The whole of Hackney road was subject to compulsory purchase in the late 1960s to enable the building of an elevated dual carriageway running from Hackney Wick across Victoria Park to Bethnal Green. The road would probably have been named The Eastway” to form a pair with The Westway, and a short section of road is still called this today where the Hackney Wick Old Baths are.
It was part of the GLC London Ringways scheme that would have involved the construction of miles of motorways across the city and demolition on a massive scale. But due to the huge costs and widespread public opposition, most of the scheme was scapped in 1973. The Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, and The Westway were the only significant parts to be built. Hackney Road, meanwhile, entered a long period of decay. The land was sold off wholesale to speculators, many of whom just sat on it for years. Waiting for the buildings to fall down or for property prices to rise.
Now both of those events have finally happened and Hackney Road is set to rise again.
If you walk down Hackney Road from the Western end. Starting at ground zero or Kebab Zero as it’s recently refurbished colours show, you get a potted history of ancient and recent cultural developments in Shoreditch. Next to kebab Zero is Brown’s gentlemens’ entertainment venue. In 1998 I was walking my bouncy spaniel and bouncy 2 year old daughter in the churchyard of St Leonard’s Shoreditch when a particular gentleman who had been ejected from Browns presumably for not being gentlemanly enough returned with a gun and shot the bouncer responsible for his expulsion. The helicopter sponsored by Virgin from London Hospital landed in the middle of Shoreditch High Street to wish the victim to A&E. Willow, the daughter loved the helicopter but Star the dog did not.
A later arrival on the scene was the happy sailor tattoo parlour opposite the ironic George and Dragon which is an achingly trendy bar which used to be a shoe wholesaler which used to be a pub. And so the movement goes full circle.
I have lived in and around Hackney Road for 30 years in places variously attributed as Bethnal Green, Hoxton, Shoreditch, and Haggerston and I have watched it’s painfully slow emergence from planning blight that saw the whole road compulsorily purchased in the late 1960s to make way for the East End’s equivalent of the Westway. An inner city expressway to connect the city with the suburbs of Essex without the inconvenience of the tower blocks in between. I used to think Tower Hamlets was named for the tower blocks it contained in such numbers. When the plans were shelved as too expensive ( but not as expensive as the 1990’s East Cross was going to be later ) the property was sold off in job lots to speculators most of whom having been sitting on it waiting for it to fall down or the area to rise up, ever since. With a few notable exceptions the road was wiped clean of residents and businesses. But now they’re coming back.