This Hackney park on a busy road is surrounded by a range of post-war blocks of flats, and you might, not unreasonably, think it was created as part of the post-war clearances of the area — but in fact, the park is one of the oldest parts of Hackney to be built.

The park was first laid out in 1772 when most of the area was still fields and only just starting to see developments along the main road into London. It was created by the property developer Robert Collins, who leased the land for development. The park was initially private for the houses though.

Greenwood map 1828

Within 60 years, the whole area had been developed for housing, and the park, now a small mote of greenery, left a landscape that had seen so much change in so short a time.

At the time, the park had housing on the north and eastern sides. The northern side is odd though, as the houses faced away from the park, with their back gardens overlooking the park — which is, well, it’s backwards when you think about it. The eastern side houses were more conventionally facing the park.

The park’s south side was dominated by a congregational chapel and Sunday School built in the 1770s.

OS Map 1893

The park seemed rather run down by the late 1800s, described in 1892 as “anything but picturesque” when Hackney District Board leased the park from the landlord and opened it up as a public park. In 1915, Hackney Council bought the park outright.

The chapel on the south of the park closed in 1911, and used as a cinema until in 1933, it was demolished and replaced with the purpose built Empress Cinema, with a much larger capacity of 1,650 people. It closed as a cinema in November 1967, becoming as so many did, a bingo hall. That in turn closed in 1992 and was demolished to be replaced with the block of student flats on the site today.

The houses on the north and eastern sides were pulled down, not because of war damage, but because of 1950s slum clearance works to replace run down housing with modern blocks of flats. The northern and eastern sides had been compulsorily purchased by the LCC in 1952 and demolished. The modern flats were erected as part of the Frampton Park estate.

That is why the area has the air of post-war clearance, as it’s surrounded by council built flats, but surrounds a 250 year old park.

The name of the park comes not from the chapel or the nearby church — but from St Thomas’s Hospital at London Bridge, as they owned the land, having been given it as a bequest in 1553 — the same year the hospital reopened after lobbying by the City of London for hospitals to replace the closed monasteries which had done the job before.

The park today — accepting that I visited in winter — a pleasing space, surrounded by old trees and with a large lawn in the middle.

Lots of seating surrounds the edges, along with deep bedding planting and some rather ornamental trees in the middle. What’s likely the gardener’s shed is showing its age, though.

Next to the park on the main road is a classic Victorian style drinking fountain, that had been installed in 1912. There’s a difficult to read inscription on the pedestal: “Presented to the Hackney Borough Council by Morris Nelson Esq in memory of his wife Esther. Unveiled by Councillor William Hammer, Mayor of Hackney 31st October 1912″.

As it’s next to the bus stop, it would be an ideal fountain to restore to working order waiting for bus passengers.

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  1. duncan martin says:

    Victorian-style fountain, surely since it was installed 11 years after her death.

  2. Rosemary Leigh says:

    Fascinating article, thank you. I love poring over and comparing old maps. I love the 50s architecture. The 90s, not so much!

    Also made me reflect (with the St Thomas’s reference) on the impact the Dissolution of the Monasteries must have had on healthcare in the sixteenth century.

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