred monograms. Underneath the church are spacious and convenient schools.

The north end of the De Beauvoir and Culford Roads is crossed at right angles by Ball's Pond Road, which connects Kingsland Road and Dalston Lane with Essex Road, Islington.

Ball's Pond was originally a small hamlet belonging to the parish of Islington, and abutting upon the Newington Road. It consisted of only a few houses and gardens, and received its name from one John Ball, whose memory is preserved on a penny token, as the keeper of a house of entertainment called the "Salutation," or more commonly the "Boarded House," at this place about the middle of the seventeenth century. The inscription on the token is as follows: "John Ball, at the Boarded House, neere Newington Green: his Penny;" and the sign is depicted upon the coin by the representation of two gentlemen saluting each other. The place was formerly famous for the exercise of bull-baiting and other brutal sports, and was much resorted to by the lower orders of society from all parts of the metropolis. There was, near this spot, a large pond, which by the frequenters of the place became coupled with the name of "mine host." This pond was used, doubtless, like that which we have mentioned in our account of May Fair, (fn. 3) for duckhunting and other such cruel and unmanly sports.

When the citizens of London used to take lodgings for the summer at Islington for the sake of its pure and healthy air, the district all around us must have consisted of open fields, and nothing met the eye between Hoxton and Stoke Newington. The fields were doubtless used by the Finsbury archers when Hoxton got too hot, or rather too populous, to hold them; and probably within this present century a stray toxophilite may have been seen hereabouts stringing his bow, and dreaming of the days that were past.

In passing through Ball's Pond we have the New River on our left, not, however, any longer, as it used to be, open to the view, and reflecting the sky as in a mirror, but stealing along, like the mole, underground, being arched over in order to keep its stream clean and pure, and free from the smuts and other impurities from which it would be difficult to purify it by all the filtration in the world.

Kingsland lies to the north of the Regent's Canal, which, after leaving the Regent's Park and Camden Town, is carried by a tunnel under the high ground of Islington, and passes hence through Hackney to Mile End, and so into the Thames at Limehouse. It probably derived its name from the royal residence on Stoke Newington Green, of which we shall have more to say presently. The fields adjoining being occupied by royalty for the chase, came conventionally to be styled the "King's lands"—hence Kingsland.

We get a glimpse of the pastoral scenery that at one time lay between London and Kingsland in the "Diary" of the inimitable Pepys. Under date of May 12th, 1667, he writes:—"Walked over the fields to Kingsland and back again; a walk, I think, I have not taken these twenty years; but puts me in mind of my boy's time, when I boarded at Kingsland, and used to shoot with my bow and arrow in these fields."

This, and the whole neighbourhood with which we are now concerned, must at one time have been part and parcel of the great northern forest of Middlesex, if there be truth in what Lord Lyttelton tells us, on the authority of an old chronicler of the reign of Henry II., that the citizens of London once had a chace or forest which extended from Hounsditch nearly twelve miles north. The last part of this large forest was Enfield Chace, the furthest portion from town; and if it all once belonged to the people, it would be interesting to find out how it passed into the hands of the sovereign.

Kingsland is a chapelry partly in Hackney and partly in Islington parish. It is described by the "Ambulator," in 1774, as a hamlet of the parish of Islington, lying between Hoxton and Clapton. It consists chiefly of rows of houses, extending in a somewhat monotonous series along the road from London to Stamford Hill.

Lewis, in his "Topographical Dictionary" (1835), writes: "Here are brick-fields, and some part of the ground is occupied by nurserymen and marketgardens. Previously to the middle of the fifteenth century there was at Kingsland a hospital for lepers, which, after the Reformation, became annexed to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and was used as a sort of out-ward to that institution."

This hospital appears to have been established at a very early period; for, as we learn from Strype's "Survey of London," as far back as the year 1437, "John Pope, citizen and barber, gave by will to the Masters and Governors of the House of Lepers, called Le Lokes, at Kingeslond without London, an annual rent of 6s. 8d. issuing out of certain shops, situate in Shirborne Lane, toward the sustentation of the said House at Kingeslond, for ever." It appears from the records of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, that soon after the establishment of that charity in the reign of Henry VIII., certain Lock, or Lazar, Hospitals were opened in situations remote from the City, for the reception of peculiar patients; and the ancient house for lepers at Kingsland was converted into one of these receptacles. It was afterwards rebuilt on a larger and more commodious plan. A substantial edifice of brick, formerly appropriated to the use of the diseased, having over the door the arms of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, remained standing here down to the commencement of the present century.


This hospital was anciently called the "Loke," or "Lock." (fn. 4) The greater part of the building was burnt down in the middle of the last century, but was subsequently rebuilt. The structure joined a little old chapel, which escaped the fire.

A writer in Notes and Queries states that "a sundial on the premises formerly bore this inscription, significant of sin and sorrow: 'Post voluptatem misericordia.'" Prior to its alienation from the mother hospital, the house had a communication with the chapel, so contrived that the patients might take part in the service without seeing or being seen by the congregation. It may be mentioned here that there was a similar arrangement in the Lock Chapel, Grosvenor Place. In 1761 the patients were removed from Kingsland, and the site of the establishment was let out on building leases, though the chapel itself was suffered to stand, and to be used as a proprietary chapel. It was a small edifice in the Early English style of Gothic architecture, with pointed windows and a bell turret. It was in the patronage of the Governors of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and the endowment was very insignificant. The chapel, it should be added, was removed in the reign of William IV., in order to make room for building private residences. The chapel adjoined the turnpike at the south-eastern corner of the road leading to Ball's Pond, and was, perhaps, coeval with the first establishment of the house for lepers on this spot. The lower part or the structure, in its latter years, was so much hidden by the accumulation of earth on the outside, that the floor of the area was full three feet below the surface of the highway.

Dalston, or Dorlston, as it was spelt formerly, is usually regarded as a hamlet of Hackney parish; it properly designates the houses on either side of the road leading from Kingsland and Ball's Pond to Hackney, called Dalston Lane; but has gradually come to be applied to the whole neighbouring locality.

The district, which is there styled Dorlston, is curtly described in the "Ambulator" (1774) as "a small but pleasant village near Hackney, to which parish it belongs;" and it is spoken of by Lambert, in his "History and Survey of London and its Environs," published in 1806, as "a small hamlet adjoining Hackney, which has nothing remarkable but its nursery grounds." Some of these grounds were still cultivated as lately as 1860; but now the "demon of bricks and mortar" has fairly possessed the neighbourhood, and a crowded railway junction, with constant trains, covers the once rural spot; indeed, Dalston has lately become an important suburb, on account of being the point of conflux of two railways. Of late years, too, large numbers of streets and terraces have sprung up in this neighbourhood, and the houses are now mainly inhabited by hundreds of City clerks and other industrious families, so that the place is now one of the most populous districts in the suburbs of London.


The old manor-house at Dalston is now used as the Refuge for Destitute Females, which was instituted in 1805, with the view of reforming female criminals, and training them for domestic service. The Refuge was founded under the auspices of Zachary Macaulay, William Wilberforce, Stephen Lushington, Samuel Hoare, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and other leading philanthropists of that day. The sight of a poor destitute boy sitting on a door-step, just discharged from prison homeless and friendless, first kindled the spark of compassion which resulted in the foundation of this time-honoured charity, which was first opened in the month of June, 1805, at Cupar's Bridge, Lambeth. In 1811 the establishment was removed to the Hackney Road. The male branch, in 1815, was transferred to Hoxton, although the females continued in the former locality. The institution for boys was discontinued altogether in 1849, ten years after the incorporation of the society (1 & 2 Vic., cap. 71), on account of Government retrenchments, and about the same time the females were removed to the present commodious and desirable premises at the Manor House, Dalston. Another charitable institution, in Dalston Lane, is the German Hospital, which was erected in 1845. It is a handsome building of red brick, capable of affording relief to a considerable number of patients. It was established for the benefit of Germans suffering from disease, and also of English in cases of accidents. The total number of persons annually relieved is about 12,000. There are in London, principally at the East-end, about 30,000 Germans, chiefly of the working classes, and occupied as sugar-bakers, skin-dressers, and skin-dyers.

Shacklewell, on the north side of Dalston Lane, is said to have been named after some springs or wells which were of high repute in former days, but the very site of which is now forgotten. It is a hamlet to the parish of Hackney lying on the east side of the Stoke Newington Road, and covering a triangular plot of ground, the north-east side of which is bounded by Amhurst Road and Hackney Downs. The old manor-house originally belonged to the family of Heron, and is worthy of mention, as having been the abode of Cecilia, the daughter of the great Sir Thomas More, who married George Heron, "of Shacklewell." Her husband becoming involved in the ruin of his father-in-law, and her only son dying in infancy, the family became extinct. The estate then passed into other hands, and in 1700 was sold to Mr. Francis Tyssen, by its then owner, a gentleman named Rowe, who, it is said, late in life was forced to apply for relief to the parish in which he had once owned a manor.


  • 1. See ante, p. 39.
  • 2. See Vol. II., p. 195.
  • 3. See Vol. IV., p. 352.
  • 4. See ante, pp. 14 and 215.