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.