Letter from London
Each month Jane Egginton will be bringing us a letter from London. Travel writer Jane loves living in London and will be giving you the latest news from her favourite city in the world. This month, Jane takes us on a tour of Hackney, perhaps the capital’s most exciting borough (certainly one of its most notorious).
In the wake of this summer’s riots, the centre of Hackney may not seem an obvious choice for a day trip; and if you read Wikitravel’s hackneyed entry on the borough you certainly wouldn’t go there after dark. Yet most locals are adamant they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else and Hackney is at the heart of the 2012 Olympics, when millions of visitors from around the world will pass through Hackney Central to get to the Olympic park.
The London Borough of Hackney has long been recognised as London’s creative quarter. Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston are home to all sorts of cutting-edge media types and a good proportion of the capital’s coolest nightlife venues. Even lowly Hackney Wick, once an industrial wasteland, is now home to more artists (one in seven people apparently) than anywhere else in the world. But poor old Hackney Central has been rather left off the tour guide’s map of London – until now, that is.
Travel writer Jane Egginton has long counted Hackney as her favourite place in the world. Jane’s tailor-made Saturday walking tour takes in green spaces, fine foods and centres of history right in the heart of Hackney, visiting ancient and modern markets, a brand new brewery and the oldest house in East London.
Begin your Saturday with a cappuccino at Broadway Market (www.broadwaymarket.co.uk), perhaps the most obvious example of the Hackney’s gentrification. One of London’s finest food markets, barrow boys have been trading here since the 1890s. This market gets really crowded around lunch-time, when the fashionistas rouse themselves from their Friday night excesses and parade along what is known as ‘the catwalk’. No-one really comes here for their weekly shop; meat, bread, fruit and vegetables are all overpriced. Instead people come to graze on street food, strut their stuff and sup a pint at the achingly cool Cat & Mutton pub.
Originally called The Cattle & Shoulder, across the road is a clue to the pub’s name; London Fields was used by drovers to pasture their livestock on the way to market. Today this hemmed-in triangle of grass is still well-used. On hot weekends, it fills up with groups of sun-seeking trendy young things and families with picnics. There are playgrounds, a cricket pitch, tennis courts, football games and even an outdoor ping pong table to amuse the crowds.
Skirt the western edge of London Fields, perhaps taking a dip in the lovely 1930s lido with its Olympic sized pool then cross to the eastern side. Tucked away beneath the railway arches is the newly-opened London Brewery at 374 Helmsley Place (www.londonfieldsbrewery.co.uk), open by appointment only for tastings and purchases of their tasty hand-crafted beers.
This exciting enterprise is the perfect example of new Hackney and part of an increasingly powerful movement of local producers. On offer from the first commercial brewery to open in central Hackney since the 19th century are five ales whose names ring out with love for the vicinity: Hackney Hopstar, London Fields Bitter, London Fields Session Ale, London Fields Gold and Love Not War (the last apparently named during the recent disturbances).
Continue your Hackney pilgrimage to another newbie on the scene. Walk north up Mare Street (the area’s main artery, known for its Vietnamese and Turkish restaurants) and you’ll soon reach the grand old Hackney Empire (www.hackneyempire.co.uk). This Georgian jewel opened in 1901 and was one of the world’s greatest music halls, playing host to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and WC Fields perform. Recently refurbished, the highlight of its calendar is without doubt the pantomime – generally agreed to be London’s best.
Continue north towards Hackney Overground station, where you’ll find the always-busy ‘narrow way’, the centre of Mare Street shopping. Turn right, passing the 13th-century St Augustine’s Tower (Hackney’s oldest building) and into the churchyard of St John at Hackney. Right in the heart of Hackney, these bucolic church gardens are visited by three quarters of a million people every year. In the north gardens of this impressive Grade II listed church, you’ll find the Hackney Homemade market (www.hackneyhomemade.com).
A newcomer on the market scene, this is a good example of Hackney’s gentrification sitting side by side with real community effort. Each week fledgling traders offering vintage clothes, bric-a-brac and world food, side by side with charity awareness stalls and the likes of shiatsu, aromatherapy and foot massage. Hackney Homemade hosts an exciting calendar of events, including a popular summer fete, a lively food festival and a spectacular Christmas market during the first three weekends in December, so look out for the latest information on the website.
Make Sutton House (2–4 Homerton High Street) your final stop. This splendid Tudor building, where merchants, silk weavers and squatters have all made their home, lays claim to being the oldest house in east London. It’s a National Trust property, a little gem that many locals miss. And its fully licensed tea room is a real bonus after all that walking.
To read more of Jane’s work on Hackney, please visit her blog: www.hackneyhome.blogspot.com. Get in touch with Jane on Twitter @janeegginton with your London tips and comments and check out her website, www.janeegginton.com