Hackney’s ‘second oldest house’ will come back to life after 20 years of abandonment.

195 Mare Street is to become an “inclusive and low cost” community space for “local artists, makers and craftspeople” after being bought by a Hackney-based couple.

Before this it saw 14 years of being “neglected” by developers and inhabited by squatters, until 2018 when one developer undertook partial repairs.

The house was home to the Elizabeth Fry Institute for Reformation of Women Prisoners between 1860 and 1913, named after the social reformer behind the prison system transformation in the early 1800s.

Elizabeth Fry, commemorated on the back of the £5 note from 2002 to 2017, was instrumental in the establishment of women-only prisons with female wardens to address sexual abuse problems.

Fittingly, the new owner - also called Elizabeth - is co-founder of women’s reproductive rights charity Birthrights, and currently writing a book on the history of childbirth.

Hackney Gazette: A mid-20th century photo of 195 Mare StreetA mid-20th century photo of 195 Mare Street (Image: Unknown)

Elizabeth Prochaska, a former human rights lawyer, said: “It's kind of weird, it was spooky when we went to look around.

“I was like ‘oh my god, the house is speaking to me’! It’s really awesome.

“The house is a really important part of Hackney's history so I'm hoping that people will enjoy learning about Hackney through it, because there's so many stories connected to it that talk about Hackney’s wider history.”

The 7,500sq m house was built in 1697 as a country mansion for a wealthy city merchant.

Hackney Gazette: The house was originally a mansionThe house was originally a mansion (Image: Elizabeth Prochaska)

After its use by the institute ended it became a working men’s club in 1913 until it was abandoned in 2004.

Squatters moved in and gave free bike repair and welding workshops, hosted art events, political meetings, and undertook restoration work before their final eviction in 2017.

“The house just degraded and degraded and the squatters were there making sure it was alright really, so we’ve got a lot to thank them for really,” Mrs Prochaska said.

Hackney Gazette: A historic fireplaceA historic fireplace (Image: Elizabeth Prochaska)

A developer’s planning application for restoration works was signed off in 2018. At the time, The Hackney Society chair Nick Perry said they would be “monitoring progress carefully” and the developer should be “under no illusion the council are a lot keener to ensure progress is made than once they were".

The house is “very unfinished but safe” and will be inhabited by Mrs Prochaska, her husband Duncan Clark and three children after they complete final restoration works.

In the meantime, Mrs Prochaska and Mr Clark will host an open day on the May 13 for people to look around the house and have a meal, to which all local residents are invited.

It is currently being used by local artists and will host an exhibition by local painter Sam Hodge in June.