The small shops that characterised Hackney in the late Georgian period were being threatened by the end of Victorian era. Matthew Rose and Sons on Mare Street, which had started as a small shop was by this time a department store, selling furniture and household goods. Street markets were also in abundance; on Mare Street, Broadway (hence Broadway Market), Kingsland Road, Well Street and Chatsworth Road, which was the biggest market by the 1890s.
Hackney Wick became a centre for industry from the mid 1800s. It was an ideal location away from the city and suburbs and close to water, which was useful for both industrial processes and transportation.
The first plastic ever produced in Britain was made in Hackney Wick. Parkesine, a type of cellulose, was produced in Wallis Road in 1862 by Alexander Parkes. Manufactured by the British Xylonite Company it was used to make mock tortoiseshell products and also plastic cuffs, collars and shirt fronts, which sold very well in the late Victorian era.
In 1859 Hope Chemical Works, a distilling and oil refining business, was established in Hackney Wick by Eugene Carless. It became Carless, Cape and Leonard and it was here that the brand name Petrol was invented.
Hackney Wick was also home to a rubber works, (which had moved from Hoxton in 1866 as industry was being pushed out), a tar and chemical works on Wick Bridge Lane, ironworks on Wallis Road, a dye factory, Atlas Works, and in 1877 one of the earliest dry cleaners. The pollution must have been awful and much chemical waste was ejected into the River Lea.
North of Hackney Wick, and smelling decidedly sweeter, was the factory of Clarke Nickolls and Coombs, manufacturers of Clarnicos chocolate. Established in 1872 it was one of the first British companies to introduce a profit sharing scheme. It also ran a choir and band and offered its predominantly female workforce a 'dowry', a gift of money when they married. It was a large company and even had its own fire service and hospital, although the latter was probably more of a glorified first aid room.
The principal source of employment for women in Hackney was not however factory work, it was domestic service. Over half the female workforce in London worked as servants during the Victorian period.
Although the industrial revolution had resulted in most industry moving from areas around the City walls to places where land was cheaper and goods could be produced on a large scale, some craftsmen had escaped the threat of mass production. These were people working in the finishing trades and with high value artefacts. Being close to fashionable markets, Shoreditch was ideally placed and traditionally the area had a pool of semi-skilled labour. The furniture trade's centre was Shoreditch and it flourished partly because of the Regents Canal, built in 1820, which was utilised for transporting the heavy hardwoods needed. Piano makers and showrooms abounded too. By 1901 there were over five thousand piano, cabinet and other furniture makers in Hackney and they had spread out from Shoreditch as far as Homerton.
The silk industry, which had centred in Spitalfields but stretched as far as Shoreditch, collapsed after trade agreements with France saw cheaper imported silks flood the market. Other clothing and shoe industries thrived in Shoreditch but their centre always remained further east, in Whitechapel and South Hackney. There were also many printers in the area. Of the numerous newspapers that were printed in Hackney only the Hackney Gazette survives, established in 1864.
The wide roads of Curtain road and Great Eastern Street still have the imposing buildings that in Victorian times were trade showrooms. The small narrow back streets housed the workshops of the smaller manufacturing firms and subcontractors such as upholsters and french polishers. In the clothing industry smaller specialisms existed too such as button makers and leather flower makers.
As these trades boomed residential buildings were converted to industrial, Later these gave way to purpose built premises which maximised light and space, the Victorian warehouses which are so popular for residential conversion nowadays. This was particularly true from the 1880s when advances in steel making produced the rolled steel joist or RSJ, which could be used as a column in place of a load-bearing wall.
Elsewhere in Hackney were Reeves and Sons artists' paints on Ashwin Street, a glue company in Dalston and also the Venus Pencil Company, Crown Perfumery in Homerton, and in Hoxton surgical goods were made. The industrial revolution had another outcome, the emergence of the working class political movement. Victoria Park was host to many speakers and meetings. Shoreditch and the rest of the East End, as it became known from the 1880s, were also home to 40% of London's tobacco factories.
One company that did not blossom in the Victorian era was the Loddiges nursery. It closed in 1852, but with much publicity. A large part of its stock was bought by Sir Joseph Paxton for the Crystal Palace. One palm was the size of a three-storey house and was pulled by thirty-two horses through the streets of London, and this event was featured in the London Illustrated News.
Another reference to Hackney in the London Illustrated News, from the year before, 1851, shows that agriculture was still evidence, at least in the early Victorian period. Describing a train journey to Hackney it states, "...we were somewhat puzzled at the appearance of several long ditches... filled with running water, nearly covered with what we took to be weeds; but, upon enquiry, we found that this was one of the artificial streams for the continual growth of watercresses for the London market... "
By the end of the nineteenth century hours of work had fallen in many trades and half-day holidays on Saturdays were becoming common. This was reflected in the number of theatres and music halls, parks and baths springing up in the borough. The leisure industry was coming into being.