From village to inner city deprivation

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The Independent Online
STAFF at the town hall in the jauntily named 'Heart of Hackney' know they have an image problem. Before the Romeo and Juliet saga it was inner city deprivation, crime and housing estates. As the council's Labour leader, John McCafferty, a secondary school teacher, admits: 'It's had its ups and downs.'

The statistics have not been kind. Twelve of the borough's 23 wards are registered among the top 50 most deprived wards of Greater London.

By the end of 1992, more than 5,000 families, in a population of 180,000, were registered as homeless. According to 1991 census figures, 47.9 per cent of the population live in council housing. Housing regeneration costs pounds 12m a year.

Hackney has the highest rate of unemployment in London - 25.5 per cent of the economically active population (August 1993). Social services now eat pounds 53m of the pounds 253m annual expenditure.

Average income ( pounds 11,900) also lags nearly pounds 8,000 behind that of inner or greater London. A third of families earn less than pounds 5,000 and 61.7 per cent have no car; 22.2 per cent of households lack central heating and 3.5 per cent are without or have to share a bath and/or wc.

Crime has been a great problem, with sexual offences and violence against the person on the rise (730 violent crimes and 120 sexual offences reported in 1992 - rising from 720 and 110 in the previous year).

The borough has one of the greatest concentrations of artists in Europe, with a number of West End galleries relocating to within its boundaries. The area has also become known for its racial and gay and lesbian tolerance.

Hackney, which stretches from Liverpool Street in the south to Stamford Hill in the north (a total of 4,800 acres) has enjoyed an enviable reputation in the past.

The author William Maitland records in his History of London (1756) that: 'The village of Hackney being anciently celebrated for the numerous seats of nobility and gentry, occasioned a mighty resort thither of persons of all conditions from the city of London.'

Pepys records in his diary that he and his wife went there to enjoy its gardens and 'eat cream and good cherries'. London's first theatre was built there in 1576, at Shoreditch, and the author Daniel Defoe lived nearby in Stoke Newington between 1717 and 1720.

At the opening of the 19th century, the borough was still largely rural in character. But rapid industrial development, which brought an influx of immigrants began to take its toll.

The district of Hoxton, a pleasure resort since the 16th century, became known for its slums and criminal activity. Shoreditch had already become a suburb of London in the 16th century. With industrialisation, it became known as one of the most unhealthy and crowded areas in London.

The borough is now one of the most densely populated in the capital, with 44 per cent of residents from non-white ethnic groupings. Bengali and Turkish are spoken by 18 per cent and 16 per cent of the population, respectively, with around 19 languages spoken in all.

There are fewer and fewer signs these days of the borough's historical background. Many of the parks have also disappeared. But the council says it is looking to the future and is determined to reverse the borough's decline: officials promise redevelopment to rival the Pompidou centre in Paris.