Stoke Newington

St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church

Tudor Stoke Newington was a small parish, with only 100 people taking holy communion in 1548. Lying to the east of Ermine Street, the Roman road from London to Lincoln ( the present A10), the parish prefix ‘ Stoke’ signifies the clearing of woodland, and although the medieval parish landscape would have consisted of open fields set in woodland and with homesteads on either side of Church Street, considerable selling of timber from the early 16th century opened more land for farming. However, 77 acres of woodland remained in 1649. Much of the new land was used for grazing - in 1570 a London butcher acquired fields near Newington Green for his animals. In nearby Brownswood- then part of Hornsey - an estate growing wheat in 1577 was wholly given over to grass by 1611.

Besides the road to Lincoln and Church Street, only four other roads were known to have existed in 1577. Green Lanes, running north from Newington Green, would have been a shifting trackway across common land, though in places its course was fixed enough to form the western boundary of the parish. It continued from Newington Green to Kingsland High Street as Cock Lane (the present Crossway). The other route - called a ‘little lane’ in 1638, ran north from Cock Lane to a large house. Later called Cut Throat Lane, and extended to Church Street, parts survive in the line of the present Wordsworth Road. A medieval bridleway running across the glebe land had been stopped up by the vicar in 1479, but the manorial court insisted on reinstating it in 1569 and as Church Path, it survived as a route from Church Street to Newington Green until the 1960s.

John Dudley's Tomb
John Dudley's Tomb

Lying close to London, Stoke Newington attracted titled incomers like the Earl of Oxford, who had a house there in 1593. John Dudley lived in the manor house, on the site of the present municipal offices, and his widow was visited by his kinsman the Earl of Leicester - whose wife’s servant died there in 1582. The Dudleys may also have entertained Queen Elizabeth, whose name was given to the track way, later path and road, that runs north along the eastern edge of today’s Clissold Park.

London and foreign merchants also bought or rented houses in Stoke Newington’s rural seclusion. Two Italian merchants were recorded in the parish in 1572 and in 1616 Cyprian Gabrie, probably a foreigner, complained that his neighbour, Sir Noell Carron, ambassador from the United Provinces, had blocked the watercourse from his house.

It is hard to estimate the population in 1601, but two years later 65 local people died of plague, and in 1674 there were sixty houses assessed for the hearth tax and a further 24 at or around Newington Green.

The main manor was held by the Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and was leased to tenants, who functioned as local lords of the manor. Around 1552 the lessee was William Patten, a teller of the Exchequer, but also a scholar. Patten held successive leases until about 1569 and was responsible for rebuilding the manor house in brick. He also substantially rebuilt the medieval St Mary’s Church so thoroughly that by the completion of the work around 1563, almost all trace of the medieval stone building vanished. Patten also added a schoolhouse on to the western aisle in 1563.

In the late 1580s the manor house was sub-let to Sir Roger Townsend, knighted at the Armada. Townsend died in 1590 and the inventory accompanying his will lists the contents of the twenty chambers, two dining chambers, gallery, kitchen and outhouses of the manor house.

If the Elizabethan Poor Law placed duties on the parish, the manor continue to govern many aspects of the daily lives of local people. Manorial court records survive for the 16th century for both courts leet - which dealt with minor local offences like the dumping of dung in ditches - and courts baron, which were concerned with people’s title to land. Sometimes the entire parish was enjoined to take action, as in 1569, when it was reported that the ditch in ‘Kellers Street’ was

"exceedingly noxious to wayfarers so that no-one is able to go across there without wading".

But sanctions were limited to fines, and as the same case came back to successive courts, were often ignored.

Manor courts could also pronounce on the quality of local ale, and in the 1570s no court was complete without the ale tasters complaining of the brew of Andrew Haynes, landlord of the Hinde, a tavern on the south side of Church Street near the junction with the High Street. In 1572, Haynes was also in trouble for "not cleansing certain stinking water within le Brewhouse" and in 1579 for bad drains.

Three Crowns - site of le Rose
Three Crowns - site of le Rose

The landlord of the neighbouring le Rose (later the Three Crowns) on the High Street seems to have escaped the attention of the manor courts - but perhaps those who made up the court drank in the Hinde more frequently than in le Rose, and thus had the matters of drains and unwholesome odours from the brewhouse directly under their nostrils. His difficulties with the manor did not stop Haynes performing his parish duties, and he duly served his stint as churchwarden - an onerous and unpaid position for any villager.

Although matters of morality were normally reserved for the church courts, domestic issues were also tackled. In 1576, one Hunter was admonished for deserting his family in winter without making proper provision for them and six years earlier John and Joan Arden were presented for receiving stolen goods and "evil government, receiving fornicators and whores in their house to bad example".

Fighting - in which people were wounded with clubs and daggers - also made the courts, but so too did the complaints of one neighbour against another. In 1580 Grace Smyth, a widow who lived in a cottage on the High Street, was presented in court for "behaving herself badly and not peacefully to her neighbours."

Perhaps the local power of the church was not always what it should be, for in 1572 a court baron presented the rector, Thomas Langley, for his continual absences "to the great detriment of divine service and defrauding the parish of the Lord's due spiritual consolation". Langley, who was a minor canon in St Paul’s Cathedral, was to be fined 20s for every three month period he continued to be absent. Here was a hint of Puritan concern for the word of the Lord, which was to make Stoke Newington a hotbed of dissent in the 17th century


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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