Hackney: Settlement and Building to c.1800

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10, Hackney. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1995.

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'Hackney: Settlement and Building to c.1800', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10, Hackney, (London, 1995), pp. 10-14. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp10-14 [accessed 12 June 2024].

. "Hackney: Settlement and Building to c.1800", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10, Hackney, (London, 1995) 10-14. British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp10-14.

. "Hackney: Settlement and Building to c.1800", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10, Hackney, (London, 1995). 10-14. British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp10-14.


SETTLEMENT AND BUILDING TO c. 1800. Roman finds, (fn. 1) unexplained by structural remains, have included coins in an urn at Temple Mills, stone coffins at Upper Clapton, and a marble sarcophagus at Lower Clapton. The Temple Mills hoard, with articles of a later date, may indicate merely a crossing of the Lea and the Clapton burials a possible line of the road from Ermine Street to Great Dunmow.

Well watered gravels attracted Anglo-Saxon settlers. (fn. 2) Hackney, although first recorded only in 1198, probably commemorates Haca's ey or raised ground in marshland. The Old English tun or farm in Clapton, Dalston, and Homerton, the wic or dairy farm in Hackney Wick, and the Middle English mere or boundary in Mare Street also suggest early settlement. (fn. 3) A 6th-century battle has been associated with Hackney, apparently on no stronger grounds than that it took place by a river near London. (fn. 4) Physical remains of traffic along the Lea were a clinker-built boat of uncertain date, c. 6 m. long, (fn. 5) from north of Temple Mills, and an oak dugout of c. 950, originally 3.73 m., from Springfield park. (fn. 6) Before the Conquest most of the later parish formed part of the bishop of London's large manor of Stepney. (fn. 7)

Presumably most of the medieval people described as of Hackney came from the centrally placed village, which had a church by 1275. (fn. 8) Settlements were recorded at Dalston in the 13th century, Clapton, Homerton, and Kingsland in the 14th, and Shacklewell in the 15th, but only Homerton in 1605 was more populous than Mare Street and Church Street. (fn. 9)

Robert of Hackney (de Hakeney) was among Londoners trading with Lucca in 1275 (fn. 10) and William of Hackney, recorded from 1297 to 1312, (fn. 11) and Richard of Hackney, alderman, recorded from 1297 or 1312 to 1343, were leading wool merchants. (fn. 12) Richard's son Niel received lands in Stepney and Hackney in 1349. (fn. 13) Their surname was shared by many late 13th- and 14th-century citizens, (fn. 14) among whom Osbert in 1293-4 and Robert and Simon of Hackney in 1320 also dealt in wool. (fn. 15) Other Londoners with land in Hackney included Ralph Crepyn, the first common clerk and in 1280 an alderman, (fn. 16) John Duckett or Duket, perhaps son of the goldsmith Laurence Duckett murdered by Crepyn's followers in 1284, (fn. 17) Thomas of Aldgate, a tailor, in 1291, and John de la Bataille, a cordwainer, in 1332. (fn. 18) Theirs were among the early acquisitions by rich citizens, continued by the Shoreditch family in the 14th century and establishing a practice which lasted until the early 19th.

In the Middle Ages the creation of the Templars' (later the Hospitallers') sub-manor and others produced houses and farms, as in southern Hackney for the Shoreditches, (fn. 19) and in Clapton on the site of Brooke House. (fn. 20) Little other building was recorded, although the custom of gavelkind, by dividing copyholds, (fn. 21) probably led to crowded development in the main settlements. Building speculation was indicated by Elizabeth Graunger's claim that her husband Thomas (d. 1510), a London alderman, had incurred great expense in putting up new houses on the site, later estimated at 3 a., of a copyhold cottage and garden. (fn. 22)

Merchants, who made many gifts to the church, were not alone in favouring Hackney up to the 17th century. (fn. 23) Aristocrats, most numerous in the 16th and early 17th centuries, were preceded by office-holders such as Sir John Elrington (d. 1482-3), William Worsley (d. 1499), Sir Reginald Bray (d. 1503), Sir John Heron (d. 1522), and Christopher Urswick (d. 1522). Residents included the earl of Northumberland (d. 1537), James I's grandmother the countess of Lennox (d. 1578), Lady Latimer (d. 1583), the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Walter Mildmay at his death in 1589, Lord Vaux of Harrowden (d. 1595), Lord Hunsdon (d. 1596), the earl of Oxford (d. 1604), and Lord Zouche (d. 1625), although not the Wentworths who acquired the bishop's manor at the Reformation. Many lived at the King's Place, later Brooke House, where visits were paid by Henry VIII, Princess (later Queen) Mary, and Elizabeth I. Among lord mayors of London were Sir William Bowyer (d. 1544), Sir Rowland Hayward (d. 1592), and Sir Thomas (d. 1570) and Sir Henry Rowe (d. 1612). Four titled parishioners and one hundred others, listed as citizens of London, paid under a county assessment in 1602. (fn. 24) Londoners were the main local benefactors (fn. 25) and gained still more prominence during the 17th century. By the 1660s the nobility were represented only by the Brooke family, perhaps because the growing role of Whitehall and Westminster had made the districts west of London more attractive.

Large rambling houses of the 16th century, often on medieval sites, were noted by antiquaries as a feature of Hackney. (fn. 26) Widely scattered, they included those associated with the manors of Wick, Shoreditch Place, Shacklewell, and Balmes, beside the Black and White House near the church, the Plough range and Sutton House in Homerton, and the house later rebuilt by the Norris family. Brooke House, eventually survived only by Sutton House, was probably always the grandest of the old seats. (fn. 27) Wholesome air was an obvious attraction: in 1537 the earl of Northumberland hoped to regain his health at Clapton and Sir Ralph Sadler said that the plague in London had not affected Hackney. (fn. 28)

The parish was comparatively populous, with 156 people assessed for subsidy in 1524, including a few in Stoke Newington, (fn. 29) and 600 communicants in 1548. (fn. 30) Church rates were sought from 195 landholders in six districts in 1605, when 29 non-residents were also approached.

Homerton was assessed for 49 names, Church Street for 34, Mare Street for 23, Well Street and Grove Street together for 24, Clapton for 32, and 'Newington', Shacklewell, Kingsland, and Dalston together for 33. (fn. 31) If landholders' numbers indicated the distribution of the population as a whole, most people lived in the central north-south section of the parish, along Mare and Church streets, their offshoots in the south, or in Homerton and Clapton rather than along the high road.

HACKNEY c. 1750

Hackney's contribution to a county assessment was exceeded only by those for Harrow and Stepney in 1614; a reduced contribution in 1636 was probably due to the proximity of the plague. (fn. 32) Alarm at immigration by the poor led in 1618 to a temporary ban on the division of cottages or the building of new ones. (fn. 33) The number of householders was estimated to have reached 324 by 1640. (fn. 34) In 1664 there were 305 houses chargeable for hearth tax and 83 exempt. Of the chargeable houses, c. 278 were occupied and 27 empty: Homerton was assessed for a total of 71, Mare Street for 55, Church Street for 45, Grove Street and Well Street for 32, and Clapton, Dalston, Kingsland, Shacklewell, and Newington together for 102. (fn. 35) In 1672, when assessments were by 11 districts, the total of all houses was 462. (fn. 36)

Prominent merchants were so numerous that an unusual system of government prevailed from 1613, whereby a select vestry coexisted for over 200 years with a wider body of parishioners. (fn. 37) Some merchants retired and others merely resorted to Hackney, which from 1636 was included in the area of London's bills of mortality. (fn. 38) Nearly all those assessed for ship money in Hackney in 1639 were citizens; very little could be collected after occupants had closed their houses and moved to London. (fn. 39) Business interests presumably explained why so many men paid fines rather than serve as parish or manorial officers: in 1682 a headborough was excused after claiming that he worked in London and had hired a house in Hackney only for his children. (fn. 40) Accessibility and a reputation for clean air had given rise from the mid 17th century to schools, at first notably for young ladies. (fn. 41) Nonconformist academies followed, as dissenters sought protection under patrons from the city. (fn. 42) The patrons were often interrelated: some were Turkey merchants and many held civic office. Active parishioners included Sir Thomas Vyner (d. 1665), Sir Robert Dycer (d. 1667), and Sir Francis Bickley (d. 1670), all parliamentarians who had received baronetcies at the Restoration, Sir Thomas Player (d. 1672), and Sir Stephen White (d. 1678). (fn. 43) The predominance of such citizens was symbolized by the passing of the manors from the royalist Wentworths through a succession of Londoners to the naturalized Francis Tyssen (d. 1699). (fn. 44)

Among tributes to Hackney was that of Pepys, whose claim in 1666 to grow more in love with it every day (fn. 45) perhaps applied to the village rather than the parish, although he later ventured to Clapton, to Balmes in the south-west, and to the marshes. (fn. 46) John Strype, a resident, noted a healthy town when adding Hackney to Stow's description of London. (fn. 47) Defoe in the 1720s considered the 'long divided town of Hackney' (fn. 48) to consist of 12 separate hamlets, all increased and some more than trebled in size over the past few years. Nowhere joined to London, the parish was 'in some respects to be called a part of it', having so many rich citizens that it contained nearly a hundred coaches. (fn. 49) Dudley Ryder, when a law student in 1715-16, found little commercial entertainment but many neighbours enjoying a modest social life as selfsufficient as that of any small town in rural Middlesex or Surrey. (fn. 50)

The 18th century brought more rich newcomers, including Huguenots and Jews. (fn. 51) Some moved further afield but, like the Tyssens and the Ryders, retained their local property. Recognized as having long been deserted by the nobility, Hackney was declared in 1756 to excel all other villages in the kingdom and probably in the world in the opulence of its inhabitants. (fn. 52) Recent parishioners had included the philanthropist Sir John Cass (d. 1718), the chief founder of the new East India Co. Sir Gilbert Heathcote (d. 1733), reputedly England's wealthiest commoner, the speculator John Ward (d. 1755), and the Bank of England's governor Stamp Brooksbank (d. 1756) at Hackney House. (fn. 53) As before, many of the richest had common interests, notably as Bank or East India Co. directors. Much of Hackney, 'that Arcadia beyond Moorfields' for both the prosperous shopkeeper and the knight, (fn. 54) resembled Stoke Newington, with which it shared members of the influential Gould and Cooke families. (fn. 55) Seats were built or rebuilt, sometimes in landscaped grounds; where older houses were converted into schools or asylums, they continued to cater for the well-to-do. (fn. 56)

More people in the mid 18th century still lived in the centre than along the high road to the west. The poor-rate assessment listed 448 householders, besides 25 living elsewhere, in 1720 and 658, besides 15 outsiders, in 1735. Numbers for Mare Street rose from in to 140, for Church Street from 83 to 149, for Homerton from 104 to 155, and for Clapton from 71 to 100, while the total for the other six districts rose from only 79 to 114. (fn. 57) A similar distribution, apparent in 1745, (fn. 58) persisted in 1761, when 976 residents were listed: 199 were in Mare Street, 174 in Church Street, 213 in Homerton, and 157 in Clapton, although the number in Newington had also increased, to 91. There were over 1,150 ratepayers by 1779, when Mare Street and Church Street had scarcely grown since 1761 and when the largest increase had been in Kingsland. (fn. 59)

Continued growth caused concern over the inadequacy of the old church and burial ground. (fn. 60) The number of houses was 983 in 1756, 1,212 in 1779, and more than 1,500 in 1789 (fn. 61) shortly before a dispersal of the church's monuments which had attested the parishioners' wealth over three centuries. (fn. 62) With meadows along the Lea and elsewhere interspersed in the arable, Hackney in the 1790s was noted for its cowkeepers and as a supplier of hay to London. Although brickfields, nurseries, and market gardens had long been worked, (fn. 63) they together accounted for barely a tenth of the parish c. 1806. Two-thirds was still farmland, of which 1,570 a., including the marsh, were under grass. (fn. 64)

Prominent early residents (fn. 65) not mentioned elsewhere included the ambassador Sir Jerome Bowes (d. 1616), who was buried at Hackney, the royalist divine Lionel Gatford (d. 1665) and the Cromwellian major-general John Desborough (d. 1680), both of whom retired there, the Jacobite conspirator Sir John Friend (d. 1696), and the scientist and royal clockmaker John Ellicot (d. 1772). Those born in the parish included the scholar Christopher Wase (d. 1690), the medical writer Peirce Dod (d. 1754), the serjeant-at-law Edward Leeds (d. 1758), the architect James Savage (d. 1852), (fn. 66) and the zoologist Edward Turner Bennett (d. 1836). The landscape painter John Varley (d. 1842) and his brothers Cornelius (d. 1878) and William (d. 1856) were said to have been born at the Blue Posts (formerly the Templars' house) (fn. 67) after their father had converted it to private use, (fn. 68) although the building was still an inn in 1785. (fn. 69)


  • 1. Para. based on Hist. Mon. Com. Rom. Lond. 56, 164, 173, and pl. 67; V.C.H. Mdx. i. 70-1. Fuller details in Gent. Mag. liii (2), 899; ibid, clxvii. 793; Robinson, Hackney, i. 30; Clarke, Hackney, 6, 8; T.L.M.A.S. iii. 192-4.
  • 2. McDonnell, Medieval Lond. Suburbs, 5, 10.
  • 3. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 105-7.
  • 4. Thomas, 'Hackney', 84, 328-33.
  • 5. Robinson, Hackney, i. 24.
  • 6. Hackney Echo, 15 Oct. 1987, 1b; Terrier, Summer 1988; Internal, Jnl. of Nautical Archaeol. xviii (2), 89-111; inf. from Hackney mus.
  • 7. Below, manors (Hackney).
  • 8. Below, parish church.
  • 9. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), xviii. 105-7; below.
  • 10. Cal. Close, 1272-9, 123.
  • 11. G. A. Williams, Medieval Lond. from Commune to Capital (1963), 115-16, 151; Cal. Close, 1296-1302, 35, 112.
  • 12. Williams, Medieval Lond. 115-16, 151; Cal. Pat. 1292- 1300, 300; 1334-8, 6, 384, 480, 516, 572-3; Cal. Close, 1318- 23, 235, 611; 1330-3 sqq., passim.
  • 13. Cal. of Wills in Ct. of Husting, i. 468; Cal. Close, 1349-54, 146.
  • 14. Cal. of Letter Bks. of City of Lond., A to H (1899- 1907), passim.
  • 15. Cal. of Wills in Ct. of Rusting, i. 113; Cal. Close, 1318-23, 261.
  • 16. Williams, Medieval Lond. 95, 103-4; Cal. Inq. Misc. i, p. 390.
  • 17. Stow, Survey (1720), i, app. 122-3; Williams, Medieval Lond. 254; V.C.H. Mdx. v. 329.
  • 18. Cal. of Wills in Ct. of Husting, i. 100, 372.
  • 19. Below, manors (Shoreditch Pl.).
  • 20. Ibid. (Brooke Ho.).
  • 21. Below, econ. hist. (agric.).
  • 22. P.R.O., PROB 11/16, f. 269; ibid. C 1/314/8; C 1/465/31.
  • 23. Below, parish church. Rest of para, based on sections below.
  • 24. H.A.D., D/F/TYS/1, pp. 45-7.
  • 25. Below, charities.
  • 26. e.g. Stow, Survey (1720), ii, app. 122.
  • 27. Below, Clapton; Homerton; manors.
  • 28. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (i), p. 557; xii (2), p. 479.
  • 29. P.R.O., E 179/141/116. Stoke Newington's assessment was less than 5 per cent of Hackney's in 1546: ibid. E 179/141/138.
  • 30. Lond. and Mdx. Chantry Certificates, 1548, 68.
  • 31. H.A.D., D/F/TYS/1, pp. 63-71.
  • 32. Mdx. County Rec. ii. 104; iii. 63.
  • 33. Vestry mins. 31 July 1614; 1618.
  • 34. Lysons, Environs, ii. 481-2.
  • 35. G.L.R.O., MR/TH/4, mm. 1-4d. Occupied and empty hos. were returned separately except for the northernmost dist.
  • 36. Ibid. MR/TH/34.
  • 37. Below, local govt. (par. govt.).
  • 38. F. P. Wilson, Plague in Shakespeare's Lond. (1927), 195.
  • 39. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1639-40, 120.
  • 40. Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. vi. 139.
  • 41. Below, educ. (private schs.).
  • 42. Below, prot. nonconf.
  • 43. Vestry mins. passim; below, local govt. (par. govt.).
  • 44. Below, manors.
  • 45. Diary of Sam. Pepys, ed. R. Latham, vii. 181.
  • 46. Ibid. v. 181-2; ix. 197, 546.
  • 47. Stow, Survey (1720), ii, app. p. 122.
  • 48. Defoe, Jnl. of Plague Year, 144.
  • 49. Idem, Tour through Gt. Britain (1971), 337.
  • 50. A. Palmer, East End (1989), 13; Diary of Dudley Ryder, ed. W. Matthews (1939), passim. Transcriptions of later diaries, 1744-58, are in Harrowby MSS. Trust, Sandon Hall, vol. 430.
  • 51. Cf. below, manors.
  • 52. Maitland, Hist. Lond. ii. 1366.
  • 53. Diary of Dudley Ryder, ed. Matthews, 14; D.N.B.; below, Clapton;
  • 54. Diary of Dudley Ryder, ed. Matthews, 4, 17.
  • 55. V.C.H. Mdx. viii. 183.
  • 56. Below, pub. svces.; educ. (private schs.).
  • 57. H.A.D., P/J/P/76; ibid. P/J/P/91/ Nos. are for all names, whether or not a rate was paid.
  • 58. Rocque, Map of Lond. (1741-5), sheets 5, 6.
  • 59. H.A.D., P/J/P/121.
  • 60. Below, parish church.
  • 61. Lysons, Environs, ii. 482, based on par. mins. 23 Mar. 1789.
  • 62. Below, parish church. For early memorials, from 1399, Stow, Survey (1720), ii, app. 124-9.
  • 63. T. Milne, Land Use Map of Lond. (1800) (Lond. Topog. Soc. 1975-6).
  • 64. Lysons, Environs, Suppl. 163.
  • 65. Para. based on D.N.B.
  • 66. Colvin, Brit. Architects, 719-20.
  • 67. Below, manors (Kingshold).
  • 68. A. T. Story, John Holmes and John Varley (1894), 262; A. Bury, John Varley of the 'Old Society' (1846), 16.
  • 69. G.L.R.O., MR/LV9/136.