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18 June 2012

Haggerston Park celebrates its 55th anniversary

JUNE 2012 marks the 55th anniversary of the opening of Haggerston Park, which saw an area that had been scarred by industry and derelict housing transformed into a much-loved open space.

Originally the site, like much of Hackney, was agricultural land producing meat and vegetables to feed City residents. As Hackney expanded from a village into a suburb, the farmland was lost.

The Regent’s Canal cut through it, cramped terraced houses were built, and various industries moved in, one of which – tile making – is marked by the French word for it in the name of nearby Tuilerie Street.

The largest industry was the gas works, built in 1821. Coal was brought by barge, along the canal and into the purpose-built Haggerston Basin, to feed iron retorts where gas was produced before being stored in a huge cylindrical holder.

Production at Haggerston Works would continue until the middle of the 20th century, when the site, along with many of the houses surrounding it, was hit by a V2 rocket during the Blitz in 1944.

The gas works closed in 1949, and the canal basin was filled in. The surrounding land was gradually cleared, but remained empty for a decade, during which time London County Council decided the site should be made into a 25-acre public park.

There was opposition to the proposal from Rev H A Wilson, rector of St Augustine’s in Yorkton Street, who felt housing should take precedence over a park. All challenges were overruled however, and the first five acres of the new park were opened on 20 June, 1956, by Edwin Bayliss, chairman of the LCC Parks Committee, who said: “I am sure we all appreciate this wonderful breath of fresh air that has arrived in Shoreditch.”

The design, by architect Rupert Lyell Thorpe, followed a nautical theme with a flagpole representing a ship’s mast, a compass style sundial, curved brickwork reminiscent of lifeboats, and a balcony along the old gas works wall like a ship’s bridge.

There was also formal landscape planting, a sunken garden where the canal basin had once stood, and a canvas-covered entertainment area on the site of the old gas holder.

Haggerston Park was gradually expanded over the following decades as more land became available, allowing for the development of new features. Today there are football and cricket pitches, a table tennis table, BMX track, and playground alongside a pond and woodland area where nature conservation can be studied.

The park’s wide variety of amenities led to it being awarded a prestigious Green Flag in 2006, recognising it as one of the country’s best green spaces.

Originally created by residents in the 1980s, Hackney City Farm is one of the park’s main attractions. A community resource that brings a countryside experience to all, its presence sees the site come full-circle with a return to the agricultural activities that once thrived there.

This article was compiled by staff from the Hackney Archives service, for more info visit: www.hackney.gov.uk/archives

The site of Haggerston Basin where the canal has been filled in

The site of Haggerston Basin where the canal has been filled in

The site of Haggerston Basin where the canal has been filled in View of Haggerston Park and the buildings surrounding it Post-war clearance of bombed streets surrounding Haggerston Park

Archives,Hackney History,News

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