Discover Hackney's blue plaques on a stroll through the borough
See the places where famous people were born, lived or worked in Hackney
THESE days, 86-90 Curtain Road bears few clues about its illustrious past. Commuters and lorries fly past the premises of a familiar estate agents, without looking up.
If they did stop, however, they would see a plaque marking the site of The Theatre, the first London building devoted to the performance of plays which, between 1577 and 1598, staged some of Shakespeare’s earliest work.
Every year, English Heritage announces new sites across London that will soon bear its blue plaques, commemorating the places where famous people have been born, lived or worked.
In addition to the plaque commemorating The Theatre (which, because it was erected by the London County Council in 1920, is bronze and rectangular), Hackney has six blue plaques. These commemorations not only span a vast period of modern history (1661-1951), but also an extraordinary spectrum of talents and personalities.
Our journey starts outside a shop on the corner of 95 Stoke Newington Church Street, above which hangs a plaque commemorating the writer Daniel Defoe (1661-1731). In 1708, he moved into a building on this site. It was demolished around 1865, but Defoe’s son-in-law, Henry Baker, described it as ‘a very handsome house’ and it was here that he wrote the novels ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘Moll Flanders’.
A short trip on the 106 bus finds you at Ram Place, Clapton, and the plaque recording the fact that Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), theologian and discoverer of oxygen, had a ministry here while living on Lower Clapton Road. It was here that he built his library and laboratory, saying at the time: “I spent my time at Hackney even more happily than ever I had done before.”
Travel to De Beauvoir, and at 56 Mortimer Road you will find a plaque erected in memory of both Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) and his son Sir Edmund Gosse (1849-1928). The older man was a zoologist who, in 1853, helped establish the world’s first public aquarium at London Zoo.
The house on Mortimer Road had belonged to his mother, but Philip took it over immediately after marrying his wife Emily, and the son with whom he now shares a plaque was born in it. Edmund went on to become a successful biographer, literary critic and journalist. Emily was to remember this house as ‘hallowed by many sweet associations’.
In the far northern reaches of the borough is 50 Durley Road, a small house in Stamford Hill once home to Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). He founded the Garden City Association which created Letchworth – the world’s first garden city.
An eight-minute London Overground ride and short stroll takes us to 55 Graham Road and a plaque commemorating music hall artist Marie Lloyd (1870-1922). A massive celebrity in her day, Lloyd was already performing three shows a night when she moved into the house in 1888, and it was quickly filled with socialites and famous friends.
A 20-minute walk past London Fields and towards Well Street Common finds us at Hackney’s final plaque, erected last year at 41 Cassland Road in memory of Maria Dickin (1870-1951), who lived here until she was three-years-old. A pioneer of free treatment for sick animals, she went on to create the first People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) clinic in the East End in 1971. The PDSA is the UK’s leading veterinary charity, helping more than 470,000 pets every year.
English Heritage historian Howard Spencer said: “Even with the installation of the plaque to Maria Dickin in Cassland Road last year, Hackney is quite light on official London plaques – especially for a borough with such a rich history. English Heritage would welcome further nominations that meet its criteria – the most important of which is that the building must be authentic and the individual proposed have died more than two decades ago.”
Words: Harriet Worsley