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Hackney Society at 50: Old meets new in fascinating photo exhibition to mark 50 years of heritage group’s work

PUBLISHED: 10:37 07 August 2017 | UPDATED: 18:10 06 October 2017

'Cycling west on the Regent’'s Canal, such an important recreational asset to the borough and a completely different purpose to the one it was designed for.' Picture: Simon Mooney

'Cycling west on the Regent’'s Canal, such an important recreational asset to the borough and a completely different purpose to the one it was designed for.' Picture: Simon Mooney

Simon Mooney

Simon Mooney’s photographs juxtapose Hackney’s history with modern life. He tells the Gazette abut his exhibition of 50 pictures to mark the first half-century of the Hackney Society – a heritage group that has fought since 1967 to preserve the borough’s history in the face of development.

'Radical new developments on the western edge of Hackney just north of Old Street roundabout.' Picture: Simon Mooney 'Radical new developments on the western edge of Hackney just north of Old Street roundabout.' Picture: Simon Mooney

Professional photographer Simon Mooney has plucked out a selection of his favourite pictures of Hackney to plug an upcoming book about the Hackney Society’s golden anniversary.

Simon, who normally takes photos for adverts, has shot scene-setters for the book, Hackney: Portrait of a Community 1967–2017, which is due to be published in October.

It has 50 chapters. Each takes a theme for every year in Hackney since the creation of the heritage group.

In the meantime, Simon has decided to pick 50 photos for an exhibition – many of which juxtapose historical elements of Hackney with the new. One photo, for example, was taken just last weekend on the Regent’s Canal.

'Ridley Road Market - I wonder what the British Union of Fascists, who held rallies there in the 1940s would make of it now?' Picture: Simon Mooney 'Ridley Road Market - I wonder what the British Union of Fascists, who held rallies there in the 1940s would make of it now?' Picture: Simon Mooney

He said: “The light was good and there were people flying past on bicycles and the reflections of the warehouses on the water, so there’s an element of its contemporary recreational use next to its industrial use 150 years ago when barges would load goods into warehouses. I wanted to show the life and the role the canal plays, and what an incredible engineering feat it is.

“It must have become redundant quickly but now people run and cycle there and live on canal boats – things that were never intended and part of the brief. I think a lot of people would feel poorer not having it in their life, and whether it was railways or the combustion engine that replaced it, at the time it made sense to have this transport structure to get things around.”

Other photos in the exhibition are things he’s just noticed travelling around the borough with his camera.

“It might be something off the bus, the biggest barbecue you’ve ever seen on London Fields, or the name of a shop front like the God First Beauty Salon.”

'The sadly neglected Haggerston Baths, currently up for much-needed regeneration.' Picture: Simon Mooney 'The sadly neglected Haggerston Baths, currently up for much-needed regeneration.' Picture: Simon Mooney

When Simon moved to London from Dewsbury for work 20 years ago he admits he hated it at first out of “ignorance”, because it was noisy and packed. But getting involved with the Hackney Society helped open up his eyes.

“It’s a group of enthusiasts who have made it their mission to inspire and educate,” he said.

“I found there were all these people out there who know so much and are so organised. And of you know a little bit about Hackney Wick, for example, you have a sense of what we achieve in places – whether it’s from people coping with the Blitz or making incredible technological breakthroughs like Parkesine, which was the first plastic, and it was made there.

“It’s the idea of being interested as a photographer in your subject. There are layers and layers of interest to be discovered.”

Simon Mooney. Picture: Simon Mooney Simon Mooney. Picture: Simon Mooney

The beauty of the Hackney Society to him is that “it’s about so much more than heritage and conservation”. Founded in 1967, it was effectively set up to counter the council’s enthusiasm at the time to bulldoze just about everything to make way for the new housing estates.

Georgian terraces like Sanford Terrace in Stoke Newington would not be standing today were it not for the efforts of its members.

Taking photos of Sanford Terrace for the book, he met a lady who used to be a bus conductor.

“She’s 90 now, and she lives in this incredible house that was due for demolition,” he said. “The Hackney Society saved that place. Now it seems the right thing to do, but at the time it wasn’t.

'John behind the counter of Church Street Bookshop in Stoke Newington.' Picture: Simon Mooney 'John behind the counter of Church Street Bookshop in Stoke Newington.' Picture: Simon Mooney

“It’s quite reassuring that we adapt – you can’t be sad that things change because they do but when you think about development it’s good to be considered and informed - which is what the Hackney Society advises on. 
“It’s not about just looking back but looking at things now. Can they be improved or maintained?”

The exhibition will be open from 10am to 5pm until Friday at Quadra in Lansdowne Road, London Fields.

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