Wednesday, 28 October 2015
I’ve written before about De Beauvoir Town, which is a very pleasant area of Hackney to live in, for lots of reasons, one of them being due to the extensive “Filtered Permeabilty” (roads which have been closed for through motor traffic but remain open to pedestrians and cyclists) which reduces motor traffic across much of the area to a very low level. This creates quieter conditions for residents, streets where children can play along with an added advantage, due to it’s location, of a direct & quiet East-West cycle route from Islington to Hackney via London Fields along with the so-called Cycle Superhighway 1 which is a not-as-direct-as-the-A10-but-quieter-than-it route from Shoreditch to Dalston.
Towards the end of the 1950’s the Victorian terraced houses on Buckingham Road and Tottenham roads were demolished and replaced by the Kingsgate Estate, opening in the early 1960’s. Shortly later hundreds of Victorian houses, pubs, shops and about half a dozen streets (almost all land between Downham Road and the canal, bar the industrial buildings surrounding the Kingsland Basin) were swept away to make way for The De Beauvoir Estate. In 1968 plans were then developed to demolish almost all of the rest of De Beauvoir Town with low rise housing estates replacing the Victorian terraced houses. Two newcomers to the area, Stuart Weir (who would go on to become a local labour Councillor for the area) and Robin Young, both journalists on The Times who lived next door to each other on Balls Pond Road, were appalled with the threatened destruction of the community. They decided to do something about it and leafleted the whole area shortly before the council elections in order to hold a meeting with local residents and the ward Councillors in the crypt of St. Peters Church. On the night the Crypt was crammed with around 200 angry local residents and within weeks the De Beauvoir Association was formed with Stuart Weir serving as Chairman.
I know that this is what happened in 1968 as it is detailed in an interview with Stuart Weir in issue number 31 of the De Beauvoir Association newsletter, which is archived here, along with over a decade of other issues. These newsletters give a fascinating insight into the early years of the De Beauvoir Association, the politics and struggles behind implementing the road closures, and general activism in the area during the 1970’s.
The De Beauvoir Association tried, but failed, to save the Eastern side of De Beauvoir Square which was replaced by the Lockner Road estate, after council officers persuaded the newly elected Tory Hackney Council that these houses were beyond repair. Staggering to think these beautiful homes were destroyed, they’d each be worth several million pounds today. However a year after their creation the association managed to ensure that most of De Beauvoir Town became a conservation area, almost certainly saving it from destruction. A year later the Central General Improvement Area (GIA) plan was set up with an advisory committee of local residents. During 1971 surveys and meetings were arranged with local residents to try and gather ideas and plans for improvements to the Town with environmental issues figuring prominently, including play & amenity areas for local children along with road closures to divert dangerous through traffic. Plans were put forward to the council with Issue Five of the Newsletter in January 1972 declaring that the