Hoxton, Hackney

A formerly working-class district in north-west Shoreditch, now fashionable with members of London’s media and ‘dotcom’ industries

Hoxton Square

It is possible that hogs were once kept here (hence Hogsden, a widely used altern­ative spelling in the past) but more likely that the place name derives from a farm belonging to a man called Hōc. St Paul’s Cathedral owned the manor at the time of Domesday Book.

There were attempts in the 1680s to make Hoxton a sort of ‘North End’ to rival the West End, but the creation of Hoxton Square (shown in the photo­graph above*) and Charles Square failed to spark an inrush of wealthy homebuyers. Instead, Hoxton’s open spaces retained their market gardens and gained hospitals, schools and public houses.

In 1685 the wealthy Cornish merchant Sir Robert Geffrye donated land for almshouses on Kingsland Road where Hoxton meets Haggerston. These were completed in 1715 and are now home to the Geffrye Museum.

Hoxton Hall, with link to the website
Hoxton Hall

A number of religious dissenters came to live in Hoxton, most memorably the Ancient Deists, who believed they conversed with the dead.

In The Birth of Modern London, Elizabeth McKellar suggests that Hoxton’s unusual character encouraged “an altern­ative building tradition even on the very edge of the commercial centre itself and ensured the continued survival of these buildings unmod­ernised throughout the 18th century.” The district’s piecemeal devel­opment encom­passed a wide range: from mansions to mean tenements. Hoxton Fields had disap­peared beneath Hoxton New Town by 1850.

Hoxton was home to the renowned Britannia Theatre, a music hall that Dickens compared with Milan’s La Scala. Built in 1858 it became one of Victorian London’s greatest palaces of enter­tainment. Converted to a cinema in 1923, then demol­ished after wartime bomb damage, its name lives on in the leisure centre at the corner of Shoreditch Park.

Hoxton Hall, a saloon-style music hall built in 1863, survives and is used for community arts and education purposes.

Despite the post-war replacement of slum terraces with slum tower blocks and the recent arrival of assorted creative types (as seen in 2005’s TV parody Nathan Barley), Hoxton retains an identity and a spirit that has been lost in much of inner London.

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson killed fellow actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel on Hoxton Fields in 1598, evading a death sentence because he could read from the Latin Bible.

The proto-feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft was born in Hoxton, where her father was a silk weaver.

Among the professional men who settled here was James Parkinson of Hoxton Square. His Essay on Shaking Palsy, written in 1815, identified the disease that now bears his name.

Postal district: N1
Station: London Overground (East London line, zones 1 and 2)
Population: 15,174 (2011 census; a 42 per cent increase on 2001)
Further reading: Christopher Miele, Hoxton Architecture and History Over Five Centuries, Hackney Society, 1993
Bryan Magee, Clouds Of Glory: A Childhood in Hoxton: A Hoxton Childhood, Jonathan Cape, 2003


View larger OpenStreetMap

The picture of Hoxton Square at the top of this article is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Chris Whippet, at Geograph Britain and Ireland and made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.