Hackney Walks – from London Fields to Hackney Wick

When I lived in Hackney in the early 90’s it sometimes felt impossible to escape. It seemed vast. Recent graduates in a time of unemployment, broke and slightly adrift, for a period of time Hackney was our entire world. It was a self-contained realm with its own logic and economics – as well as its own licencing laws. No wonder Iain Sinclair titled his book about the borough that’d been his home since the late 1960’s, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire.

I was enticed back across the Lea to London Fields at the end of March, to document the home of an amazing character, the type of bohemian maverick that Hackney produced in a manner unlike any other area of the city. Ron Hitchins had been dubbed the Prince of Petticoat Lane and then transformed himself into a Flamenco dancer whose London Fields home became the epicentre of the London flamenco community. He then started creating artworks that were displayed in galleries and private collections around the world. Ron had passed away at the end of 2019, the house had been sold and was being packed up to start a new life.

From Ron’s house I wandered across London Fields and skimmed the railway arches. I saw Beck Road as the thread that linked Ron’s outpost to the tradition of Hackney bohemianism, the Martello Street studios along the way. ‘RIP Genesis’ was still on the door of the Throbbing Gristle house. The canal led me through Hackney to pick up the Hertford Union, drained of water at that time, while the Victorian brickwork in the Cut walls was being repaired and replaced. It brought me back to the edge of Hackney Wick where I’d filmed another walk a few weeks previously, as I repeated a circuit from 2016 logging change in an area claimed as a prime site of redevelopment.

Even in the space of 5 years the pace of change was quite extreme in places. A whole new community had been constructed on Fish Island – a street plan ripped off the grids of New York or some other North American city. It generated its own microclimate of harsh winds and ill omens. The birthplace of plastic had become a Sainsburys local. But the Lord Napier remained sheathed in graffiti.

A walk around the London Olympic Park, Stratford (2018)

This was an unintentional although overdue video. I’d caught the 339 bus to Stratford Station with the intention of getting a train to Harold Wood and going in search of Stukeley’s earthworks on Navestock Common. But alighting the bus on Montfichet Road, I was drawn in by the view of the evolving skyline around Stratford – something that has become a bit of an obsession over the last 8 years or so, as regular readers of this blog will have noticed. So once I’d switched my camera on and turned into Westfield Avenue and then through the newly completed sections of the International Quarter, I was hooked.

Here are links to some of the news articles and videos referenced in the video and also some further reading:


The Quito Papers: Towards an Open City

Is the London Olympic Park a bit Crap (Sept 2015)

Post -Olympic London – Welcome to Ikea Town

London Olympic Park playlist


Links to screenshots

Olympicopolis halves towers’ height and leaves V&A looking for extra space

Latest vision revealed for Olympicopolis arts quarter in east London

Olympicopolis architects on their £1.3 billion vision for E20

Olympicopolis mark II: reworked plans for east London cultural hub revealed

Olympic Village sold to Qatari developers for £557m in deal that costs taxpayer £225m

Qataris strike Olympic gold: Sheikhs who snapped up cheap flats in the Athletes Village set to rake in £1billion profit

“So which narrative is correct? The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is managed as a private site by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), a mayoral development corporation established in 2012”

“When the athletes’ village was sold off in 2011 around half, or nearly 1,500 apartments, was sold to QDD, a joint venture between Qatari Diar, a property arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, and British property developer Delancey, to be sold or rented on the private market.
The remaining apartments were sold to Triathlon Homes, a joint venture between a developer and two non-profit housing providers, to become the “affordable” housing quota, funded by nearly 50 million pounds from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency.”


Other references

City Mill River originally called St. Thomas’ Creek

Pudding Mill River – the lost river that runs under the Stadium

Iain Sinclair at the Wanstead Tap

Disappearance in the Olympic Zone

Greenway Hackney

Hopped onto the eastern end of the Greenway in Hackney Wick yesterday morning – the bronze letters beckoned me onwards like the opening titles of Star Wars (remember how we all sat in the old single screen cinema and read that scrolling text).

I jumped onto a granite block to take in a view westwards that had been obscured by mounds of rubble when I passed along this way in the summer of 2013.

You can hear in the video how my mental map has been utterly fried and I omit the fact that Bow sits somewhere on this vista. The erasure is so complete that I didn’t even remember the view from the 2013 walk and how the Bryant and May factory with its famous Match Girls strike seemed much closer.


Even poring over various maps from 1936 to the present I can’t reliably find what was here before, the only features being a couple of nameless blocks. This is presumably the site of the new Pudding Mill development, taking its name from the lost tributary of the River Lea.

50 Years a Borough_2

I had to go back to this map of West Ham in the early 18th Century to get a sense of place – the concrete canvas seems to be on the former Bow Marsh.


It’s not all about deleting the past in the Olympic Park as a replica sculpture of Newtons Cottage on Carpenter’s Road Lock is being built and will open to the public on 1st October.

street piano greenway

I processed all this with a tinker on the Street Piano by the View Tube on the Greenway.


Down the Hackney Cut

With the sun finally out I set off walking West and got sidetracked by the Hackney Cut/ Lee Navigation.

Part of the Olympic legacy seems to be to get rid of every trace of graffiti they can reach. The walls are now being coated with a paint resistant chemical that looks like hardened slime.

I chatted to some engineers who said they are building a tunnel under the Cut for a new tube line running into Pudding Mill Lane. I think he meant Cross Rail.

The swan at the entrance to the Hertford Union canal makes me think of Andrew Kötting riding his swan-shaped pedalo as he arrived at the end of the journey he’d made with Iain Sinclair from Hastings in the film Swandown.

It’s difficult to tell if this is part of the new ‘sanctioned’ graffiti or not – but it looked nice reflected in the water.

During the Olympics the Fringe at Swan Wharf was a £90/day pop-up private members club – looked very quiet today.

Well it’s definitely Fish Island, the Riviera needs a bit of work. According to wikipedia it’s “home to one of Europe’s largest growing creative communities”.

At the Bow Flyover I looped back to the Wick and had a lovely pint of Citra Ale brewed on-site at the Crate Brewery. That was a bit more like a Riviera.


Walk from Whitechapel to Leytonstone

I dropped off a screener of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art and decided to take advantage of the spring evening and wander back home from Brick Lane to Leytonstone.

Fashion Street E1
Mile End Road

Although this is the first part of London I came to as a callow 18-year old  and have been drifting around the city ever since, tonight I discovered parts of East London I’d never seen before.

Bancroft Road – the birds were singing loud and proud
Jewish Cemetery Bancroft Road. It belonged to the synagogue in Maiden Lane Covent Garden and opened in 1811. It was badly bombed in WW2 
Meath Gardens E3 – formerly the private Victoria Park Cemetery est. 1842
Meath Gardens
Yuppie gulag rising on the banks of the Regent’s Canal – redevelopment often seems to shadow cemeteries and asylums
I read somewhere that the Regent’s Canal was named to curry Royal favour and get planning permission – little changes
St. Barnabas Church E3 – affiliated with the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Munching chips from Roman Road I asked two young women in hajibs the way to the Olympic Stadium – they directed me to this bridge over the A12. This must be the continuation of the old Roman Road to Essex.
Crown Close Bow, still hanging on in there
For some reason I had The The’s Heartland playing in my head as I walked this way
 Local artists make their feelings about the coming Olympics known 
Crossing the Lea at sunset