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London's fortunes changed considerably during this period. The 1950s were a boom time for London and this continued till the late 1960s but after this manufacturing began to move out of London.

The early 1960s saw record shipping in the Port of London but it too was not to last. By the end of the 1960s the future of the upstream docks such as St Katherine's, London and East India docks looked doubtful. They could not compete with the new facilities at Tilbury, which were deep enough to cope with container ships and also convenient for the shipping lanes.

The Port of London entered the worst period in its history from 1966 to 1981 characterised by industrial disputes that closed the quays repeatedly. The inevitable happened between 1967-1970; East India, St Katherine's, London and Surrey Docks closed for good. The Isle of Dogs followed in the 1970s.

The decline of London as a port coupled with the rise of the airports accentuated the economic imbalance between east and west. The docks being in the east, and Heathrow, London's biggest airport in the West.

London entered a difficult period before its fortunes changed. Large factories continued to close throughout the 1970s and the recession of the 1980s heightened the problem further. Hackney was the fourth largest borough in terms of the amount of workers it employed in manufacturing. The Venus Pencil Company in Dalston was one Hackney company that disappeared in the 1970s. Another was J.G. Franklin, who had produced surgical goods in the borough since 1864 and had in 1948 employed over 500 people. Trebor Sharps, the sweet manufacturers also closed in the mid 1970s. Under their previous name of Clarnicos, Trebor had been in Hackney since Victorian times and in 1948 had been the largest confectionery company in the country.

A look at one of Hackney's traditional industries shows the extent of the problem and its impact on people. The furniture industry in North London employed 16,390 in 1960 but only 1,320 by 1984.

In 1952 a Hackney firm, Lesney, made a tiny model, little more than an inch long, of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation coach. It went on to sell a million copies, and with this Matchbox model vehicles were born. Lesney was Hackney's biggest employer in the 1970s and early 1980s with over 1,500 employees but this did not help when it became a victim of the recession. Competition from abroad forced it into liquidation in 1982. The old factory building in Homerton is now flats.

There are success stories that weathered the economic storm. The Burberry factory on Chatham place is still making clothes (although it was taken over by Great Universal Stores in 1982) and is enjoying a revival in the 21st century. Hackney Council is another major employer in the area, giving jobs to 6,000 people. Another great success story was Gibbon's furniture store on Amhurst Road, but in 2002 this too closed. Gibbons had been a Hackney family business since 1831.

As small industries have vacated the factories, workshops and warehouses artists have moved in to their spaces creating in the East End Europe's largest artistic community. A striking example of the way in which London adapts to changing opportunities. SPACE is a charity that takes former industrial buildings and converts them to studios for artists. Many of their buildings are in Hackney.

Dalston Cross shopping centre opened in 1989 and was an attempt to regenerate the area. As well as the national chain shops this offers there are many ethnic shops and the daily market on Ridley Road which cater to the particular needs of residents and continue Hackney’s tradition of small businesses and enterprise. Hackney's biggest market ever, Chatsworth Road, which had 300 stalls in its hey day closed in the 1990s.

There are many aspects of Hackney's economic life which are very in keeping with its history. Hackney in general has an unusually high number of businesses operating out of storefront premises, cabinetmakers, picture framers, repair shops and money exchanges. This is due to the comparatively low rents but is very in keeping with its history. A look at Kingsland Road reveals the changing usage of some of these shop front premises. For example, a boot manufacturer occupied the shop at 101 Kingsland Road in the Victorian period, a wholesale furrier in Edwardian days and today it is a picture framers.

Shoreditch has throughout its history been a hive of entertainment, not all of it respectable. Shoreditch High Street would seem to be continuing that historical thread with its proliferation of bars and strip clubs. The Shoreditch area also has a high number of wholesale shoe shops, themselves a continuation of a trade that has links to Shoreditch throughout its history.

Buy related books

London: A History, Francis Sheppard

In Association with

Lesney factory
The Lesney factory, now flats. © The Building Exploratory.

Burberry dog coat
A Burberry check dog coat.

Coronet St
A former Victorian industrial building on Coronet Street, now home to Circus space.© The Building Exploratory.

Shoe making tools
Shoes and cordwaining equipment from Bespoke Shoes, on display at Hackney Museum.© The Building Exploratory.

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