What's it all about?
If you've spent an afternoon browsing one of Hackney’s lively markets or kicking your heels in one of its delightful parks, you'll find it hard to believe that less than 10 years ago this was ranked as the worst place to live in Britain. Indeed, last year the borough nudged its way into the Sunday Times Best Places to Live in Britain guide. For those who have witnessed this change happen – at lightning speed – it’s harder still to think of a place that's had a turnaround like it.
The reopening of London Fields Lido, a Picturehouse cinema and a revived theatre and bar at Hackney Empire inject the town centre with new buzz. New bars, restaurants and gastropubs near Hackney Central, with more openings in the pipeline, suggest improvements will only continue. There's a cluster of villagey neighbourhoods within walking distance of the centre – Chatsworth Road, Victoria Park Village, Broadway Market and the area around London Fields all have friendly local high streets with independent shops and strong community ties. But the deal for Hackney was sealed with the arrival of the 2012 Olympics, which bequeathed the borough with excellent transport links, upgraded housing, and new schools. It also has wonderful architecture, glorious open spaces and colourful local characters, and with its reputation as London's most rough and tumble borough firmly in the past, these days it oozes cool and charm by the bucketload.
- The first use of the term 'hackney coach' was in 1621 – referring to the horse drawn carriages that took gentry to the village of Hackney, a place of royal palaces and pleasures. These days they're known as hackney cabs, synonymous with London's famous black taxis.
- Mermaid Fabrics on Mare Street takes its name from the Mermaid Inn, formerly located here. In the time of 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys it boasted a bowling green, pleasure garden and freak show. Pepys liked to hail a cab and get ‘away into the fields’ of Hackney, ‘which I every day grow more and more in love with’.
- Novelist Joseph Conrad wrote his most famous work Heart Of Darkness while he was recovering from tropical fever in the German Hospital on Dalston Lane.
Architecture and property
Go back 450 years and Hackney was just a cluster of small villages and rambling Tudor mansions amid hunting grounds. Aside from the medieval tower of St Augustine's church and the Tudor built Sutton House, little of this heritage remains. Hackney's heyday lasted right up until the 18th century, and delightful pockets of Georgian architecture can be found around St John's Church and in the Clapton Square Conservation Area. Rapid industrialisation at the end of the 19th century changed everything. With the Lea River offering a link to the canal system and its position east of London, Hackney became a favoured location for industry. The population exploded from under 20,000 to 200,000 in a century, grand houses were carved up to house workers and swathes of Victorian terraces were built for the working middle classes.
Built in 1904, Navarino Mansions are of special interest. Developed by a philanthropic association to rehome 300 Jewish artisans from the East End, they are rare examples of Edwardian Arts and Crafts tenement blocks.
Combined effects of slum clearance and bomb damage created a dire need for housing in the post war period. Resulting developments weren't always successful, but all council housing stock has been hugely improved since the Olympics. There are new builds, ex-councils, warehouse conversions and Victorian terraces aplenty, as well as more spacious Georgian villas. Many multi occupation Georgian and Victorian homes have been restored to single homes as the area grows in popularity. As long term residents cash in and move out, there are still plenty of doer uppers around.
For house price information please visit the sold data tab.
Eating: There's an exceptional range of places to eat in Hackney, from the famous Vietnamese and Turkish restaurants on Mare Street, to newcomers such as Lardo, which serves pizza and Italian dishes. Broadway Market is also lined with popular restaurants and bars, and its busy Saturday stalls sell organic produce and offer all the latest street food trends.
Drinking: A host of local pubs in Hackney have been revamped, from the Windsor Castle to the Kenton, there's no shortage of places to go for a pint of real ale or a roast dinner. Local residents would tell you that the best place to go for a traditional roast is the Prince Arthur. Bar Oslo attracts a Saturday night crowd and hosts gigs upstairs.
Culture and arts: The Hackney Empire is the grand dame of theatre here, mounting some world class shows, and the area supports a number of fringe venues including The Yard, the Hackney Shed and the Arcola. The Hackney Picturehouse shows excellently curated selection of films. Vyner Street has been described as the most significant gallery row in London, and its First Thursdays attract a hip, young crowd. London College of Fashion is just around the corner.
Heritage: Hackney Historical Buildings Trust holds open days at the Grade I listed St Augustine’s Tower, which allow you to climb the tower and even ring the bell. The National Trust managed Sutton House is open to visitors and holds a range of tours, events, family days and exhibitions.
- There’s a 24 hour Tesco with parking near Hackney Central, a Marks & Spencer on Mare Street and a Lidl on Well Street.
- For the full range of high street shopping, Stratford's Westfield is only 10 minutes away on the Overground from Hackney Central. Locals spend their weekends wandering around the area’s excellent local markets, Broadway Market and Chatsworth Road Market.
- The heated open air 50m pool at London Fields Lido is open to hardy swimmers throughout the year. King's Hall has a gym, pool and range of fitness classes. The London Aquatics Centre and other premium sporting facilities are accessible at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
- If you prefer to get fit outdoors, head to neighbouring Lee Valley, where there's a multitude of activities to try. The White Water Centre offers canoeing, kayaking and white water rafting. There's also horse riding at the equestrian centre. The Lee Valley Ice Centre has an international sized ice rink and is regularly used as a training venue for the Dancing on Ice stars.
With 815 acres of green space, Hackney is London's greenest borough. Victoria Park, with its lovely boating lake, children's play areas and superb Pavilion Cafe, is the standout attraction. During the summer it hosts local festivals as well as Lovebox and Field Day – although quiet space for a picnic can always be found. London Fields is festivalesque at weekends, but also worth mentioning for its wildflower meadow. Hackney Marshes is worthy of a day trip – an afternoon walking here and you feel like you've left London behind.
An energetic community of incomers and born and raised residents, as well as a progressive local council, have been hard at work for two decades improving Hackney, and the positive effects of the 2012 Olympics are still being felt. The council's borough wide 2,760 home estate regeneration programme is one of the largest in London and is now in its fourth year.
Overground: It is only 20 minutes from Hackney Central to Oxford Street via the Victoria Line at Highbury and Islington, 17 minutes to Shoreditch and 27 minutes to Canary Wharf. There are also stations at Homerton, Hackney Wick, Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction.
Train: Hackney Downs is on the East Anglia Line, and this route will get you to Liverpool Street in eight minutes.
Bike: More people cycle to work here than any other place in the Capital, pleasant cycle routes via the canal and parks get you where you need to go in no time.
Bus: Left over from the days when trains were scarce, Hackney is well served by bus. The 55, 38, 30, 242 and 48 all go towards the City and central London.
Getting away: City Airport is 35 minutes away via the Overground, while Stansted is 35 minutes away in the car.
In 2002 Hackney Learning Trust was awarded a 10 year contract to improve education services in Hackney, making it the first private, not for profit company in the UK to take over a council’s entire education function. It proved such a success that it is now a department within Hackney Council. There's a good range of schools, from nursery and primary upwards, and the borough has seven academies.
Please see our schools tab for more information on schools in this area.
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