April 9

Hoxton is a district in the East End of LondonEngland in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of theCity of London. The area of Hoxton is bordered by Regent’s Canal on the north side, Wharf Road and City Road to the west, Old Street to the south, and Kingsland Road to the east.

Hoxton is also a ward, electing three councillors to Hackney London Borough Council. It forms part of the Hackney South and Shoreditchconstituency.

Origins of Hoxton

“Hogesdon” is first recorded in the Domesday Book, meaning anAnglo-Saxon farm (or “fortified enclosure”) belonging to Hoch, orHocq.[1] Little is recorded of the origins of the settlement, though there was Roman activity around Ermine Street, which ran to the east of the area from the 1st century. In medieval times, Hoxton formed a rural part of Shoreditch parish.[2] It achieved independent ecclesiastical status in 1826 with the founding of its own parish church[3] dedicated to St John the Baptist, though civil jurisdiction was still invested in the Shoreditch vestry. The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers remains Patron of the advowson of the parish of St John’s.[4]

In 1415, the Lord Mayor of London “caused the wall of the City to be broken towards Moorfields, and built the postern called Moorgate, for the ease of the citizens to walk that way upon causeways towards Islington and Hoxton”[1] – at that time, still marshy areas. The residents responded by harassing walkers to protect their fields. A century later, the hedges and ditches were destroyed, by order of the City, to enable City dwellers to partake in leisure at Hoxton.[1]

Tudor Hoxton

By Tudor times many moated manor houses existed to provide ambassadors and courtiers country air nearby the City. This included many Catholics, attracted by the house of the Portuguese Ambassador,[5] who, in his private chapel,[6]celebrated the masses forbidden in a Protestant country.[7] One such resident was Sir Thomas Tresham, who was imprisoned here by Elizabeth I of England for harbouring Catholic priests. The open fields to the north and west were frequently used for archery practice,[8] and on 22 September 1598 the playwright Ben Jonson fought a fatal duel in Hoxton Fields, killing actor Gabriel Spencer. Jonson was able to prove his literacy, thereby claiming benefit of clergy to escape a hanging.

Hoxton’s public gardens were a popular resort from the overcrowded City streets, and it is reputed that the name ofPimlico came from the publican, Ben Pimlico,[9] and his particular brew.

Have at thee, then, my merrie boyes, and beg for old Ben Pimlico’s nut-brown ale.[10]

The gardens appear to have been situated near Hoxton Street, known at that time, as Pimlico Path. The modern area of Pimlico derives its name from its former use in Hoxton.

Gunpowder, treason and a letter

Main article: Gunpowder Plot

On 26 October 1605 Hoxton achieved notoriety, when a letter arrived at the home of local resident William Parker, Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend the Parliament summoned by James I to convene on 5 November, because “yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow, the Parliament, and yet they shall not see who hurts them”. The letter may have been sent by his brother-in-law Francis Tresham, or he may have written it himself, to curry favour. The letter was read aloud at supper, before prominent Catholics, and then he delivered it personally to Robert Cecil at Whitehall. While the conspirators were alerted, by the public reading, to the existence of the letter they persevered with their plot as theirgunpowder remained undiscovered. William Parker accompanied Thomas Howard, the Lord Chamberlain, at his visit to the undercroft of Parliament, where Guy Fawkes was found in the early hours of 5 November.[11] Most of the conspirators fled on the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, but Francis Tresham was arrested a few days later at his house in Hoxton. A commemorative plaque is attached to modern flats at the site of Parker’s house in Hoxton Street.

Almshouses and madhouses

By the end of the 17th century the nobility’s estates began to be broken up. Many of these large houses became to be used as schools, hospitals or mad houses, with almshouses being built on the land between by benefactors, most of whom were City liverymen. Aske’s Almshouses[12] were built on Pitfield Street in 1689 from Robert Aske‘s endowment for 20 poor haberdashers and a school for 20 children of freemen. Hoxton House, was established as a private asylum in 1695. It was owned by the Miles family, and expanded rapidly into the surrounding streets being described byColeridge as the Hoxton madhouse.[13] Here fee-paying ‘gentle and middle class’ people took their exercise in the extensive grounds between Pitfield Street and Kingsland Road;[14] including the poet Charles Lamb.[15] Over 500 pauper lunatics resided in closed wards,[16] and it remained the Naval Lunatic Asylum until 1818.[13] The asylum closed in 1911; and the only remains are by Hackney Community College, where a part of the house was incorporated into the school that replaced it in 1921. At this time Hoxton Square and Charles Square were laid out, forming a fashionable area. Non-conformist sects were attracted to the area, away from the restrictions of the City‘s regulations.[1] Hoxton Market, founded in 1687, was a once thriving market that lost its trade to neighbouring markets such as those at Bethnal Green and Dalston. Westminster University student flats now occupy much of the site and a small square still exists.

Victorian era and 20th century

Hoxton HallHoxton Hall, still an active community resource

In the Victorian era the railways made travelling to distant suburbs easier, and this combined with infill building and industrialisation to drive away the wealthier classes, leaving Hoxton a concentration of the poor with many slums. The area became a centre for the furniture trade.[1]

Charles Booth in Life and Labour of the People in London of 1902 gave the following description:

The character of the whole locality is working-class. Poverty is everywhere, with a considerable admixture of the very poor and vicious … Large numbers have been and are still being displaced by the encroachment of warehouses and factories … Hoxton is known for its costers and Curtain criminals, for its furniture trade … No servants are kept except in the main Road shopping streets and in a few remaining middle class squares in the west.[1]

LBH heritage plaque, now attached to modern flats

In Hoxton Street, a plaque marks the location of the Britannia Theatre. This evolved from the former Pimlico tea gardens, a tavern and a saloon, into a 3,000-seat theatre, designed by Finch Hill. Together with the nearbyPollock’s Toy Museum, it was destroyed in Second World War bombing.Hoxton Hall, also in Hoxton Street, which survives as a community centre, began life in 1863 as a ‘saloon style’ music hall. It remains largely in its original form, as for many years it was used as a Quaker meeting house. There was also the 1870 Varieties Music Hall (by C. J. Phipps) in nearby Pitfield Street, this became a cinema in 1910, closing in 1941. Since 2003 the site has remained empty, but in 2008 it was gutted and prepared for a refurb. Local opposition to the design has resulted in the project being put on hold, so it now remains empty and “For Sale”.

In the former vestry of St Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station, just to the north of Hoxton Market, is based The Circus Space. Inside, the “Generating Chamber” and “Combustion Chamber” provide facilities for circus training and production. The building was constructed by the Vestry in 1895 to burn local rubbish and generate electricity. It also provided steam to heat the public baths. This replaced an earlier facility providing gas-light, located in Shoreditch.

Gainsborough Studios were located in a former power station, in Poole Street, by the Regents Canal. The film studios operated there from 1924 to 1951.[17] An historical plaque is attached to the building, now a modern apartment block, that occupies the site since the studios’ demolition in 2002. The plaque reads

London Borough of Hackney
The Gainsborough Film Studios 1924–1949
Alfred HitchcockMichael BalconIvor NovelloGracie Fields, “The Lady Vanishes“, “The Wicked Lady” worked and were filmed here

With a new-found popularity, large parts of Hoxton have been gentrified; this has inevitably aroused hostility among some local residents, who believe they are being priced out of the area. Some parts of Hoxton, however, remain deprived with council housing dominating the landscape.