THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON Hackney Brook 2) Stoke Newington
The only visible surviving remnant of the Hackney Brook is to be found in Clissold Park. Not the curved stream segment in the southern half of the park because that's part of the New River (an artificial channel which used to bring drinking water from Hertford to Finsbury). Instead head to the northern half where you'll find two eye-shaped ornamental lakes inhabited by pondweed and waterfowl [photo][photo]. These pools have names - the larger one's Becksmere and the smaller Runtzmere, in honour of the two civic dignitaries who presided over the park's opening in 1889. Both are currently fenced off for major drainage works and are less than scenic, but they remain the only water features any pre-19th century Londoner might recognise as part of the stream's original course.
East of Runtzmere comes Grazebrook Road - a well-named echo of the past - and on to the delights of Abney Park Cemetery. This is one of London's 'magnificent seven' garden cemeteries, with a towering chapel at its centre and countless memorials scattered between the trees all around [photo]. It's very easy to get very lost inside, although tracing the route of the Hackney Brook is rather simpler. This flowed along the northern perimeter of the cemetery, just beyond the ivybrick walls, and can be seen marked on Stanford's 1862 map as "former course of Hackney Brook - now obliterated". It emerged by the cemetery gates at the foot of Stamford Hill (another London placename explained by a lost river) [photo], crossing beneath the main road to flow through the grounds of a cluster of almshouses. Those no longer exist, nor the Weavers Arms Inn alongside, but you can always buy some white goods from Sellfridges, N16's legendary deliberately-misspelt appliance outlet. [photo]
Stoke Newington's triangular common was originally known as Cockhanger Green, for some apocryphal reason which might have involved a local brothel. The Hackney Brook flowed along the northern edge of the triangle, which later became Northwold Road, before turning south close to the ordinary suburban terrace where Marc Bolan spent his childhood years [photo]. There are plenty of ordinary suburban terraces on the slopes of Shacklewell below, with rather less famous residents, although it's quite a desirable patch all the same. The ex-river won't be heading anywhere quite so classy down its lower course.