Hackney Wick is an area straddling the boundary between the London Borough of Hackney and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in east London. It is an inner-city development situated 5 miles (8 km) northeast of Charing Cross. West of its broad area, and with greater tube access, lies Hackney Central, the historic centre of Hackney Borough.
It is in the far east of the borough and it is at the southern tip of Hackney Marshes and includes part of 2012 Olympic Park west of the River Lea, (traditionally the boundary between Middlesex and Essex) and forms part of the Lower Lea Valley. Here it abuts the Waltham Forest and the London Boroughs of Newham and the district extends southwards beyond the Overground line and the boundary with the Tower Hamlets. West of the 'old' River Lea The Lee Navigation, here called Hackney Cut meets the Hertford Union Canal.
In Roman times the River Lea was a wide, fast flowing river, and the tidal estuary stretched as far as Hackney Wick. In 894, a force of Danes sailed up the river to Hertford; Alfred the Great saw an opportunity to defeat the Danes and ordered the lower reaches of the Lea drained, at Leamouth. This left the Danes' boats stranded, but also increased the flow of the river and caused the tidal head to move downriver to Old Ford.
Prior to 'modern times', Hackney Wick was an area prone to periodic flooding. The construction of the canals and relief channels on the Lea alleviated that and allowed the development of the area. In historic times, the marshes were used extensively for grazing cattle, and there was limited occupation around the 'great house' at Hackney Wick. This area as well as the marshes were historically part of Lower Homerton.
During the 19th and (early) 20th centuries, the Wick was a thriving well-populated industrial zone, as the Hackney Wick First World War memorial in Victoria Park testifies (see picture right) —the lower part of the obelisk is densely inscribed on all four faces with the names of Wick men who died in that conflict. When Charles Booth surveyed Hackney Wick in his London-wide survey of poverty during the 1890s he would have noticed that there were, amid the noxious fumes and noise, areas of lessened deprivation. Streets south of the railway such as Wansbeck and Rothbury Roads were a mixture of comfort and poverty. Kelday Road, right on the canal seemed positively middle class. To the north of the railway, streets either side of Wick Road, e.g. Chapman Road, Felstead Street and Percy Terrace were described as "very poor", with "chronic want". It was no doubt conditions such as these which hastened the involvement of Eton College about this time to instigate their urban mission in Hackney Wick.
The world's first true synthetic plastic, parkesine, invented by Alexander Parkes, was manufactured here from 1866 to 1868, though Parkes' company failed due to high production costs. In contrast shellac, a natural polymer was manufactured at the Lea Works by A.F. Suter and Co. at the Victory Works for many years. The factory at nos 83/4 Eastway commenced operation in 1927. Subsequently they relocated to Dace Road in Bow. For many years Hackney Wick was the location of the oil distiller Carless, Capel & Leonard, credited with introduction of the term petrol in the 1890s. The distinguished chemist and academic Sir Frederick Warner worked at Carless's Hackney Wick factory from 1948–1956. William J Leonard (1857–1923) was followed by his son Julian Mayard Leonard (1900–1978) into the firm, where he became managing director and deputy chairman.
The firm of Brooke Simpson Spiller at Atlas Works in Berkshire Road had taken over the firm of William Henry Perkin at Greenford Green near Harrow in 1874,but subsequently disposed of some operations to Burt Bolton Heywoodd in Silvertown. Nevertheless, Brooke Simpson Spiller is the successor company to the founding father of the British Dyestuff Industry. The company employed the brilliant organic chemist Arthur George Green (1864–1941) from 1885 until 1894, when he left to join the Clayton Aniline Company in Manchester and ultimately, when the British chemical industry failed his talents, to the chair of Colour Chemistry at Leeds University. At Hackney Wick, Green discovered the important dyestuff intermediate Primuline. He was a contemporary of the organic chemist Richard John Friswell (1849–1908) who was from 1874 a research chemist, and from 1886 until 1899 director and chemical manager. Perhaps even more distinguished was the Jewish chemist, Professor Raphael Meldola FRS, who is remembered for Meldola's Blue dye and is commemorated by the Royal Society of Chemistry's Meldola Medal. He worked at Hackney Wick from 1877 until 1885. where Meldola's Blue was discovered. A large collection of Hackney made dyestuffs is on view at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney Australia. The firm of W.C.Barnes of the Phoenix Works was also engaged in the aniline dye industry at Hackney Wick.
The confectioner Clarnico is synonymous with Hackney Wick. The company, known as Clarke, Nickolls, Coombs until 1946, arrived in Hackney Wick in 1879. Despite being taken over by Trebor Bassett, the name lives on in Bassett's Clarnico Mint Creams and also in the CNC Property company. Just after the second world war, Clarnico was the largest confectioner in Britain but moved further across the Lea to Waterden Road in 1955 where it survived for another 20 years. The company had its own brass band in the early 20th century.
Another pathfinding entrepreneur in Hackney Wick was the Frenchman, Eugene Serre. His father, Achille Serre, who had settled in Stoke Newington, introduced Dry Cleaning to England. Eugene expanded the business into a former tar factory in White Post Lane and which still carries traces of the firm's name.
Murder and the railways
Hackney Wick station is near the scene of the first railway murder. The victim, Thomas Briggs of 5 Clapton Square, was returning from dining with his niece in Peckham in July 1864 and had the misfortune to meet his murderer on the train. Two clerks discovered a compartment sticky with blood at Hackney, but Franz Muller had slipped away unnoticed to return to his lodgings at 16 Park Terrace. The victim was discovered on the line between Bow and Hackney Wick and was brought initially into the Mitford Castle public house (now the Top o'the Morning) in Cadogan Terrace and subsequently taken home where he died. A hat belonging to Muller was discovered in the compartment. In the next few days, a Cheapside jeweller came forward with Briggs's missing watch and chain, and a description of Muller. The theft was to pay for Muller's emigration to America, and he departed soon after on the Victoria, but the police went to New York by a faster boat and were awaiting his arrival in New York. He was returned to England and hanged at Newgate Prison.
Victoria Park railway station was on the North London Railway to Poplar, which closed to passengers in 1943 and to goods in the early 1980s. It was on the site of the present East Cross Route and opened in 1866 at the former junction of the Stratford and Poplar lines, replacing a short-lived station of 1856 on the north side of Wick Lane (now Wick Road). No trace of either remains. The redundant viaduct carrying the former goods line to the Millwall docks over the East Cross Route was removed in the 1990s. The present Hackney Wick railway station was built on 1854 spur from the original North London Line to Stratford. The entrance poles to the former Hackney Wick Goods and Coal Depot (a site now occupied by housing) are still to be seen beside the Kenworthy Road bridge.