Search

Heart of Hackney: tour guide Sean walks us through our hidden history

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 April 2016

Tour guide Sean Gubbins

Tour guide Sean Gubbins

Archant

Every now and then, it’s important to stop and appreciate the history that surrounds you – that’s the belief of tour guide Sean Gubbins from Walk Hackney. So on a sunny(ish) Friday, Sean gives Victoria Ibitoye a sneak preview of his Heart of Hackney tour

Sylvester Path, complete with the Old Ship Inn - too narrow for houses but perfect for thirsty wanderers Sylvester Path, complete with the Old Ship Inn - too narrow for houses but perfect for thirsty wanderers

The Gazette spots tour guide Sean Gubbins outside Hackney Town Hall – just as well, because the first stop on his Heart of Hackney tour would have been easy to miss had we been asked to meet him there.

Sylvester Path is an ancient track leading in and out of Hackney that dates back to the early 18th century. It’s home to the Old Ship Inn, just off Mare Street, which can only be accessed from the pathway.

That’s because its original owners expected most of its business to come that way. At just a few metres wide, Sylvester Path would only have had foot traffic, no horses and carriages, so it would have been easy for a thirsty traveller to pop in for refreshment.

A little further down is number 13, one of the oldest houses in Hackney.

St Augustine's Tower St Augustine's Tower

“I was told it had been a Jewish Working Men’s club,” Sean tells the Gazette, “but that’s not totally correct. It does have an association with a Jewish organisation that formed at the beginning of the 20th century to provide welfare to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who were bombed out during the war.”

We venture down the footpath and are confronted by the old St Augustine’s Tower – more than 700 years old and still open to the public on the last Sunday of every month. Much to our displeasure, being afraid of heights, the Gazette realises Sean is planning a trip up the steps as part of our preview.

“As the population of Hackney grew, the church wasn’t big enough to take all the people,” he says, as we climb, “so they decided to build a new church at the end of the 19th century – which we now know as St John’s.

“But when they completed St John’s they didn’t have enough money to put up a tower for the bells so they kept St Augustine’s Tower.

St Augustine's offers impressive views of Hackney St Augustine's offers impressive views of Hackney

“When they eventually got enough money to build a tower they moved the bells, though one still remains in St Augustine’s Tower to strike the time.”

The tower is a Grade I listed building and affords stunning views of Hackney. The roof, in fact, is regularly used to host events and poetry gatherings.

As we venture a look, Sean shows us where banker Thomas Briggs was found murdered on the nearby railway.

“He was coming back from a meal with his niece in south London,” says Sean. “On his train journey back to Hackney Central he was attacked by a German tailor called Franz Muller who beat him and robbed him of his gold watch and spectacles.

The plaque for The plaque for "Blind Fred." Braille underneath it reads, "One thing I know is where I was blind, now I can see."

“His body was found on the line between Victoria Park railway station and Hackney Wick and he died a few hours later.”

By the time the warrant for Franz Muller was issued, he had set sail for New York, but justice came for him in the end. He was extradited, convicted and hanged.

The Gazette decides the vertiginous views and historic murder have provided enough terror for the afternoon and makes the trip back down the ancient steps. Sean, however, still has a few more stories up his sleeve.

We venture into the churchyard, where he shows us a plaque dedicated to “Blind Fred”. Blind Fred was a man from south Hackney who was born without sight and spent most of his time selling matches to people on their way to catch buses or trains.

Actor Colin Firth once lived in Sutton Place Actor Colin Firth once lived in Sutton Place

“When I started my walk there was a lady who was older than me who’d had it pointed out by her mum who remembered him,” says Sean. “He was a key staple of the community.”

Just off the churchyard is Sutton Place, one of the oldest urban terraces in Hackney. It links Homerton High Street with St John’s Churchyard and Gardens. Sean tells us the road takes its name from Thomas Sutton, who died one of the wealthiest men in England around the beginning of the 17th century, and was originally occupied by wealthy merchants and gentry.

In more modern times, a notable former resident is actor Colin Firth.

Visit walkhackney.co.uk to book a place on one of Sean’s tours

1 comment

  • Stoke Newington 'boasts' the dubious distinction of having the first ever victims of an air raid upon London. On 31st May 1915, 3-year old Elsie Leggett of Cowper Road died in that air raid, her sister Elizabeth Leggett died a few days later from her injuries. It is a great shame that no one knows where these two lay buried. Abney Park seemed the most likely place but they have no record. Surely someone out there must know or have access to records that would enable these two young girls to be recognised? Unfortunately I live outside London now so have no such access.

    Report this comment

    Reg

    Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

Latest Hackney Stories

Saturday, May 26, 2018

To listen to LCD Soundsystem through their intricately produced studio recordings, it’s easy to miss the musicianship James Murphy and his crew of unwilling rock stars command.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A display in Hackney town hall’s newly refurbished vaults will shed light on the building’s 1930s origins, and the amazing relics unearthed during its £16m revamp. Emma Bartholomew speaks to curator Jacoba Mijnssen about democracy, regalia, and the mysterious cleaning unit uncovered by workers

Saturday, May 26, 2018

So you’ve been training got the big day, it’s been, you had a great time writes Dalston PT Matt Smith, Fitness First.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Middlesex coach Richard Scott hailed his side after a third successive win in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Paul Stirling defied a thigh injury which forced him to bat with a runner to score his second century in less than a week as Middlesex beat Sussex by 74 runs at Hove in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Block Universe - an international performance art festival taking place in London - is celebrating the artform with an international lineup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The O’s will play a lot of local teams plus travel to Portugal for a seven-day training camp and it appears a good schedule for Justin Edinburgh’s side

Friday, May 25, 2018

Chelsea Clinton and local poet Jan Nobles appear at this year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival

PROMOTED CONTENT

To celebrate LGBT history month, Hackney resident Amanda talks about her journey to becoming a foster carer, with the council’s support and training.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now


Newsletter Sign Up

Hackney Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists