Hackney Marsh is one of the largest areas of common land in Greater London, with 136.01 hectares (336.1 acres) of protected commons.
The marshes were extensively drained from Medieval times onwards, and the rubble from buildings damaged by air raids during World War II was dumped here raising the level of the ground.
It takes its name from its position on the eastern boundary of Hackney, the principal part of the London Borough of Hackney, and from its origin as an area of true marsh.
History of highwaymen
There were once a few houses on the marshes, and there was an Inn called the White House Inn, by a bridge on the old road to Leyton. It was originally built as part of a Lea fishery scheme, the pub is now long gone but a bridge remains, which was rebuilt to supply anti-aircraft batteries during World War II.
It has been noted that it was a haunt for highwaymen.
“In the Marshes towards Hackney Wick were low public houses, the haunt of highwaymen and their Dulcineas. Dick Turpin was a constant guest at the “White House,” or “Tyler’s Ferry,” near Joe Sowter’s cock-pit at Temple Mills; and few police-officers were bold enough to approach the spot.”
The River Lea
The river Lea passes through Hackney marshes. The river itself was always an important waterway, being navigable to Hertfordshire; the Marsh was formed by the periodic flooding of the river, and so formed useful pasture, but it could not be occupied permanently.
The Romans appear to have built a significant stone causeway across the marshes and here; a periodical, the Ambulator of 1774, noted
There have been discovered within the last few years the remains of a great causeway of stone, which, by the Roman coins found there, would appear to have been one of the famous highways made by the Romans.
The river Lea forms a natural boundary, and in 527 AD it became the boundary between the Saxon kingdoms of Essex and Middlesex.
In the 9th century, it formed a part of the Danelaw boundary and it is said that, King Alfred stranded an invading Viking fleet here in 895 AD. He achieved this by draining the river where it met the River Thames, but the increased drainage of course also affected river navigability, until it was restored again in the 17th century.
The wildlife throughout is very rich and diverse. If you are patient and observant you might get a glimpse of buzzards, kestrels and pheasants which are often seen around the marshes. Snipe feed there at night and occasionally, woodcock.
Mammals include bats and a range of mice and vole species plus larger animals such as the badger. The meadows are also very rich in invertebrates which are especially noticeable in late summer.
At Hackney Marshes the rich marshy meadows, grassland, reed beds and tranquillity makes it a diverse home to a host of special plants and animals and an interesting place to visit at any time of the year.
A network of paths enables the visitor to explore these seasonal flood meadows. It can be a lovely place to relax and take a walk to watch the wildlife while visiting.
The variety of water areas, from ponds, to streams here also encourages plentiful breeding and feeding for many birds such as moorhens, mallards and herons which are often seen by the waterside. Kingfishers are also a spectacular site to see if you are lucky enough to spot them.
Kingfishers or Alcedinidae are a family of small to medium-sized, brightly coloured birds in the order Coraciiform. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, and most species found in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The kingfisher family contains 114 species and is divided into three subfamilies and 19 genera.
Kingfishers have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. Most species have bright plumage with only small differences between the sexes.
Hackney Marshes Centre
The centre provides 31 changing rooms, plus a café and a public terrace. It is a great venue for conferences, weddings, educational events and community events.
The Hackney Centre has provision for football matches that can be booked for junior or adult and ranging from 5 a side through to 11 a side bookings. They also have rugby and cricket pitches. The centre has a café and bar plus of course accessible toilets.
Dogs are not allowed at the sports facilities but well behaved ones can visit the park. The park has a Green Flag award and is very well taken care of.
Location for Hackney Marshes Centre
Entrance to the Hackney Marshes Centre is off Homerton Road (B112) where there is a car park and bicycle stands. The postcode is E9 5PF.
Football history at Hackney Marshes
In 1881, a group of men from Homerton College, then still in the London area, founded the Glyn Cricket Club.
The members of the cricket club, later decided to form a football section in order to keep fit during the winter months. That football section was later to become the famous Clapton Orient Football Club which for thirty years played all of its home games at Millfields Road Stadium (1900–1930).
In 1946 the Club was renamed Leyton Orient and their home ground is now at the Matchroom Stadium in Brisbane Road, Leyton, E10 5NF.
Today the marshes provide many pleasant walks, in reach of the inner city, as previously mentioned, but the most famous use of Hackney Marshes over the years is for Sunday league football, with 88 full-size football pitches marked out. On a typical Sunday, over 100 matches are played by amateur teams in several local leagues.