Geffrye Museum

Geffrye Museum

I have fond memories of Hackney having worked there in the 1990s. Back then it was a place of intrigue, tension and controversy. The place has changed a lot since then but there are still tensions. Recently, a plan to knock down the Marquis of Lansdowne pub to make way for an extension of the Geffrye museum met with community outcry. The former almshouses in Kingsland Road were converted into a museum in 1914 devoted to the history of domestic interiors. Well actually the interiors of the middle classes and now the museum wanted to demolish that symbol of working class culture, the pub. The pub survived.

One of the interiors from Geffrye Museum

One of the interiors from Geffrye Museum

The original fourteen almshouses were built for ironmongers widows in 1715 by Sir Robert Geffrye a former Lord Mayor and Master of the Ironmongers company. Set back from the road by a courtyard with trees it has an almost rural atmosphere. Across the road is the post war Geffrye Estate and around the corner are some very grand Georgian terraces. It’s one of those places that reflect all that’s good in London, a rich mix of the old and new, the have and have nots and the different ethnic groups.

Geffrye Estate

Geffrye Estate

But all is not well; there are so few affordable homes here and in the new developments along the river ordinary Londoners are, in effect, being pushed out. The social fabric is changing and not for the better. It’s London’s modern version of the Highland Clearances.

Arnold Circus

Arnold Circus

A walk down Columbia Road when there isn’t a flower market is a very different experience. It’s the first time I had really noticed the primary school and the noise of children playing. The street made up of artisan terraced dwellings is bordered with Guinness Trust buildings. The trust was formed in 1890 by Sir Edward Guinness to provide housing for the urban poor. This is no longer a place for that group. A two bedroom apartment in this part of town will cost about £500k; flats in the Geffrye Estate are marginally less. Well on to Arnold Circus, the country’s first council estate opened 1896.

Graffiti close to Arnold Circus

The artwork on the walls leading to the estate is a clue that this is now a place for creatives. Tenements radiate from a central elevated circus. A group of very fit people occupied this focal point following instructions from their personal trainer. Even on a grey February day the trees on either side of the streets add a pastoral quality. Specialist unique shops, bars and restaurants add the air of wealth. This East End area is now unaffordable for the majority of Londoners.

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