Medieval Hackney was almost entirely rural and so agriculture and related trades were the main forms of employment. Arable crops were grown, such as beans, wheat, oats and barley, as well as fruit and vegetables but the majority of land was given over to pasture either for cattle or hay.
Sheep farming was another rural occupation and may have produced a secondary industry. Cheese was produced in Hackney and sold in the City, and this could well have been goat's or sheep's cheese. Brewing was another spin off from agriculture that was carried out in various locations around Hackney, such as Mare Street, where in 1453 a Roger Whitebarowe brewed ale.
There were several mills in Hackney. A North Mill and South Mill near Lea Bridge Road were both recorded in medieval times. Temple Mills, water mills belonging to the Knights Templar, used mainly for grinding corn, which were built partly in Hackney and partly in Leyton are also known to have existed.
As well as grinding corn, mills were used for fulling. This is the process by which felt cloth is cleaned, usually using stale urine. Within the City of London there was no separation of residential and trade areas so certain trades were barred from operating within the city walls, as they were too foul to be carried out in close proximity to where people lived. Fulling was one of these trades. Tanning was another such smelly activity that was carried out in Hackney.
There are clues to activity in some other industries. On the site of what became St Leonard's hospital archaeologists from the Museum of London discovered a quarry had existed until the 1300s.The river and marshes may have provided some income from basket making and fishing. Shoreditch being adjacent to the City and having one of the main roads to and from London running through it was home to several blacksmiths. It was the proximity to the City of London that dictated much of the industrial activity of the area for some time to come.