Hackney Wick

Hackney Wick, Hackney/Tower Hamlets

This hitherto run-down Leaside area, divided from the rest of Hackney by the East Cross Route, is presently exhibiting a flowering of cultural creativity

The White Building at dawn

A ‘wick’ often sig­ni­fied an out­ly­ing dairy farm and the ‘ferm of Wyk’ was record­ed in the 13th cen­tu­ry.

By the late 18th cen­tu­ry the small ham­let had gained a silk fac­to­ry and the Wick went on to play a dis­tin­guished role in east London’s indus­tri­al his­to­ry. The use of the word ‘petrol’ was pio­neered in Hack­ney Wick – by Car­less, Capel and Leonard, who car­ried on their refin­ing busi­ness here for over a hun­dred years from 1860. Among the dis­tric­t’s many oth­er claims to indus­tri­al fame, Match­box toys were made at Lesney’s fac­to­ries, Clar­ni­co (Clarke, Nick­olls and Coombs) was the coun­try’s largest con­fec­tion­er and the Lion Works housed activ­i­ties by the entre­pre­neur Achilles Serre, who intro­duced dry-clean­ing to Eng­land.

How­ev­er, the growth of indus­try con­tributed to social decline in Hack­ney Wick, which was described in 1879 as a dis­trict of 6,000 peo­ple who had sunk to the low­est depths, and it became noto­ri­ous for its jer­ry-built hous­ing. The parish church of St Mary of Eton with St Augus­tine was found­ed in 1880 by Eton Col­lege, which want­ed to per­form char­i­ta­ble work in a poor part of Lon­don.

From the 1930s the munic­i­pal author­i­ties set about improv­ing con­di­tions in Hack­ney Wick, open­ing pub­lic baths and a library and clear­ing slums to put up blocks of flats, notably in the 1960s. Sev­er­al eye­sores built dur­ing that peri­od have already been torn down: St Mary’s Vil­lage has replaced the tow­er blocks of the Trow­bridge estate with a mixed tenure devel­op­ment of hous­es and flats.

Hack­ney Wick did not gain its sta­tion (orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to be called Wal­lis Road) until 1980, when the North Lon­don line was reopened to pas­sen­ger ser­vices, although it had ear­li­er been served by a sta­tion at Vic­to­ria Park.

The Olympic stadium seen from Hackney Wick station in early 2012
The Olympic sta­di­um and Arcelor­Mit­tal Orbit seen from Hack­ney Wick sta­tion

After a peri­od of stag­na­tion, sev­er­al sites in Hack­ney Wick have recent­ly been under­go­ing regen­er­a­tion and the prox­im­i­ty of the Olympic Park has enhanced the local­i­ty’s appeal.

Numer­ous artists and design­ers have set up stu­dios here – and in neigh­bour­ing Fish Island – in old ware­hous­es and dis­used indus­tri­al premis­es – and a canal-side cen­tre for art, tech­nol­o­gy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty called the White Build­ing opened in 2012. It’s shown in the image at the top of this page.

The Wick­’s new-found cul­tur­al effer­ves­ence is show­cased in exhi­bi­tions, open stu­dios and curat­ed events organ­ised by the Hack­ney WickED com­mu­ni­ty inter­est com­pa­ny.

Many homes in Hack­ney Wick are rent­ed from a social land­lord or from the coun­cil, and sig­nif­i­cant pock­ets of pover­ty per­sist in the local­i­ty. How­ev­er, accord­ing to the Hack­ney Gazette, at least part of the Wick is now begin­ning to under­go ‘ram­pant gen­tri­fi­ca­tion’ – which is often the stage that fol­lows the arrival of a cre­ative com­mu­ni­ty.

Postal district: E9 and E15
Population: 11,734 (Hackney’s Wick ward, 2011 census)
Station: London Overground (Zone 2)
Further reading: Vicki Cattell and Mel Evans, Neighbourhood Images in East London: Social Capital and Social Networks on Two East London Estates, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1999


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