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The City of London during medieval times was blighted by plague and the population was constantly in flux as people migrated to London to take up the opportunities made available by the deaths of thousands of Londoners.

Not only was the area that we now know of as the Borough of Hackney still very much rural at this time, it was also separated from the City by the city walls. At this time the districts of Hackney that we are familiar with were small villages or hamlets. There is archaeological evidence for settlements in Hackney, Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill, Hackney Downs, Shacklewell, Haggerston, Shoreditch, Dalston, Homerton, Hoxton and Clapton. As well as homes, evidence of manor house, hospitals, including a leper hospital, quarries, a palace, churches and mills has been unearthed around these areas. The tower of Hackney's oldest standing building, St Augustine's church, which still stands at the bottom of the Narrow Way in Hackney, was built in 1275 and was part of Hackney Village church. One of the most dominant buildings would have been the Holy Well Priory, built between 1133 and 1162, on what is now Shoreditch High Street it stood in grounds of 3 acres.

Stoke Newington, Haggerston and Hoxton are recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086. Hackney is not mentioned specifically because at that time it was within the manor of Stepney. The first record of Hackney is in the early twelfth century. Dalston is recorded in the thirteenth, Kingsland, Homerton and Clapton the fourteenth, and Shacklewell in the fifteenth, but they all probably existed before. In between these settlements were pasture; Cambridge Heath and Hackney Marshes were both common pasture, and woods although these were gradually being cleared for timber and farms. The Old English for farm is 'tun' and is where Dalston, Homerton and Clapton get their names, giving us a good indication of land usage. Most of the land in Hackney was owned by the Bishop of London, the rest was divided between the manors, such as Hoxton Manor, and then agricultural land was further divided into smallholdings that were leased out.

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The Amateur Historian's Guide to Medieval and Tudor London, Sarah Valente Kettler, Carole Trimble

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map of settlement finds
Map of settlement finds in medieval Hackney, London and geology of the area. The Building Exploratory



Medieval landscape film
This still from a film of Kingsland Road shows the church at Dalston. Click to view the film. This will open in another window and take a few minutes to download.

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