Interesting Places and Famous Faces
Hackney’s history is strongly associated with theatre. The Theatre (built in 1576) and the Curtain (1578) were both located in Shoreditch. The Theatre staged the first performances of some of William Shakespeare’s plays, including Romeo and Juliet. St. Leonard’s (or Shoreditch Church) was once known as the actors’ church; those buried there include Richard Burbage, a contemporary of Shakespeare. The church is referred to in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons (“When I am rich, says the bells of Shoreditch.”)
There was also a strong theatre tradition in 19th century Shoreditch: most famous was the Britannia, run for many years by Sara Lane. The nursery rhyme, Pop goes the Weasel, makes reference to the Eagle pub, a large tavern on City Road that once had an adjoining music hall (“Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle, that’s the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel”).
Without question the most famous theatre in the borough is the Hackney Empire, which opened in 1901. This brought variety theatre to a part of London where entertainers like Harry Champion and Larry Adler could always be assured of large and appreciative audiences. The Empire’s hall of fame also includes entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Stan Laurel and George Formby.
Many famous people have lived or been educated in Hackney. Marc Bolan, the lead singer of the 70s ‘Glam Rock’ band T. Rex, was brought up in Stoke Newington. Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, also lived in Stoke Newington. The writer, Edgar Allan Poe, whose works include The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven, went to the Manor House School which once stood on Stoke Newington Church Street.
Jessica Tandy, who won an Oscar for her performance in the film, Driving Miss Daisy, in 1990, was born in Geldeston Road in Clapton. In 1963 she was directed in the movie, The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most famous and influential film directors in cinematic history. Hitchcock’s directorial career also had its origins in Hackney: The Lodger (1927) was filmed at the Gainsborough Studios in Shoreditch. This silent feature marked Hitchcock out as a unique talent and showed why he would later become known as “The Master of Suspense”.
The newspaper cartoonist, Mel Calman, was born in Stamford Hill in the north of the borough. His simple, direct drawings and witty captions ensured he had a successful career spanning the Daily Express, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times.
The first bomb of World War One was dropped on Nevill Road in Stoke Newington. In more recent times, Albert Square, the setting for the BBC soap EastEnders, was modelled on Fassett Square in Dalston.
Page updated: 15 Jun 2010