diamond geezer

 Monday, May 31, 2010

Hackney Brook
3) Hackney

The Hackney Brook ran along the western edge of Hackney Downs - a grassy recreational plateau ideal for jogging, kickabouts and general horizontal laziness. That western edge was swallowed up by the Stoke Newington Railway in the 1870s, leaving the river well-buried beneath a leafy embankment [photo]. The river/railway continued southward through an area of market gardens, where now stands Mossbourne Academy - a striking flagship academy designed by Richard Rogers. And then across Dalston Lane, where a peaceful countryside bend has evolved into a busy road junction. Two adjacent roads were formerly waterways. The lower half of Amhurst Road follows the meandering Hackney Brook, while Graham Road was originally its tributary - the Pigwell Brook. This trickled down from Kingsland Green in Dalston and passed roundabout Fassett Square - the inspiration for BBC1's EastEnders [photo]. Let's hope there's a similar lost river under Albert Square, and that someday it carries a few of the most annoying characters away.

Even the hurly burly of central Hackney was once a bucolic riverside scene (1820s map). Mare Street was then Church Street, a wigglier affair named after 13th century St Augustine's. The old tower survives*, but the scenic footbridge over the stream has been swept away by railways, progress and shopping [photo]. The river's passing indentation remains evident alongside Hackney Central station, with a definite dip in the road between Iceland and the pawnbrokers opposite [photo]. See Tesco's car park? [photo] That used to be a watercress bed - and quite frankly it'd be lovelier if it still was. The Hackney Brook then flowed north of Morning Lane (formerly Water Lane), roughly along the route of the North London Line. An army of dubious greasemonkeys populate the arches under the viaduct, while to the north lies a curious mix of council blocks, Victorian terraces and Tudor homestead [photo]. It's the council blocks that proliferate, alas, as the valley rolls on.

* St Augustine's Tower is open (for free) on the last Sunday of the month, courtesy of the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. So that's where I went yesterday afternoon, and climbed the diddy spiral staircase to the top. There are three rooms on the way up - one to hold the pendulum, one supporting the clock mechanism and the third with the bell. But it's the view from the roof that's the most impressive. A 360° panorama around Hackney and beyond, plus the opportunity to peer down into Mare Street below and watch the little ants doing their shopping. Highly recommended. [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]

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