Walking down Mare Street, vibrant even in these days of restrictions, it’s hard to reconcile today’s Hackney with pictures from the past. Shop-lined roads were once babbling streams, pubs were market gardens and this bastion of hip, edgy, urban creativity was a remote village where people retreated for a taste of idyllic countryside. But then, few places have changed more over time than this corner of East London.
According to local lore, the small settlement that sprung up along the Roman roads to Lincoln and Colchester owes its name to a Danish chief called Hacon, whose eye — islet—this was. No trace remains of this early history, but some medieval records indicate that the Knights Templars owned about 110 acres in the Hackney Marshes and built some mills on the River Lea — hence today’s Temple Mills. The village’s first parish church, St Augustine, was named after the Templars’ patron saint.