Mare Street and London Fields

Barber's Barn
Barber's Barn

Modern Mare Street runs from Cambridge Heath Road to Lower Clapton Road, but before 1868 the name applied only to the road south of the vicinity of the present Hackney Town Hall.

Mare Street was a distinct settlement in 1593, probably with houses near the Well Street junction, possibly including the pub known later as the Flying Horse. There may also have been houses at the Triangle, where the modern Westgate Street was then Sheep Lane - the name later applied to another lane leading from the present Westgate Street and running parallel with Mare Street. By then, the first Sheep Lane had become Mutton Lane, probably from the Shoulder of Mutton Field or from the pub of the same name (later the Cat and Mutton). There were ponds at the Cambridge Heath end of the road.

Mare Street residents in 1602 included Thomas Catcher, a moneyer and a Mr De Quester, likely to be James De Quester, a foreign merchant. These two and some other residents were all London citizens - this area was more than convenient for those with business in the City.

The location of very few Tudor houses on Mare Street are known for certain, since the majority were demolished or rebuilt before they could be recorded by artists. One that did was Barber’s Barn, a three storeyed gable ended house just south of the present junction with Darnley Road, which is reputed to have been built around 1590. Home to the regicide Colonel John Okey, who was executed in 1662, it ultimately passed to nurseryman Conrad Loddiges, who pulled it down to build a modern terrace on the site - probably in the 1790s.

Fashionable Homerton

Mathias L'Obel
Mathias L'Obel

Homerton had its origins as a hamlet north of the course of Hackney Brook. At the western end of what became Homerton High Street, a path ran across the Church Field to Hackney Church, whilst the road turned north to link with the road to Clapton. This road, now Urswick Road, was Upper Homerton, while the High Street, dropping down at its eastern end and becoming Marsh Hill, was Lower Homerton or Humberton Street. A lane went south to the Blew Bridge across the Hackney Brook - this is the modern Ponsford Street - and the dip in the road before it meets Morning Lane, marks the site of the brook.

By the end of the 16th century there were more people paying church rates in both parts of Homerton than in any of the five divisions of Hackney. These divisions covered quite broad areas, but most of the inhabitants would have had houses fronting on to Urswick Road, Homerton High Street and Marsh Lane. High Street residents included wealthy London merchants, who wanted a home in the country close enough for them to retain their ties with the City, while Upper Homerton also had some noble residents.

One of these was Edward, Lord Zouche, resident at the time of the Daniells, who lived in a house on the north side of Homerton High Street, probably on the site of the present Dean Close. He had bought a freehold house “upon the corner of Humberton Street” in 1595. Zouche’s grounds included a physic garden and he employed Matthias L’Obel as his gardener. L’Obel gave his name to the lobelia.

The herbalist, John Gerard, visited Hackney and was given foreign seeds from Zouche’s garden. Gerard also commented on the quality of the locally grown small turnips! Zouche ceased to be a Hackney resident before his death in 1625 and it is likely his house was sold in 1620 to Sir Julius Caesar, Master of the Rolls. It may have been the seat of Sir Thomas Cooke from 1672 and if so, after his death in 1695 the estate was bought by Joseph Brooksbank, who was a Hackney resident by 1712. The house may have been retained until Joseph’s son, Stamp Brooksbank, had completed the grand Palladian Hackney House in 1732. Thereafter it was demolished and the site used for the stables of the new house. (The cellars of the old house came to light during site clearance of Victorian houses in the 1970s).

Zouche’s house was approached from Homerton High Street by a long drive. On the south side of the road, at the junction with the modern Urswick Road, stood two large houses, built on a field called Alfordscroft. The earliest, to the west, was the Tanhouse - in existence in 1499. Sir John Heron, who had substantially contributed to the rebuilding of Hackney Church, bought the land in 1511. The second house was the work of Ralph Sadler, who had been a member of Thomas Cromwell’s household and was subsequently in Henry VIII’s service. Sadler’s father bought the Tanhouse estate in 1521 and Ralph built “the bryk place” on a cramped site to the east of the Tanhouse in 1535-6.

This is today’s Sutton House, Hackney’s oldest surviving domestic building. The modern name came from Thomas Sutton (d.1611), the founder of London’s Charterhouse and supposedly England’s richest commoner at the time of his death, though Sutton probably lived in the Tanhouse next door. Sadler’s new house was built on an ‘H’ plan, with two wings linked by a central range. Both wings are angled to the east, making the most of the limited land available. The front of the house was decorated with diapered or overfired bricks giving a lozenge and diamond pattern. Rooms included a great hall with a dais at the west end for a high table, and a great chamber above with linen-fold panelling. Beyond this was the main bed chamber with its own privy. The top floor would have been for servants and children.

Sadler sold his house and land to John Machell the elder in 1551. Machell was a City of London alderman. The house passed through many hands, including the Vyner family who had also acquired the Black and White House on Church Street. One wing received a Georgian front in 1741-3 and it was divided into two in 1752. After being united again and serving as the St John’s Church Institute from 1890, the house was acquired by the National Trust in 1938. Tenanted for many years, a successful local campaign in 1984-7 persuaded the Trust to refurbish Sutton House and it is now open to the public.

The most striking of Homerton’s 16th century buildings was the ‘Plough’ range, which stood on the north side of the High Street, opposite the lane running down to the Blew Bridge. This timber framed building of two storeys with gables in the roof, ran over 290' from Furrow Lane (once Plough Lane) to the lost Bannister Street. There may have been a courtyard behind the range, and it could once have belonged to a wealthy Londoner or a medieval royal official. By our period it was probably already divided, as Homerton’s older houses were subdivided. A smaller house on the south side of the street had been divided into four by 1598.

By the early 18th century the western end of the ‘Plough’ range had become the Plough public house and the adjoining properties became shops in the early 19th century. The entire range, with altered fronts, was still intact in 1840 but was demolished in successive stages from the eastern end, with the last original part going in 1887.


Hackney’s 18th century workhouse on the south side of Homerton High Street had also been one of Homerton’s grand houses. It was still a good buy when the Jewish jeweller Isaac Alvares bought it in 1674, becoming Hackney’s first recorded Jewish inhabitant. It was a timber frame building, with three gables, plastered at the front and with irregular brick built extensions at the rear when it was drawn in 1841, shortly before it was demolished.

Further down the hill there was a large house on the corner of Pratt’s Lane (on the site of the present Glyn Road) and the High Street in 1565. Down Marsh Hill and on the north, a moated enclosure once surrounded Tower Place. This is likely to have been a substantial house in 1605, but was ruined by 1684. The moat survived as part of the grounds of Marsh House, which was probably built after the Tudor period until 1910, when it was removed for the construction of Trehurst Road.


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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