Woodberry Down

Woodberry Down, Hackney

A very large housing estate situated just east of Manor House, comprising the area within a loop of the New River, now undergoing radical regeneration

Woodberry Down welcome

This was dairy farm­land until the 1820s, when it was opened up by new roads. The con­ver­sion of dis­used clay pits into reser­voirs alle­vi­at­ed the threat of flood­ing.

By the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry this had become “the posh end of Stoke New­ing­ton,” home to sev­er­al wealthy Jew­ish fam­i­lies and to Albert Cheva­lier, the music hall artiste.

In 1934, despite pow­er­ful oppo­si­tion, the Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil com­pul­so­ri­ly pur­chased all of Wood­ber­ry Down and the con­struc­tion of an ‘estate of the future’ began after the Sec­ond World War. By the time the project was com­plet­ed in 1962, 57 blocks of flats had been erect­ed on 64 acres of land.

The 2,500 homes had a mix of deck access and lob­by access, with the major­i­ty being two- or three-bed­room flats. Wood­ber­ry Down school (since closed) became one of Britain’s first pur­pose-built com­pre­hen­sives in 1955.

New apartment blocks at Woodberry Down
New apart­ment blocks at Wood­ber­ry Down

As with some oth­er utopi­an schemes of a sim­i­lar nature, Wood­ber­ry Down became a flawed place in which to live, with an array of char­ac­ter­is­tic inner-city issues. There were few ameni­ties and the flats suf­fered from water pen­e­tra­tion and oth­er struc­tur­al prob­lems.

An ongo­ing regen­er­a­tion plan is pro­vid­ing new and refur­bished hous­ing and aim­ing to improve the ‘life chances’ of res­i­dents. How­ev­er, in order to fund the project, Hack­ney coun­cil has per­mit­ted a high pro­por­tion of the prop­er­ties on the rebuilt part of the estate to be sold at mar­ket prices – often upwards of half a mil­lion pounds. Crit­ics have dubbed this “state spon­sored gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.”

In defence of the coun­cil, as Munic­i­pal Dreams points out, “it can be said they had lit­tle option in finan­cial terms – pub­lic fund­ing for large-scale coun­cil hous­ing devel­op­ment was sim­ply not avail­able. More­over, the actu­al coun­cil hous­ing stock was not dimin­ished and the pro­por­tion of ‘afford­able’ homes was – at 41 per cent – rel­a­tive­ly high.”

The ‘new lux­u­ry devel­op­ment’ was at first going to be called Wood­ber­ry Park but the whole caboo­dle now seems to be going under the Wood­ber­ry Down name.

In the first episode of the TV sitcom Birds of a Feather, Sharon reveals that Tracey and Darryl were childhood sweethearts who “met at Woodberry Down comprehensive in detention.”

Postal district: N4
Further reading: Woodberry Down Memories Group, Woodberry Down Memories: The History of an LCC Housing Estate, ILEA Education Resource Unit for Older People, 1989 (a model of participative local history)
and Harriett Reynolds Chetwynd, Comprehensive School: The Story of Woodberry Down, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960
Blog post: Municipal Dreams – Woodberry Down, Hackney: ‘the Estate of the Future’