Hackney: De Beauvoir Town

Pages 33-35

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



De Beauvoir Town is taken to be the south-west corner of Hackney parish from Kingsland Road west to Southgate Road and from the Regent's canal north almost to Ball's Pond Road. (fn. 1) It embraces the Hackney estate of the de Beauvoir family, lords of Balmes, whose land extended farther south into Shoreditch, and excludes Ball's Pond Road, which was built up as part of Islington. (fn. 2) Balmes House and the northern part of the estate were sometimes said to be in Kingsland. (fn. 3)

Development was stimulated by the cutting of the Regent's canal south of Balmes House, (fn. 4) by which time the house was an asylum and much of its land had been leased to the Rhodes family. William Rhodes (d. 1843) secured in 1821 a building lease from Peter de Beauvoir which was to lead to lawsuits (fn. 5) and unusually made no stipulations about the buildings; it covered all 150 a., said in 1834 to have been the largest single amount conveyed to a speculative builder in London.

Rhodes planned a grid pattern, with four squares on diagonal streets intersecting at an octagon. His paving and lighting Bill of 1823 (fn. 6) was abandoned, however, and development was piecemeal and mainly along the fringe, where modest buildings could most easily find tenants: by the canal, along or off Kingsland Road, (fn. 7) and in Tottenham Road. A few subleases were made by Rhodes from 1822 and more from 1823, (fn. 8) when Richard Benyon de Beauvoir stopped all activity through an injunction. Rhodes was soon allowed to resume work on Kingsland basin but apparently he started no new building before control of all development passed to de Beauvoir in 1834. Subleases were still made by Rhodes, as of houses in Kingsland Road in 1824, in Enfield Road in 1826, and in Tottenham Road in 1825 and 1828. (fn. 9)

Most of the land between Kingsland and Hertford roads had been built on by 1834, except immediately north of Englefield Road. To the west there was new building only by the canal, at the corners of Hertford and Downham roads, perhaps on the eastern side of the later De Beauvoir Square (nos. 1-16 Park Place), and part of Tottenham Road. Balmes House survived between Downham Road and the canal, although threatened by the lines of Whitmore and Frederick (later De Beauvoir) roads. (fn. 10) For the land thereafter leased by R. B. de Beauvoir a more spacious layout was devised, with terraces mainly in short blocks and many semidetached villas; of the projected squares only the southeastern was retained, as De Beauvoir Square, although the diagonals partly survived in Enfield, Stamford, and Ardleigh roads. (fn. 11) Progress was hastened by the proximity of depots in Kingsland basin and by loans from the estate to individual builders. (fn. 12) In the 1840s subleases were made for most of the remaining houses. Presumably most builders followed their own designs, although the remaining three sides of De Beauvoir Square, begun in 1838 with Thomas Smith as the chief builder, may have been by W. C. Lockner, architect of St. Peter's church. (fn. 13)

The estate was intended to be almost wholly residential, except around the basin and at the south-west corner, where a factory leased from 1823 was apparently the forerunner of that of Thomas Briggs the tentmakers. (fn. 14) Public houses were permitted, the Duke of York in Downham Road being leased to a brewing company as early as 1822, and shops were leased in Southgate Road from 1843. (fn. 15) Kingsland Road's west side was commercial south of Downham Road and north of Beauvoir Terrace by 1849. Away from the high road nearly all the shops were in Southgate, Hertford, and Downham roads, as were the 7 public houses then and the 8 in 1869. (fn. 16)

Small areas were taken for a Roman Catholic church and school of 1855 in Tottenham Grove (from 1864 part of Tottenham Road) and for a fire station in St. Peter's Road (from 1936 St. Peter's Way), larger areas for Tottenham Road board school (1874), the Metropolitan hospital (1886), Enfield Road board school (1894), and Kingsland fire station (1895). (fn. 17) Such inroads perhaps affected the neighbourhood less than scattered and often partial conversions of houses into business premises.

Residents c. 1890 were well-to-do in Kingsland and Southgate roads and, with the fairly comfortable, in most other streets. They were merely comfortable in Tottenham Road and poorer in the lanes to the north and in Derby (from 1909 Lockner) Road, where a terrace was sandwiched between Kingsland Road and De Beauvoir Square, and in Hertford Road close to the basin. The very poor lived at the east end of De Beauvoir Crescent by the canal. (fn. 18) Workshops, many of them for wood products, existed around the fringes, notably in Derby Road and in De Beauvoir Crescent and other streets between Downham Road and the canal, besides a few in Englefield Road and the north part of De Beauvoir Road. At the heart of the estate was a small group that was to fill the east side of De Beauvoir Road from Church (from 1937 Northchurch) Road to Englefield Road; it originated in the long back gardens of houses in Mortimer Road and in 1902 it included a builder's merchant, a picture-frame maker, and a wheelwright. Tottenham Road had shops but those in Southgate Road were confined to the south end and those in Downham Road were mainly at the east end. North of Downham Road only a few houses were said to consist of apartments, in contrast to many where roads continued into Islington. (fn. 19)

Because of Kingsland basin the agents of the estate in 1937 asked for the south-east corner between Downham and Hertford roads to be zoned for general industrial rather than business purposes. Zoning for industry, soon recommended for all the area south of Downham Road, distinguished it from the north side of that road, which was already zoned for business and acted as a buffer for the mainly residential streets beyond. In 1938 De Beauvoir Crescent was suggested as another business zone to protect housing to the north. In 1951 the agents claimed that the area east of Hertford Road was suitable for light industry and asked for Southgate Road, always partly commercial, to be scheduled for business. The L.C.C., however, retained both areas as residential. (fn. 20)

Continued erosion of the residential area was eventually followed by the better preservation of its centre. (fn. 21) Part of the northern segment of De Beauvoir Town, between Buckingham and Tottenham roads, was rebuilt in the early 1960s as Hackney M.B.'s Kingsgate estate. A larger area, west of the canal basin, containing many small factories, made way c. 1969 for the De Beauvoir Town council estate, (fn. 22) which included a library and shops. De Beauvoir Square lost its oldest (east) side to the Lockner Road estate. (fn. 23) The De Beauvoir Town association was formed in 1968, however, (fn. 24) and the rest of the square with the area bounded by Englefield, Northchurch, Southgate, Hertford, and Stamford roads in 1969 became a conservation area, later extended southward. (fn. 25) In 1988 the social problems of the De Beauvoir Town council estate produced complaints of a 'high-rise hell', whereas most of the 19th-century houses had been restored and some of their roads closed to through traffic to create a middle-class enclave. (fn. 26)

The Kingsland Road frontage has no survivals from the mid 19th century except north of Englefield Road, where two long terraces, separated by the rebuilt Prince of Wales public house, contrast with the assorted buildings on the east side of the high road. Both terraces have three storeys over basements and are of stock brick, the ground storeys rusticated and rendered. The south range, nos. 419-45 (odd), is complete except at the ends and retains part of a balcony for its central portion. The north one, nos. 457-77, built by Charles Henry Moore of Islington c. 1841, (fn. 27) bears a label on its parapet inscribed Beauvoir Terrace.

Behind the frontage the area south of Downham Road contains 19th-century industrial premises around the basin and, in the south-west corner, Briggs's red- and yellow-brick factory, in multi-occupation, besides newer works to the north. Between the two industrial sites the dark brown-brick and concrete buildings of the housing estate include towers of 18 storeys in De Beauvoir Road.

Refurbishment continued in 1992 north of Downham Road, in an area of stock-brick houses, semidetached or in short terraces and usually of two storeys over a basement. (fn. 28) Infilling has been mainly with flats or maisonettes built to the existing scale. Purpose-built works, used by signmakers and clothing firms, intrusively survive around the junction of De Beauvoir and Englefield roads. Perhaps the most striking loss has been the east side of De Beauvoir Square.

Rhodes's modest houses are represented only at the west end of Tottenham Road. Most houses are later and have classical details. Hertford Road contains Benyon Cottages, nos. 97-107 (odd), a symmetrical group of three pairs dated 1839, and De Beauvoir Road has five pairs, nos. 87-105 (odd), of about that date. Northchurch Road, elegant and little changed, has many semidetached villas, including nos. 40-46, 48 and 50, 52 and 54, 1-15, and 17 and 19; nos. 21-27 form a symmetrical composition of four houses and nos. 29-35 a near symmetrical terrace. Southgate Road, at nos. 110-16, has three-storeyed terraces with pillared porches, as at nos. 110-16 north of Ufton Grove. All those houses combine with their neighbours to form groups of architectural interest.

A transition from classical to Tudor and Jacobean styles, visible in nos. 387-401 Kingsland Road before the building of the Lockner Road estate, (fn. 29) can be seen in and around De Beauvoir Square. The north, west, and south sides of the square consist of pairs, mostly of two bays, in stock brick with stone dressings; all have high pitched roofs and two storeys over basements, with attics under shaped gable-ends. Features include a few clusters of diagonal chimneys and several windows with lozenge glazing. The north side of the square (1839) is a near symmetrical composition of five pairs. The four pairs surviving on the west side and the five on the south are later and more uniform. The group which they compose around the railed circular garden is completed at the north-west corner by modern flats disguised to match their neighbours and to the south-west by St. Peter's church and its former Vicarage, no. 85 Mortimer Road. Opposite the church is no. 10 Northchurch Terrace, altered but also Jacobean.


  • 1. Cf. Starling's Map (1831).
  • 2. Below, manors (Balmes); V.C.H. Mdx. viii. 42.
  • 3. G.L.R.O., MR/TH/34; Old O.S. Map Lond. 40 (1870).
  • 4. Three paras. based on H.B.M.C. Lond., HAC 2A.
  • 5. Below, manors (Balmes).
  • 6. H.A.D., 346.3351.
  • 7. M.L.R. 1822/10/433; 1823/1/473; 1824/5/414-15.
  • 8. G.L.R.O., E/BVR/29-193 (rentals 1830-1950).
  • 9. M.L.R. 1824/5/594; 1825/6/536-7; 1825/10/465- 6;1828/6/535; 1838/3/336.
  • 10. G.L.R.O., E/BVR/423.
  • 11. Ibid. E/BVR/424.
  • 12. e.g. in 1847: ibid. E/BVR/46, pp. 30, 38-42, 44.
  • 13. Below, churches. No evidence found for attribution of square to Roumieu & Gough, as in Pevsner, Lond. ii. 169.
  • 14. Old O.S. Map Lond. 40 (1870); G.L.R.O., E/BVR/46, p. 6; Insurance plan 392 (1891).
  • 15. G.L.R.O., E/BVR/46, pp. 9, 23-4.
  • 16. Hackney Dir. (1849); Green's Hackney Dir. (1869-70).
  • 17. Old O.S. Map Lond. 40 (1913); below, pub. svces.; below, educ. (pub. schs).
  • 18. Booth's Map (1889), NE.
  • 19. Old O.S. Maps Lond. 40 (1870, 1913); P.O. Dir. Lond. (1902).
  • 20. G.L.R.O., AR/TP/2/33.
  • 21. Para. based on P.O. Dir. Lond. (1952 and later edns.).
  • 22. Hackney Photos. ii. 21.
  • 23. Ibid. 102.
  • 24. H.B.M.C. Lond., HAC 2A.
  • 25. Stoke Newington & Hackney Observer, 21 Feb. 1969, 3a; H.A.D., Conservation Areas file.
  • 26. Hackney Echo, 26 Oct. 1988, 7; H.A.D., Bldgs. file.
  • 27. M.L.R. 1842/3/43.
  • 28. Rest of subsection based on H.B.M.C. Lond., HAC 2A; List of Bldgs. (1975).
  • 29. Pevsner, Lond. ii. 169; below, plate 30.