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History of the Common

Aerial View of Well Street CommonMap showing Well Street Common in 1831; note expanse of open space surrounding Common. (Image Courtesy of LBH Archive)

Well Street Common has an interesting history. The Common is recorded as early as 1442 as ‘Well Street Field’, to the west of a small hamlet along Well Street (the Common has also been recorded as ‘South Hackney Common’ at various stages of its history).

The hamlet was one of two in the area which are recorded as having 24 inhabitants in the early 1600’s and were eventually joined up by building. Development around the hamlets was shaped by the various trustees of the surrounding land (such as the Sir John Cass estate) as well as developments such as St Thomas’s Hospital. By the 1790’s various building works had taken place in the area including the development of Hackney Terrace on Cassland Road on which building commenced in 1792.

The houses of Hackney Terrace were designed for affluent residents and were given exceptionally long rear private gardens as well as a communal walled pleasure-ground entered by a gate at the bottom of each house’s garden; the pleasure ground also had a gate out onto the Common.

Under the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866 the district board in Hackney petitioned for the enclosure of nearly 180 acres of land collectively described as ‘Hackney Commons’. This act gave common lands in the borough – including Well Street – special statutory protection and also provided for the better management of common land.

The common Circa 1890Well Street Common c. 1890 (Courtesy of LBH Archives, P1030)Aside from the Common and Victoria Park, the area was mainly residential by 1869 and was well served by shops along Well Street. Ten years later the neighbourhood also contained various industrial premises including 17 leather working factories (the area was later zoned by the London County Council as ‘residential’ which imposed restrictions on any further development of industry). Around the Common, Gascoyne Road to the east was completed in 1870, Meynell Road to the north was occupied from 1877, a strip by Victoria Park Road on the south was taken for villas from 1891 and the lawn behind Hackney Terrace to the north west was taken for Meynell Crescent from 1893. By the 1890’s development around the Common and Victoria Park was so dense that the only space left to build was in the grounds of some of the older residences. During this period the roads facing the Common and Victoria Park were occupied predominantly by ‘well to do’ families.

The area surrounding the Common suffered widespread bomb damage in 1940 and much post war redevelopment was required. Part of this redevelopment was the creation in 1949 of the Gascoyne Estate which extends south across the middle of Cassland Road to reach Well Street Common.

Notes in Literature

George Grocott was born in 1846 and brought up in Hackney. He became Hackney's first Town Clerk. His book was published to raise money for the Mayor of Hackney's fund for those affected by what became known as the Great War. 'South Hackney Common' is what we know as Well Street Common.

Here is an excerpt from his book, 'Hackney Fifty Years Ago', written in 1915.

"This common, bounded on one side by Victoria Park, was at the period I have referred to nearly surrounded by open lands, the Common itself being enclosed by posts and chains. It had nothing like the rough usage of London Fields or Stoke Newington Common, and, being in close proximity to Victoria Park, it only came in for a share of the sports. As the neighbourhood surrounding the Common began to develop, the necessity for supervision became very urgent, as the undesirable characters who frequented it were a source of annoyance to the residents of the superior class houses abutting thereon. Good lighting, proper paths, and thorough supervision have remedied this, and now South Hackney possesses a well-kept and popular recreation ground, largely patronised by the general public as well as the residents of the immediate neighbourhood. Although practically all of the available land has now been developed, the existence of these bright and ample open spaces, together with the broad roads and smaller plantations, will always secure for this part of the borough of Hackney the reputation for being one of the healthiest in the Metropolis".

More History

If you have any historical information about the Common or its surrounding area (especially pictures) why not let us know.

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