Never ventured east of Liverpool St? The rich cultural and historical life of London Fields may surprise you
"London Fields, its pastoral title savagely inappropriate to its inner- city setting," proclaimed the Sunday Times of Martin Amis's novel set in west London. To an extent, the same may be said of the area of east London which presumably provided inspiration for the title. But, this being Hackney, it's not quite that simple. There are areas in which Keith Talent, the Amis anti-hero, would be at home - the station entrance lurks in a railway arch between a second- hand car lot and a security grill/burglar bar manufacturer - but it is also fertile ground for literary and social historians.

London Fields is a 26.5 acre park south-west of the town hall on Mare Street, bordered by Richmond Road in the north, down to the now down-at- heel Cat and Shoulder of Mutton on Broadway Market to the south. The pub (formerly the Shoulder of Mutton) takes its name from the triangular shape of the fields and the fact that it was once Lammas Land, an area where landowners permitted tenants to graze sheep over the winter. In the 16th century, London Fields was a resort for botanists searching for wild flowers and herbs, but later it performed a more grisly function as one of the burial grounds for victims of the plague of 1665.

Cricket has been played on the fields since 1789 and matches are still played there today, against a backdrop of rustling trees and tower blocks. The raised wooden terrace at the Pub on the Park on Martello Street is a good vantage point for spectators and, while not the bustling music venue it was a few years ago, the pub still has an easy-going charm, and even boasts a gravelled pitch for pitching boules. This area, previously known as Tower Street, was once occupied by the aristocracy. Tower House was the home of Captain Woodcock, whose daughter, Catherine, was the poet Milton's second wife, and Daniel Defoe took time off from writing Robinson Crusoe to stroll across the fields from Stoke Newington to court his future bride, who was resident in the same street.

Broadway Market (formerly Mutton Lane) was once on the market porters' route linking the nurseries of Hackney to the produce markets of the city. A bridge at the bottom of the market crossed a stream at the current site of the Regent's Canal, and porters carried goods in large packs on their back south via Shoreditch. A branch of F Cooke & Son, the eel and pie shop, could be a lunching spot for the adventurous, while the ivy-clad Dove pub, also in the market, provides more conventional refreshment. Sunday is perhaps the best day to visit as a small craft fair enlivens what is sadly a dying area, and a car boot sale takes place on Mentmore Street.

The only blue heritage plaque in the immediate area is for Marie Lloyd (left), music-hall artiste, who lived at 55 Graham Road (on the 38 bus route) to the north of London Fields, while Hackney's former world light- middleweight boxing champion, Maurice Hope, is celebrated with a cycle path across London Fields.

Hackney may be in "turmoil", according to Ofsted inspectors, but this sedate and melancholy corner seems strangely oblivious.