Clissold House

Above: The corner of the house seen behind the trees in Clissold Park.

One of the ‘treasures’ to be found in Stoke Newington is a great house from the end of the 18th century. The house, now a Grade II listed, was built about 1795 for Jonothan Hoare, an eminent Quaker and anti-slavery campaigner, by his nephew the Quaker botanist and architect Joseph Woods.

In 1811 the house passed into the ownership of the Crawshay family, one of whose daughters was courted by the Reverend Augustus Clissold, who on acquiring ownership of the estate after marriage, changed the name of the estate to Clissold Place.

When the Reverend Clissold died in 1882, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners bought the property, intending to profit from development. However, John Runtz and Joseph Beck persuaded the Metropolitan Board of Works to purchase it in 1887, to open it as a public park. The two lakes were named Beckmere and Runtzmere in their honour.

The house and gardens were purchased in 1886 and became Clissold Park. The stretch of water which wends its way through the park was once part of the New River, bringing clean water from Hertfordshire.

Above: The attractive house stands within Clissold Park.

Clissold House, the former villa within the park, has been used as refreshment rooms and as an event location for many years. In 2007, Clissold Park was granted a substantial amount of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work on Clissold Park and the House Restoration Project started in January 2010, and over the next two years, an estimated £8.9 million was spent upgrading the property and its surrounding parkland.

The house, with its Doric columned porch, stands in Clissold Park. The park is situated on on the north side of Stoke Newington Church Street.


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New River Pumping Station, Green Lanes

Above: View of the remarkable building from Green Lanes at sunset.

Every now and then, as you walk around London, you find something so unusual that you just could not make it up. This is one of those buildings. The original route of the New River had been conceived when water-pumps had not been invented. The New River delivered water from its source in Hertfordshire by using gravity. The water from Ware travelled nearly 40 miles with the slightest incline so that it flowed to its destination in Finsbury.

By the 1850s, several amendments to the course of the New River had been made and more water was being taken from the source than when it had first been built. This required pumping stations which were in common use by Victorian times. The New River Pumping Station at Green Lanes – also known as the Stoke Newington Pumping Station – was designed by William Chadwell Mylne, the engineer for the New River Company. The remarkable brick building was erected 1854-56.

In those days, nobody wanted to see a huge ugly building on the horizon and so the design ‘camouflaged’ the actual function by making it look like an imposing castle. These days nobody wants to see an ugly building either but the public are seldom consulted and even if they complain they are told that it is the best solution for the money that has been allocated.

By 1942 the building was no longer required and the three beam engines inside it were removed. The amazing folly, looking like a huge castle, was then owned by the Metropolitan Water Board.

The round tower with a square top was built of brick with a spiral staircase running around the interior extending to the top, about 100 feet above floor level, where there is a tank which once held water which was used to prime the steam engines. The water entered the building about 40 feet below floor level. The beam-engines had flywheels which extended beyond the outer walls. To accommodate them ‘compartments’ were built out from the main walls which, on the exterior, were made to look like buttresses.

In 1994 the building was acquired for use as an indoor climbing facility. The conversion was carried out to designs of Nicholas Grimshaw and partners. The enormous building stands on the east side of Green Lanes, south of the East Reservoir for the New River.


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New River at Stoke Newington

Above: A length of the New River beside West Reservoir. Notice the wooden boarding supporting the banks. The new parish church of St Mary, Stoke Newington, can be seen through the trees.


The need for fresh water is something that is understood all around the world. The City of London grew up beside the Thames which, by Elizabethan times, was hardly drinkable. Many people in the City relied on wells in their street for water but, as the population continued to increase, those wells proved to be woefully inadequate.

In 1604, a revolutionary idea was put into practice – to bring a fresh supply of water to London from Ware, in Hertfordshire. It was the beginning of the formation of what became known as the ’New River’ which was not a river at all but a channel dug to convey water 40 miles from Ware to a reservoir at Finsbury (just north of the City of London). Initially, water was taken from springs at Ware but they dried up after about 50 years and the water was taken directly from the River Lea, just a short distance from the springs.

The distance from Ware to Finsbury is about 20 miles but the water had to be brought on a very gentle gradient, which required following the 100 foot contour, a distance of 39 miles. Over its entire length, it fell a distance of 18 feet, a gradient of only 0.00385%. The bottom of the trench was marled, using the local clay, and the sides were boarded which led to it being called the ‘boarded river’, a name which appears on Rocque’s map. The New River was ten feet wide.

Its course followed a route from Ware, at Amwell and Chadwell springs, passing: Rye Common, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Wormley, Cheshunt, Enfield, Highfield (near Southgate); Wood Green, Hornsey and Haringey, eventually flowing through today’s gardens called Finsbury Park. In Inner London, the course was: Woodberry Down, Stoke Newington, Clissold Park, Highbury Vale, Holloway, Islington and finally south to New River Head at Finsbury – where a Round Pond was constructed, being 200 feet in diameter.

By 1606 only three miles had been completed. In 1609 the Common Council of the City of London gave the work to Hugh Myddelton, a citizen and goldsmith. He brought water from springs at Ware, in Hertfordshire, to the Round Pond at New River Head. The 39 miles (62.4 km) of ‘river’ took four years to complete. It was opened on 29 September 1613. and is still in use to this day.

Above: A length of the original New River in Clissold Park. It is now in use as a water feature.

The Stoke Newington Section

The New River in North London is shown on Google maps. It is shown running under Seven Sisters Road and then almost doubling back on itself as its course is shown on the western side of two large lakes. They are known as the East Reservoir and the West Reservoir and, at one time, they acted as a storage point for the water conveyed by the New River. They are no longer used for this purpose and they act as a great open-air amenity for the local area.

Below the two reservoirs is Clissold Park which also has a smaller lake at its northern end. That too was once dug as a reservoir for the New River. Part of the original course of the New River can also be seen in Clissold Park on Google maps. It is shown as an ‘L’ shape and is now a water feature.

The New River Path, which has parts of the New River beside it, is shown on the map further south of Clissold Park. This path is in the London Borough of Islington.

The route just described was the original course of the New River. From the 1860s the New River was conveyed in pipes underground and the various pieces of water still visible are no longer fed by the present day ‘river’.

Although the New River at Stoke Newington is now no longer functional, it should be remembered that the New River remains an essential part of London’s water supply, carrying up to 48 million gallons (220 megalitres) of water daily, for treatment. This represents some 8% of London’s daily water consumption. Almost 400 years after its original construction, it remains today the largest water project in Europe. The river continues to flow, in its original ‘boarded’ channel, through the open land around the town of Ware. If you would like to see it ‘in action’ then take a trip to Ware and places just to the south of the town where the fast-flowing water can easily be seen as it passes beside open fields.


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Poe, Edgar Allan (Plaque)

Above: A plaque produced by the London Borough of Hackney to commemorate the site of a school in Stoke Newington that Poe attended.

It may come as rather a surprise that Edgar Allan Poe, who was an American born in America, has a plaque bearing his name in north London. When he was of school age, he spent part of his school days in Stoke Newington.

This famous writer was born Edgar Poe in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. He was the son of the English-born actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe (Junior), an actor from Baltimore. His father abandoned the family the year after he was born and the following year his mother died. In 1811, when still an infant, he was taken into the home of John Allan, a Richmond merchant (presumably his godfather) and of his childless wife Frances. They had the child baptised in 1812 and gave him the name Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s upbringing by John Allan was not a happy time. The Allan family later sailed for Britain in 1815 and stayed in Irvine, in Scotland, where John Allan had been born.

Poe was given a classical education at a school at Irvine and then at Chelsea, in London. By 1817 Poe was entered at the Reverend Bransby’s Manor House School, at Stoke Newington, which was a quiet village in those days.

Poe’s education later continued in Richmond (in America). For 11 months in 1826, he attended the University of Virginia, but his gambling losses at the university so incensed his guardian that he refused to let him continue and Poe returned to Richmond to find his sweetheart, (Sarah) Elmira Royster, engaged. He travelled to Boston, where in 1827 he published a pamphlet of youthful poems. Poverty forced him to join the army under the name of Edgar A Perry but, on the death of Poe’s foster mother, John Allan purchased his release from the army and that helped him get an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before going, Poe published a new volume at Baltimore in 1829. He successfully sought expulsion from the academy, where he was absent from all drills and classes for a week. He moved to New York City and brought out a volume of Poems, containing several masterpieces, some showing the influence of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Much more could be written about his life but there are many sources of information which provide far more detail than will be given this blog. Poe had a short life being found on the streets of Baltimore in October 1849 . Although he was taken to hospital he died a few days later, aged only 40. Poe’s death remains a mystery – almost as intriguing as one of his own mystery stories.

There are few people who have not heard about Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ while many are all too familiar the spine-chilling story. Poe was a writer, editor and literary critic, best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is remembered for his horror stories today but there was much more to the American writer who had quite an influence on literature in his day.

Above: A bust of Poe, high up on the same building as the plaque.

In Stoke Newington, the residents are really proud of the connection with Poe and their locality. A bust of Poe, commissioned by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Prague, was unveiled on Saturday 4 June 2011 at the site of the Manor House School in Stoke Newington, where Edgar spent three years studying between 1818 and 1820. Poe’s school years had a profound effect on him. They are featured in his tale called ‘William Wilson’. The bust is high up on the front wall of the building. There is also a Brown Plaque, one of a series produced by the London Borough of Hackney. It was unveiled on 4 June 2011. Both plaque and bust are to be seen on the building which stands at No 172 Stoke Newington Church Street.

Poe was a literary pioneer in four particular areas. Firstly, as a poet – his poetry alone would ensure him a place in literary fame. Secondly, as a master of the macabre – with his horror stories of psychological depth and insight which were not known before his time and have scarcely been seen since. Thirdly, as a pioneer of Science Fiction, being fascinated by the science of his day, causing him to write stories about new inventions. Fourthly, as the father of the detective story – with ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. His concept of deductive reasoning, which he called ‘ratiocination’ inspired countless authors, most famous among them being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.


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St Mary, Stoke Newington (New)

Above: The impressive church complete with its tall spire seen from Clissold Park.

Although Stoke Newington still has its original parish church, across the road it also has its new church which is among the grandest in Inner London.

In 1851 the Reverend Thomas Jackson proved to be very popular, with people coming from all over London to hear him preach and so the need arose for a larger place of worship on a site facing the old one. The building cost £17,000 which was raised by voluntary subscriptions to have the magnificent new Gothic-style church erected 1851-58, designed by the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The consecration service took place on the morning of 30 June 1858 in the presence of the Bishops of London and Pennsylvania, assisted by 20 clergymen. Many features revealed to the congregation included seating for 1,100, with some free places for women and children and the new organ costing about £1,200. The first vicar was the Reverend Thomas Jackson. However, due to lack of funds, the building of the steeple had to be postponed giving rise to the rhyme:

Stoke Newington is a funny place with lots of funny people,
Thomas Jackson built a church but could not build a steeple.

The spire designed by John Oldrid Scott was added in 1890 and the seating was increased to 1,300. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 4 curates assisting the Rector, 120 Sunday School teachers with 1,000 scholars, 100 choristers and 140 mission visitors. Restoration work and the installation of electric lighting took place during the 1920s.In 1935 a legacy from Sir Herbert Ormond, Mayor of Stoke Newington and a lifelong member of St Mary’s, enabled the organ to be rebuilt to a very high standard. Tragedy struck when bombs fell on both churches during the London blitz in October 1940, in the Second World War. The ‘old’ church was soon repaired and services, including weddings, were held there from Christmas of that year.

Extensive repairs to the ‘old’ Church were completed by 1953 and in 1957 the ‘new’ church was re-dedicated after considerable restoration work – which included the installation of a new organ and stained glass windows. In 1960 a window of an unusual design was placed in the north transept commemorating all who have worshipped here over the years.

The handsome church is Grade II* listed and stands on the south side of Stoke Newington Church Street, opposite the old one.


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St Mary, Stoke Newington (Old)

Above: The old church, standing in its original churchyard. The view in the winter months, when there are no leaves on the trees, maybe a little stark but when the leaves have formed most of the church is hidden by dense foliage.

The church has such a rural look to it that you might assume it was deep in the heart of the countryside. Stoke Newington is full of surprises and the charming church is just one of the unusual features of this part of London. The contrast between the old and new St Mary’s is striking. The old church is a 16th century, described as a ‘small homely building of brick’ with its churchyard beside Clissold Park.

Little of the early history of the parish is known – other than it was one of the ancient parishes of Inner London. The Manor of Stoke Newington was established by AD 940 – prior to its inclusion in the Domesday Book (1086). There could have been a simple chapel in early times, to cater for the small farming community.

A rector was first recorded in 1314 to the church at Stoke Newington, which was a peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is the earliest mention of the parish. Patronage was exercised by the Crown in 1404 because of the ‘voidance of the bishopric’ by the Dean and Chapter from 1414 to 1580 and by the Prebendary of Newington from 1585 to 1830. After the foundation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, patronage passed to the Bishop of London who first exercised it in 1852.

By 1563, the local population had risen to about 100 and the church had become almost derelict. It was ‘new-builded’ in that year by the Lord of the Manor, Sir William Patten. The date and the motto ‘ab alto’, meaning ‘from above’, can be seen above the main door. The main surviving structure from Patten’s time is the south aisle which appears to have been designed as a private chapel for himself and his family. The red brickwork on the walls and the arcade separating the chapel from the nave also date from Patten’s time. The red brick tower is also the same date.

In 1829 Sir Charles Barry added an extra north aisle to the church, he extended the chancel and added the spire.

In 1851 the old church contained 150 free sittings and 545 for which pew rents were paid. It was attended on census Sunday by 700 in the morning, 120 in the afternoon, and 210 in the evening. In 1853 the vestry set up a committee to consider increasing the accommodation, especially for the poor. It was argued that many ‘highly respectable families’ had joined other congregations solely because there was no room in the parish church.

In 1851 the Reverend Thomas Jackson proved to be very popular, with people coming from all over London to hear him preach. This led to a need for a new, larger place of worship on a site facing the old one.

The old church was badly damaged in the bombing in 1940, during the Second World War. In 1953 it was restored and the north side was rebuilt. Further post-war repairs included the removal of most of the 19th-century box pews and only a few remain to be seen. The interior of the church was remodelled in 2013 with the addition of facilities for holding functions.

The old church remains on the north side of Stoke Newington Church Street. It is the only surviving Elizabethan Church in London and one of the oldest in the country to have been built as an Anglican church. Stoke Newington Church Street, by the way, is the longest street name in Greater London.


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Stoke Newington Overview

Above: The view looking west in Stoke Newington Church Street.

Formed at the turn of the 20th century and combined with Hackney and Shoreditch into the London Borough of Hackney in 1965, the Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington defines an area of London that seems to have parts that ‘time forgot’. While most of Inner London has seen more than its fair share of change since the 1960s, Stoke Newington is certainly changing but at a far slower rate. A trip to see Stoke Newington Church Street – which runs west off Stoke Newington High Street – will reveal a village atmosphere of a street with small independent shops that the rest of London can only wonder at.

It is probably because Stoke Newington Church Street lacks any railway stations or underground stations that the surrounding area has not seen the overdevelopment that other parts of London have endured. One local shop in this street has a great ‘take’ on the situation with a poster in its window bearing the words ‘There’s no underground, so get over it!’ There is a railway station but it is a little remote from this particular street. The districts of Dalston and Shoreditch (both within the same London Borough of Hackney) have suffered from overbearing housing blocks being constructed over the last few years. They continue to suffer at the moment, probably because they both have good Overground connections.

The name Stoke Newington is actually rather like a short description rather than a name. ‘Stoke’ comes from the Saxon word ‘Stoc’ meaning ‘a wood’ – in this case, the surrounding area that was once extensive, wooded and known as the Middlesex Forest. The word ‘Newington’ was written in ancient records as ‘Newtone’ or ‘Neweton’ meaning ‘new town’. The whole name, therefore, means ‘new town or settlement in the woods’. Although this is the only ‘stoke’ in Inner London, there are a large number of place-names throughout England that have ‘Stoke’ in them – including the city of Stoke itself, more correctly called Stoke-on-Trent.

Above: An outline map showing the London Borough of Hackney (in PINK) and the old Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington bounded by a dotted line (in YELLOW). The centre is the village is around the two parish churches (YELLOW dot) which are either side of Stoke Newington Church Street.

It is interesting to note that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, Stoke Newington and Newington Green (which is just outside the western boundary of Stoke Newington) were a haven for non-conformists. Many non-conformist religious leaders set up chapels in Stoke Newington and congregations grew up with residents choosing to live in the area to be near their place of worship. To be a non-conformist or dissenter at that time meant that you worshipped with a style church service (usually on a Sunday) that did not conform to the State-prescribed form of Church of England service. If you worked in a large organisation in the City – like a bank – and you were found to be a non-conformist, you would probably have lost your job. You were viewed as a ‘social outcast’ just because you attended a church that did not worship using the Church of England Prayer Book.

In the 18th century, Stoke Newington was so ‘remote’ from Central London (which was essentially Westminster and the City of London) that you could work in your bank during the week and live in Stoke Newington where religious freedom was tolerated. You would keep a low profile at your place of work when the subject of where you worshipped on a Sunday was discussed. Many important people in the financial world of that time did just that.

Another aspect of Stoke Newington Church Street is that it runs west off the main road out of the City – namely the A10 which is formed of Bishopsgate, Shoreditch High Street, Kingsland Road, Stoke Newington Road, Stoke Newington High Street and eventually Stamford Hill. Not being on that main route but ‘shelterd’ from it, has allowed the village to develop at its own pace, without the clatter of busy traffic passing through it.

Even today, many Londoners who visit Stoke Newington but live in another part of London will often comment on how it feels like a village as soon as they arrive. It is just something you ‘sense’ and, of course, immediately enjoy. Stoke Newington Church Street is served by local shops, cafes, several pubs and numerous restaurants. In addition, there is the tranquillity of the large Abney Park Cemetery, the extensive Clissold Park, the charming setting of the old parish church and the ostentatious elegance of the Victorian one.

In the early 17th century, Stoke Newington was one of the villages through which the New River passed. The New River was a grand scheme to bring much-needed fresh water to London by constructing an artificial water-course, running over 40 miles from Ware, in Hertfordshire, ending at Finsbury, just north of the City of London. Most of the route through Stoke Newington is no longer used because large pipes underground convey the water along a slightly different route but some of the original water-course is still to be seen, now more of a water feature in the area and also in Clissold Park.


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