Updated: Apr 23
Did you know that a man was once buried in Stoke Newington with a bell attached to his wrist – for fear of being buried alive!
If you hear a ringing coming from the Wilmer Place Car Park, Quaker John Wilmer’s taphophobia may have been well founded! Though this was 1764, so if he wasn’t dead when they buried him – he certainly is now.
This is one of many surprising revelations we’ve dug up (excuse the pun) in an attempt to amaze and delight you! Make yourself a cuppa and read on.
Better known is that Stoke Newington has been home to the nation’s most colourful characters – from Daniel Defoe to Barbara Windsor!
Defoe: author, journalist and investor in tobacco, bricks and civet cats!
Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, also wrote some pretty punchy pamphlets criticising the way certain people practised their religions. He lived in a house on the corner of Church St and what is now Defoe Road (look out for the blue plaque) and it wasn’t unusual for him to escape his adversaries via the rooftops of neighbouring properties.
When the authorities finally caught up with him and put him in the pillory for alleged libel, he was so popular among the people that instead of throwing rotten fruit at him, they threw flowers (1703).
Throughout his 20s Defoe saw himself as a kind of venture capitalist – investing in various get-rich schemes – he traded in cows, tobacco, bricks, hosiery, honey, land, wine and even bought 70 civet cats (they were valued for their anal glands which have an oily substance that can be turned into perfume – ew!). He quickly depleted his wife’s sizeable dowry and bankruptcy came more than once.
One of the people Defoe was most outspoken against was Sir Thomas Abney (1640-1722) who lived in Abney House on Church St (where the cemetery entrance is now) and was co-founder of the Bank of England.
In the 1500s, when the area was mainly meadow and pasture, rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth I and nobleman Robert Dudley conducted an affair in a Manor House in Church St, a love-story that has fascinated historians for centuries. The house has since been demolished and now 176 Church St stands in its place.
In the 1700s, the highwayman Dick Turpin deprived travellers of their belongings on nearby Stamford Hill Road and elsewhere. He was later found guilty of horse-stealing and sentenced to death.
In the 1960s Stoke Newington was a stomping ground for the infamous Kray Twins - it was here that Reggie Kray stabbed Jack McVitie to death (in the basement flat of 97 Evering Road).
Stoke Newington celebrities
Among the celebrities calling this fabulous place home today are radio personality Nick Grimshaw, musicians Paloma Faith and Thurston Moore, newsreader George Alagiah and comedian Stewart Lee (who draws inspiration for his shows from the range of different people living here). Rapper Professor Green went to Stoke Newington Secondary School.
Barbara Windsor grew up in Yoakley Road and Bouverie Road. Singer Leona Lewis grew up just up the road in Stamford Hill.
Abney Park was the setting for Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black video – the original video featured Winehouse mourning over a grave reading ‘R.I.P. the Heart of Amy Winehouse’ (a shot that was edited out after her death in 2011). Other parts of the video were filmed near Gibson Gardens and Chesholm Road.
Banksy made his mark here with a spoof image of the Royal Family on a mural near Nando’s. It was created for Blur’s 2003 single ‘Crazy Beat.’ Unaware it was a Banksy, workers from Hackney Council set about painting over the artwork with black paint before they were stopped.
Stoke Newington - origins of name and landmarks
‘Stoke Newington’ means ‘new town in the wood.’ When Church St was renamed ‘Stoke Newington Church Street’ in 1937 it became the longest street name in London.
It’s home to London’s only surviving Elizabethan church (The Old Church on the edge of Clissold Park). When the congregation grew too big, Revd Thomas Jackson instructed that a new church be built opposite. St Mary’s Church was designed by George Gilbert Scott and consecrated in June 1858. But, due to lack of funds, it went without a steeple for 32 years and had a funny flat top.
Locals made up this rhyme:
Stoke Newington is a funny place with lots of funny people, Thomas Jackson built a church but could not build a steeple.
George Gilbert Scott’s grandson Sir Giles Gilbert Scott went on to design the iconic red phone box.
Stoke Newington was home to several prominent anti-slavery campaigners. They included William Allen (1770-1843), James Stephen (1748-1832) – who was Virginia Woolf’s great grandfather, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and Jonathan Hoare who built Clissold House.
The New River was built as a public-private partnership between King James I and jeweller and entrepreneur Hugh Myddleton in the 1600s as a way of providing fresh drinking water. It used to flow along a big chunk of Church St.
The East and West Reservoirs were constructed in the 1800s and were lined with bricks from the old London Bridge, which had just been demolished. What’s now the Castle Climbing Centre on Green Lanes with its distinctive turrets and chimneys was the pumping station for the reservoirs. Locals were against the idea of an industrial-looking pumping station so it was designed by engineer William Chadwell Mylne and architect Robert William Billings as a flamboyant castle. William’s dad Robert Mylne designed London’s Blackfriars Bridge.
If this whets your appetite, you can learn much more about Stokey’s fascinating history at www.stokenewingtonhistory.com