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early20c landscape
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By 1900 the urbanisation of Hackney was complete. Aside from parks and other protected open spaces all land had been built on. The basic road infrastructure was in place and industry was thriving. Where development did occur during the 1901-1939 period it was mainly commercial or municipal.

Much of the municipal building from this period is indicative of the important issues of the time. In 1901 electric street lighting was introduced into Hackney. The generator for this, with a refuse incinerator to supply heat, was on Millfields Road. In the same location was also a disinfecting station, these became quite common in London in the 1930s for fumigating people's belongings before they moved into their new council homes.

There was a great deal of municipal building aimed at improving people's health and welfare during this period. Nurseries and welfare centres were built, particularly by Shoreditch Council. Haggerston pool was built in 1904 and numerous slipper baths (public wash rooms) opened in the 1920s and 30s. The opening of Mare Street library in 1908 was followed by others at Dalston, Clapton and Homerton in the next decade, and lastly Stamford Hill in 1936.

In 1900 reforms of local government led to the parish vestries were replaced in London by metropolitan boroughs. Stoke Newington, Hackney and Shoreditch councils covered the area that is now the Borough of Hackney. The Boroughs of Hackney and Stoke Newington built new Town Halls in 1937. Both are grand buildings that reflect the civic pride of the time. The increase in leisure time was reflected in building too; the Hackney Empire opened in 1901 and four new cinemas by 1913.

The population of Hackney, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington together reached a peak of 389,000 in 1901. The populations of Hackney and Stoke Newington individually continued to grow until 1920 but that of Shoreditch declined dramatically due to slum clearance so the population overall never exceeded this figure again. Stoke Newington continued to be a desirable place to live for middle class Londoners but Hackney experienced a fall from grace due to its rising population, landscape scarred by railways and old houses that were too big for anything but multiple occupancies.

In 1902, 23% of the population were in poverty. This was actually low; Bethnal Green was nearly twice that. Poverty was predominantly in Shoreditch. Despite the poverty a real sense of community comes across in people’s accounts of this time. 'The Island' was a very isolated group of streets near to Hackney Downs, which had as its community centre a pub and a few shops. One resident recalled: "The Island was marvellous. Life will never be the same again. We all used to help one another. We were all like a family concern."

Such amicable feeling was not always extended to newcomers however. As the Jewish population in Hackney and Stoke Newington grew so did the fascist movement, led by Oswald Mosley, and racist attacks on shops and businesses. There was however a strong anti-fascist movement too. A British Union of Fascists rally in Victoria Park in 1936 ended in a fight between Moseley's 'Blackshirts' and the anti-fascists.

Urbanisation map
On this map red represents the area that had been built on by 1901. The blue patches in the top left are reservoirs. © The Building Exploratory

Haggerston Pool
Haggerston Pool.

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