History / 7 November, 2010

Victoria Park: a history

The Citizen takes a look back at this South Hackney neighbourhood before during and after the reign of its royal namesake

Lauriston Road 1905 view north from Victoria Park Road. Photo courtesy of Hackney Archives

Pre-Victorian Victoria Park… Whatever could that have been like? Well, for starters, obviously the park hadn’t been thought of yet. But north-west of the land where the park is now lay a hamlet whose development would eventually bring us to the South Hackney we know today.

The settlement was situated around the junction where Grove Street, which would later be renamed Lauriston Road, met the ‘footpath’ that is now Victoria Park Road.

Records show that in 1672 there were just sixteen properties on Grove Street with the official status of having been assessed for hearth tax. The largest, with eighteen hearths, was that of a Mr Henry Monger, who along with the Norris family owned much of the land.

A hundred years later there were only a few more buildings around Grove Street, one of which was the Three Colts inn just beyond the hamlet’s southern boundary.

If you’d found yourself in the area back in 1788, you might have seen the Jewish burial ground being built on what was then Grove Street. And by 1821 there were a few more cottages around, bringing the total number of households in the hamlet to 38.

The creation of Victoria Park in 1845 led to the construction of Victoria Park Road, and it was from then the area began to take substantial shape. So, what would your life have been like if you’d lived in the area under Queen Victoria? You’d probably have been quite affluent, and possibly Jewish. And you would have doubtless taken a morning stroll in the new park that had opened to the public fifteen years earlier.

In 1865, you may have been one of the many who admired the fashionable, Gothic-style French hospital on Grove Street, built to replace the 1718 building in St Luke’s parish in Finsbury. It could be that you knew some of its residents, for they were encouraged to make themselves useful in the community. The facility continued to provide care for “poor French Protestants” – the Huguenots – until 1934, and later became a school.

Did you ever visit the tabernacle just east of the Jewish burial ground on Wetherell Road? If you’d been there in August 1876 you might have seen Josiah Henson address a bursting congregation of 2,000 – or perhaps you were one of the unlucky punters who couldn’t get in. Maryland-born Henson had been born into the slave trade and sold three times before he was eighteen, but then escaped and become an author and abolitionist. No wonder so many folk wanted to hear what he had to say.

Or you may have caught the moving talk by MP Henry Fawcett, who gave his eighth consecutive annual address to 150 of London’s blind poor at the tabernacle on 6 May 1884. Mr Fawcett had lost his sight in a shooting accident aged 25, but he spoke with great optimism on that day and was cheered at several intervals. “We who are blind have many advantages,” he said. “To no class who require friendly and generous aid is that aid more cheerfully and generously given.”

And did you hear about the ‘serious disturbance’ caused by an anti-Catholic lecturer of dubious character in the tabernacle in 1884? It prompted Labour politician Sir James Sexton to ask in the House of Commons whether anything could be done to stop it happening again. “What the honourable gentleman asks me to do is rather beyond my power,” replied the MP. “I have no power to prevent persons in this country from lecturing either for or against Protestantism.”

As Victoria’s Jubilee approached in 1887, you may have heard that twelve weaveresses from the French hospital were busy making a black silk dress, which they would later present to the Queen to mark her 50 years as our monarch.

At the turn of the century, evidence suggests the area was quite well-to-do and smart, with a piano shop and a home where women went to give birth.

Victoria Park Lido opened on the edge of Grove Road in 1932, at around the same time as its cousin in London Fields. It had space for over a thousand bathers and symmetrical wings of changing rooms, and was designed so that no shadow was ever cast onto the water. What’s more, you could get in for free three days a week!

The lido, badly damaged during the Second World War, reopened in 1952 after extensive repairs. On one occasion during the scorching summer of 1976, the doors were closed due to overcrowding but the queuing crowd simply smashed their way in – causing so much damage that the pool was closed for two days for repairs.

Linden Monck, who moved to the area in 1977 and runs the Sublime boutique and gift clothes shop on Victoria Park Road, remembers the lido being an important part of her life when she was bringing up her children, and was sad when it closed in 1986: “Everyone was a bit fed up about it.”

Linden recalled the shops that have come and gone on Victoria Park Road – the “tall blonde twins” ran the greengrocers and Marinos, the 1930s-style cafe with its tiled and chrome interior and polished fascia. The little old-fashioned grocers where the gallery is, and the bakery on the corner, Shepherds – now Loafing cake shop.

According to Linden, Victoria Park has always kept its village feel. “That’s what’s unique about this area. It’s very unusual in London,” she said. “That’s the reason a lot of people are attracted to this area. They call it the Village. It never used to be the village. It used to be called the roundabout.”

Caroline Bousfield Gregory also moved to the area in the 1970s and remembers sending her two daughters on their first lone shopping trips to AH Davis, the hardware store on the corner of Victoria Park Road where Sovereign Estates is today. “It was only ten yards away so they could go by themselves. It was a lovely shop,” said Caroline, who lives on Lauriston Road. “Everything got dusted as it was taken off the shelf, and he had a huge trapdoor down to the cellar,” she remembered.

“There didn’t seem to be any proper stairs to the cellar. He’d lift up the trap door and go down the steps and bring up dusty things with 1/6 written on them, things like the seals for old storage jars,” she said, remembering its owner, the last Davis, who ran the shop until the 1980s when he finally retired. “He had everything in stock.”

Today, the interior of Davis’s as it was in the 1930s can be seen at the Age Exchange in Blackheath, where it was transported to be used to assist reminiscence workshops.

Caroline remembers the curiosity – and at times disapproval – of her new neighbours when she converted one of the four stables around the old tram turn into a pottery workshop. “One chap stopped Gordon and said he thought it would be much better as a fishing tackle shop,” she laughed.

Caroline’s pottery had been an electrical repair shop since the 1920s, run by a man who was in his 80s when he handed it over. “He only really worked on valve radios and the odd light bulb. He was a delightful chap,” she said. “He lived round on Guinness Estate. He’d left me his till from 1920 with an old silver sixpence nailed to the inside of the drawer to bring me luck – and I still use it.”

But, unsurprisingly for an inner-city hub, Victoria Park also saw some less rosy times. Linden remembers the area was something of an overspill from the Kray brothers’ organised crime network, which brought turf wars to the streets of South Hackney. She remembers hearing about a gang shooting in one of the pubs, and that The Alex was a “drug pub” for a time.

And where now sits the more upmarket restaurant Empress of India there was at one point “a real dodgy dive”, remembers Linden. “There were all sorts of goings-on in there,” she said. “You wouldn’t have wanted to go on there on your own as a woman, I tell you.”

During these less savoury times, many families – if they had the money – moved further east to areas such as Romford and Harold Hill with the hope of getting their children into better schools. One by one, the regular food shops began to close.

Early this century residents took matters into their own hands and formed the Victoria Park Traders Association which helped bring back the full range of shops, including a greengrocer and a deli. Many of today’s businesses are owner-run, with their owners living above their shops or close by, which contributes to the community atmosphere. Developments at the nearby Canary Wharf and improved bus routes have meant the area has attracted more prosperous new residents once again.

Linden describes the Victoria Park of 2010 as ‘chichi’, and seems happy with the way things have panned out for the hamlet at the junction of Grove Street and the Hackney Wick footpath – the only downfall being that her offspring cannot afford to buy property there themselves.

Roundabout 1950, beaing the sign,'this is a road safety device'. Photo courtesy of Hackney Archives

Caroline Bousfield Gregory won second prize for Best Community Project, Hackney in Bloom 2010. Photo: Gary Manhine

/ 7 November, 2010

33 Comments on “Victoria Park: a history

Marysia Kurowski
November 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Fascinating. So that’s why the cross-roads by the pottery is so wide – it used to be a tram turning.

Fab article!

Eloise Horsfield
November 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Thank you! I very much enjoyed researching it.

John Greenwood
December 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Marysia and Eloise, WIll echo that, a very interesting piece. Caroline’s little pottery shop is in fact one of four identical stables (maybe there are three now) built at points around the wide perimeter of the turn which provided stabling for the horses, the teams would be changed there to give the animals, which had pulled the buses up from Mile End and beyond, a well deserved rest – John Greenwood.

John Finn
January 30, 2012 at 11:50 am

And then, following the trams, notice the overhead wires for the trolleybuses in the 1950 picture. The 677 trolleybus used to travel a similar route to today’s 277. Electric vehicles, they were phased out in the 1950s. Now, a half-century later, we’re looking at trams and electric vehicles for public transport again.

Good to see local history stories, before we completely forget it all!

Greg Leigh
February 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Very nice article.
My mother, (b.1923) moved with her parents from
Buxton St. Brick Lane to a grocery shop on the corner of Lauriston Rd.and King Edwards Rd. and lived above.
The shop was bombed in 1940 and they were relocated to another shop on the corner of Lauriston Rd./Wells St. The shop was closed when Tesco opened opposite.
Without permission my mum,aged 9, went to the
opening of the Victoria Park Lido and her mum only found out when a picture appeared the next week in the local paper. At the time they lived at 125
King Edwards Rd. (which I remember well).
My great uncle lived in Meynell Gardens.

les holeyman
April 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm

if you live in this area you might enjoy my book
long road from hackney. available free at hackney
library and tower hamlets and on the elan catalogue
covering my childhood from the 1950s to 1973.

Andrew Tough
November 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I was born in a Nursing home in Victoria Park Road in 1950. By any chance – does anyone please know the name of it ?

J Blyth
June 27, 2016 at 11:31 pm

St Margarets – opposite the French hospital. I was born there too.

Susan Devlin
November 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm

My sister was also born at the private nursing home opposite the old French Hospital in 1941 – I too would be interested in finding out its name and history. My mum paid in 2 shillings a week to cover her confinement.

Patti Hatswell
January 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm

My Nana was born at 76 Well Street Hackney (or at least that’s the address on her birth certificate) in 1885. Her father James (mother Sarah Goodwin)was a Master boot maker. Would they have rented? had the whole house? I think they were reasonably comfortably off. When I look on Google Earth, the house looks as if its been rebuilt. Is this because of bombing damage. Does anyone know? Would be so glad of any info. Thank you P

dorothyDeadman nee Langwith
March 10, 2014 at 3:29 pm

I really enjoyed reading this page .I come from Shafton road Victoria Park Road .And I remember a lot of the area when I was growing as a child ,it was always a nice place to live with the park so near spent most of my time over there. the shops was very good and I remember Davies and the Convent School as well as the Nursing Home and lots more Wish I could go back

Sarah Jones
April 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I lived in Connor street, 1966 to 1972. I have lovely memories of playing in the park with my sister Julie and lots of friends and the sweet shop on the corner before the entrance which I think was run by two elderly sisters. The house we lived in, we rented the top and another family lived downstairs, no bathroom and only an outside toilet, has now been demolished and a new primary school was built on some of the land. We went to chisenhale school near Roman rd, remember being put to bed in the afternoon in the nursery with itchy blankets, Mrs Reynolds and Mrs Johnson were the teachers I think, we moved away when I was six and my sister was eight, fond memories of playing in the horse troughs, going to Sunday school and the library.

Sarah Jones
April 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I lived in Connor street, 1966 to 1972. I have lovely memories of playing in the park with my sister Julie and lots of friends and the sweet shop on the corner before the entrance which I think was run by two elderly sisters. The house we lived in, we rented the top and another family lived downstairs, no bathroom and only an outside toilet, has now been demolished and a new primary school was built on some of the land. We went to chisenhale school near Roman rd, remember being put to bed in the afternoon in the nursery with itchy blankets, Mrs Reynolds and Mrs Johnson were the teachers I think, we moved away when I was six and my sister was eight, fond memories of playing in the horse troughs, going to Sunday school and the library..

July 9, 2014 at 12:48 pm

As a relative newcomer to Victoria Park, I found this article fascinating. Thank you to all who contributed.

Alan Thomas
October 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Really enjoyed this article. Have lived on Gore Road at three different numbers since 1969 but in my childhood I lived in Queen Anne Road (off Cassland Road) and after that in Grove Road, South of the park so I have a long familiarity with this area.
I remember most of the establishments since the ’50s mentioned in the article and by respondents but nobody mentioned the great old Jewish grocer shop cum deli probably where ‘Machete’ is now who sold delicious cheesecake. David’s was definitely a fascinating old shop with bundles of firewood for starting coal fires stacked up in front of the counter and filling the shop with a distinctive aroma. Of course, there was a United Dairies depot in Wetherell Road later Parker Dairies who though out of the area now still provide our daily delivery of milk. On shootings in local pubs, I am not sure of the link to the Krays but there have been fatal shootings in both “The Royal” and “The Royal Standard” in probably the 80s.
More articles on similar lines would be great and other people’s comments and memories very interesting.

December 24, 2014 at 12:49 am

Groombridge Road 1954-1962
Penshurst Road 1962-1972 & 1976-1977
Victoria Park Road 1975-1976 & 1983-1996
Yup, seen some changes

hazel isaacs
December 24, 2014 at 7:11 am

My aunt owned Debbies Tuck Shop at 150 Victoria Park Road

June Gregory
January 4, 2015 at 2:17 pm

My sister worked in Victoria Park in the 1950’s. During this time the zoo was vandalised and photos of my sister tending the animals was published in the national press.
Does anyone have recollections/knowledge of this occurrence which could be used in an eulogy of her life following her recent death.

Mary Mackay
March 1, 2015 at 5:47 pm

My grandmother, Sarah Marie Dean, born 1876, was raised in the home of her great grandfather, George Catling at 251 Victoria Park Road. When he died in 1893, his son James Catling inherited his “effects”, valued at 738 pounds and his house. James lived there until his death in 1908. While George Catling started out as a carpenter, by age 73, 1881, he was listed in the census as “retired builder”. My grandmother was widowed in her twenties and immigrated to Canada. The way she told it, she came from a well to do family living in Belgravia; apparently she reinvented herself as our research shows her first husband, Fred Howell, was a “boot clicker” in Hackney, and she worked as a drapers assistant at the age of 15. We have several volumes of Charles Dickens with their inscriptions in them, so we know they were literate. Where would my grandma have gone to school in this Victoria Park neighbourhood? I’ve read Mayhew’s accounts of Hackney and surrounding areas in the mid to late 1800s and the most terrible working conditions and resulting poverty were wide spread.
I’m curious to know more about the neighbourhood of Victoria Park Road where my grandmother grew up in the late 1800s. As home owners were they part of the new middle class with heads barely above water, or were they too living in a slum struggling to put food on the table? Any pieces of the puzzle of their lives that anyone can help me fill in would be greatly appreciated.

Julian Love
May 3, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for a very interesting article. I live in the flat above the old AH Davis hardware shop mentioned above. My guess is the houses around the roundabout were built from the start as commercial premises with the families who ran them living above. What kind of shops would they have been back in 1864 when the houses were built? And great to learn about the tram turning next door – that explains a lot!

July 28, 2015 at 11:11 pm

I was born in Hockley House, Morningside Estate which is between Morning Lane and Well Street in 1947. Loved Hackney which will always be my home no matter where I live and I have moved around. My dad helped to build the Victoria Park Lido, he was born in 1906.

Alan Toombs
August 28, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I moved into Banbury House, Victoria Park Road, aged 4/5 in 1935/6. I went to Lauriston Road School, opposite Marino’s and joined 8th Hackney Cubs and Scouts groups. I lived there until 1962, being evacuated from the school in 1939.Close to the Roundabout, bear the Hardware shop, A H. Davis was an electrical repair shop named Koopmans, where I would take our radio battery for recharging! For a time,when aged 14/16 I delivered c leaning on a bike for Achille Serre dry cleaners. This was situated next to the Jewish Cemetry.

Lorna Ellis
December 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm

My Mum moved into Banbury House when it was first built , you may remember them her surname was Whittard !!!

George Knight
August 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm

I too went to Lauriston Road School but not for long. Born 1948 in Hackney. Lived in Warneford St until the family moved to Essex in 1954/5. Remember the Great Smog of 1952 when mum set out to walk with me to my aunt’s house in Wetheral Rd but gave up at the end of our street as visibility was no more than a few feet!

Joan Hayman
September 1, 2015 at 11:08 am

I am Alan Toombs sister, and I was 2 when we moved in to Banbury House. When I collected Bread from the bakers, I always eat the crust on the way home, and if I ever went to Davies’s for vinegar, I drank some on the way home!
In 1954 I married from here. I really enjoyed living in Victoria Park Road.

September 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Sarah Jones, I think the house you lived in which was demolished must have backed onto ours which now backs onto the primary school. I’d love to hear more about how it was before. My little daughter loves living in the area and so do I but I don’t know much of the history… We are on Lauriston Road.

October 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Thank you for your article, I enjoyed it very much.

Susan Greenwood
October 29, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I was born in Hackney Hospital. which I believe is no longer there?

Also lived in Trederwyne Road, which I think has also changed a lot, down by the waiste and Hackney Marshes (might have this wrong…) was a long time ago.

Ralph Grenville
April 10, 2016 at 2:31 am

I grew up in 75 Victoria Park Road and lived there from 1940 to 1964. Used to walk to Well Street to take the 557 bus to the Angel Islington where I went to Owens School and later to University College London. We had no hot running water!!

Sharon Ablett
May 18, 2016 at 10:34 pm

My great grandfather, Edmund Boost, lived on Well Street and at 29 Connor Street from about 1901 till he died in 1919. His second wife, Margaret lived there until 1940 when she was killed. I’m interested in my family history and found this article fascinating.

Julia Pizarro
July 27, 2016 at 8:52 pm

could anyone tell me who Wetherell road was named after? That was my maiden name, and I had heard stories of my Grandfather, Joseph Wetherell having quite prosperous relatives. I now live in the US, but have a brother and sister who would like to find out information

Beverley Rodgers
February 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Does anyone remember a family who lived behind a sweet shop. Their. Name is Leiber..

February 13, 2017 at 6:56 pm

What a wonderful article – and a great walk down memory lane! I lived on Cawley Road (no longer there-think it’s now called Guinness Close?) directly across from Victoria Park. Our garden backed onto the gardens of the houses that faced Victoria Park Road. I also went to the old, and then the “new” Lauriston Primary School (early 1970’s) and then to South Hackney Secondary School before moving to Vancouver, Canada. I remember many wonderful times getting together with friends in Victoria Park and at the Lido in summers. I also remember Debbie’s Tuck Shop. I also remember having friends on Victoria Park Road near the library who even in the 1970’s still had an outside loo or had to share a loo with the flat below them!




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