Largest Parish in Middlesex

Hackney village in the 16th century
Hackney village in the 16th century

In 1601 Hackney was a series of hamlets, which together formed the largest parish in the county of Middlesex. In 1605, there were 195 landholders who were supposed to pay church rates in six districts, which in order of numbers of names in each were Homerton (49), Church Street (34), Clapton (32), Mare Street (the area roughly adjoining the present Mare Street south of the site of the Town Hall) (23), Well Street and Grove Street (that area of South Hackney near the present Lauriston Road) (24), and Shacklewell, Kingsland, Dalston and ‘Newington’ combined (33). This would suggest that most people lived in the centre of the parish, in Homerton and along the present Lower Clapton Road rather than along the present A10 from London or in Stamford Hill.

Much of Hackney was pasture land, with hay being sold to power London’s large horse population. The only remaining arable land in 1601 lay in Hackney Downs in open fields. Local landholders also had grazing rights in the common lands in Hackney Downs, London Fields, Well Street common, Millfields and on Hackney marsh. There were annual appointments of drovers by the manor and the lord of the manor could impound stray beasts, which ended up in the manorial pound.

With the small settlements strung out along village streets, the lie of the land would have been much more noticeable than in modern Hackney. The land rises up from the Lea, with the steepest climb and the highest point in the parish at the top of Clapton Common. The parish was well watered. Hackney Brook ran eastwards along the north side of Stoke Newington Common, then south along the west side of Hackney Downs, south east along Dalston Lane. Just before the brook crossed Church Street, it was joined by the Pigwell Brook, which had its source near Kingsland Green, and followed roughly the line of the modern Graham Road. From Church Street, Hackney Brook ran north of Morning Lane (once called Water Lane on this part) and on the line of Wick Road to the modern White Post lane and ultimately the Lea.


Hackney was one of the places that provided drinking water to the citizens of the City of London. In 1535, a chalybeate spring between Church Street and Dalston was tapped and water piped to Aldgate. A conduit house was built at the head of the spring, near the present Navarino Road. It was out of use by 1692 and the ruined conduit house still survived in 1852, in use as a tool house for a nursery.

Hackney had been home to merchants and government office holders in the medieval period. Christopher Urswick (d.1522) was one of these - as well as being rector of Hackney, he was also a powerful churchman and a diplomat under Henry VII. There were also aristocrats who lived in the parish, including James I’s grandmother - the Countess of Lennox (d.1578), Lady Latimer (d.1583), Sir Walter Mildmay (Chancellor of the Exchequer on his death in 1589), the earl of Oxford (d.1604) and Edward, Lord Zouche (d.1625).

Seven ale-house keepers were licensed in 1552. Names of inns have changed more than once over the centuries but Hackney’s Tudor inns and alehouses may have included Flying Horse (on the west side of Mare Street on the approximate site of No. 139), the Nags Head (on the south side of London Lane at the Mare Street junction), the Horse and Groom (now an Irish theme pub on the west side of Mare Street, north of the Ellingfort Road junction) and the King’s Head, which forms the starting point of our ‘virtual reality’ tour. Other candidates may include the Eight Bells (on the site of the Railway Tavern), the Mermaid and the Rose, both on the Narrow Way, the Chequers at Kingsland and the Fleur de Luce at Clapton.


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This site, developed with funding from the New Opportunities Fund as one of the projects within Sense of Place, London, forms part of the National Archive's Education site. It was developed as a partnership between Hackney Archives Department, Immediate Theatre and the National Archive's Education Team