Hoxton, Hackney

Until recently a solidly working-class neighbourhood, this north-western corner of Shoreditch is now popular with members of London’s creative 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.

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.

Slum ter­races were replaced by blocks of coun­cil flats after the Sec­ond World War but these changes pale into insignif­i­cance com­pared with the trans­for­ma­tion that’s been wrought here since the turn of the mil­len­ni­um.

Pre­saged by the arrival of some pio­neer­ing cre­ative types – as seen in 2005’s TV par­o­dy Nathan Bar­ley – Hox­ton has evolved into one of the most sought-after cor­ners of hip­ster Lon­don. The ward’s pop­u­la­tion increased by 42 per cent between 2001 and 2011.

This has encour­aged prop­er­ty devel­op­ers to build ever more inten­sive­ly, for exam­ple in the hexag­o­nal form of Mono and Duo, the two tow­ers of Hox­ton Press shown under con­struc­tion in the pho­to below. The devel­op­ment is named in hon­our of the Mul­lord Broth­ers, fan­cy paper and card mak­ers, fine art pub­lish­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers of stove orna­ments (now there’s a lost art), whose Bijou Sta­tionery Works stood on Penn Street in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies.

Hidden London: Hoxton Press under construction, by Matt Brown

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
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


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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. The picture of Hoxton Press is minimally modified from an original photograph, copyright Matt Brown, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of those licences.