Stepney in East london

A Brief History of Hackney

Although Hackney sits in the very heart of the busy East End, we should not forget that this area was once a small rural series of hamlets. It became popular with medieval royals as an area close to London where they could relax and enjoy the outdoor life and over the years Hackney developed into one of the most cosmopolitan parts of London. Rich in history, there are also plenty of things to see and do if you come to E8 for a visit.

Visit Historic Hackney

For many centuries, Hackney was a rural area close to, but not part of, central London life. The area was rich in woodland and marshes and the few people who lived here probably worked the land to provide food for Roman London. It is thought that the area’s name came from a Saxon settlement dating back to the 5th or 6th centuries. At this point in time, Hackney was known as Haca’sey, a name that means high ground in marshland owned by Haca who was a local Dane landowner. The first records of the area calling it Hackney came about in 1198.

Places to Visit in East End London

For many years, Hackney itself was considered to be part of Stepney and it was too small to be really significant in its own right, however the town started to really develop in Tudor times. Courtiers and rich Londoners tended to move outside of the city during this period into East End areas such as Hackney where they could get more space. Henry VIII even built a palace nearby. Before this time, much of the land in the area had belonged to religious orders. Henry VIII’S Dissolution of the Monasteries freed up this land which, handily, often fell into the hands of his courtiers and favoured nobles.

Many of these nobles settled here on either a permanent or a temporary basis, building impressive homes. One of these homes, Sutton House, is still standing and is open to visitors. This home was built by Sir Ralph Sadleir, a senior advisor to Henry VIII who also worked with Thomas Cromwell. You can also see a fine example of church architecture from this period in St Augustine’s Tower.

Hackney in Victorian Times

Hackney continued to expand slowly over the next few years but remained fairly quiet with much of the local industry still focused on market gardening. By the late 1700s, however, its population had increased so much that it outgrew its local parish church, resulting in the need to build a new one. By the 20th century, Hackney, like much of the East End was more urban, industrial and commercial and it started a slow decline into relative poverty.

Victorian officials demolished much of the original buildings in the area to build streets of terraced houses to home local workers. By the time the railways arrived in Hackney in the 1850s, the area had lost its rural charm and was becoming much more urban. By the late 1890s, the area was split into boroughs, creating the metropolitan borough of Hackney. The area suffered badly in the Second World War and after the war local businesses started to relocate, causing major problems with unemployment. Regeneration initiatives over the years have improved the local area and its facilities greatly.

Things to do and see in Hackney

Hackney Museum is a good place for a visit if you want to learn more about the area and its culturally diverse population over the years. The museum is also home to one of the coins found in the Hackney Hoard.

Sir Ralph Sadleir’s home, Sutton House, is still standing. It is now owned by the National Trust and gives an unusual snapshot view of what it must have been like to live in the area in Tudor times. The house retains some fantastic Tudor and Georgian architecture, features and internal fittings. St Augustine’s Tower is another fine example of medieval architecture. You can go up the tower on certain days and get a fantastic view over Hackney and the East End.

You can also see one of London’s most famous theatres in the area – the Hackney Empire. This was one of the major music halls in the East End for many years, playing host to a number of famous Brits who went on to global superstar status, including Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and WC Fields.

Parts of Hackney Marshes, a large open area best known for its sports facilities, were incorporated into the Olympic Park that was built in the East End for the 2012 Olympic Games. The Olympic Park is now open to the public and is well worth a visit. Kids may also enjoy a visit to Hackney City Farm and shoppers should make sure to visit the area’s famous Broadway Market.

20 thoughts on “A Brief History of Hackney”

  1. I was born in Hackney in 1969, to parents Francis and Mary Everiste-Devaux. They owned a lovely home on Median Road at the time. Mum worked in Hackney Hospital.

  2. I was born in Hackney in 1969, to parents Francis and Mary Everiste-Devaux. They owned a lovely home on Median Road at the time.


    My last name is Hackney & I was wondering if anyone knew the history of Hackneys that moved to the U.S. in the 1700s I have been to Hackney & praying to return. I feel a strange connection to the area.!!!

    1. Im also a hackney and never knew this place existed i’ve only begun trying to figure out my family history but this here is really cool to find out

  4. Steve Wardell that could be right.There is a plaque about Hackney Marshes in the woods nearby. Military excersises did take place there it says.

  5. My grandmother was born in Hackeny en 1908. It was a beginning of a long journey of life around the world. I dream of the day when I can walk through the streets where she lived her childhood.

  6. I also worked in Hackney on and off till 1995,and still ave family living there,if only I could drive in there and park.

  7. I lived in Homerton from 1940 and moved out 1964 to Plaistow when I married.Hackney was a great place too live then.

  8. I was born in the Women’s Hospital in Hackney, my parents lived in Leyton until we three immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1953 travelling by boat across the Atlantic and train across Canada. I was very young then and don’t remember much about my early years in London. I few memories of those years but when 22 travelled back to England with my mom and revisited Leyton and various areas of that area which I vaguely remembered – like the route to my grandparents which I did remember accurately without any help – Palamos Road to Brunswick Road. Attended Sybourne Street School in Leyton, if anyone else remembers it. Sorry not much about Hackney.
    Do folks know Irdis Elba was born in Hackney?

    1. Thank you for this great story! We really enjoy hearing from people across the globe with East London connections.

      I only got as far as Ilford to Devon!

  9. I was born in 1951 and lived in a top floor flat on the Kingsmead Estate in Hackney, until about 1954.
    I have a memory of seeing what I presume were practice parachute drops of troops over Hackney Marshes. I’ve never been sure if it was a true memory or one of those that you dream up and remember so often that you believe it’s true.
    Does anyone else remember if this happened?

  10. Georgiaday Hall

    Hi I am beginning to research this area as my grandmother was from this area. We remember her stories of working in a factory. I wish I had asked her the name of the factory. She was terrified when she had to cross a bridge in the fog.

    I think the bridge is still there but much has changed since WWII and the Olympics.

    I am also wondering if she ever went to school. Something we take “for granted now.”

    Best wishes, Georgiaday

    1. Hello, my family are also from that part of London. The Olympics changed the area beyond recognition in many parts. I remember the old railway freight depot that became the Olympic Park. My grandfather used to drive around the back, one of his many routes to get from Ilford to Kings Cross, where his mother lived for years.

      1. don’t know about troop movements but bomb damage rubble was buried on the marshes and that’s why it is higher in places than others. Also think it was used for……… we hem “nocturnal sport” in the 1950s according to my late mother and where my sister was conceived.

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