Downs are areas of low grassed hills and here in Hackney in one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of London is an expansive area where there is peace and quiet with only the occasional clanking of building machinery from the work at the side of the downs where apartment blocks are rising.
They will be sold at premium prices because of their central location – so near to the city as well as their views over the open grassland.
They contrast with the enormous Victorian houses around here, built when this was a prosperous and genteel suburb.
Over the years, the trees have grown and spread, up and over the villas that once contained three or four storeys for affluent families with a basement flat below for servants and attics atop for their children’s nurseries.
Many of these houses were later divided into flats and fell into disrepair, crumbling amongst the squalor and hopelessness of poverty and society’s ills. And still the trees continued to expand the girths of their trunks and the reach of their branches around the houses and over the downs.
The open land has been preserved. Unlike Stoke Newington Common, cut in half by the railway line, the trains cross the downs underneath through a tunnel. And so the ways that the people have trod over the centuries remain. According to local records paths were laid when the downs began to be regarded as a park and paths were laid.
But older maps show us that those paths follow the same pattern as the ones that were there long before – including two that form a diagonal cross. So people are following those well established routes of people from long ago who crossed this open land and took short cuts.
Parks that are designed by planners have a certain regularity, with a flower bed here and a band stand there. But Hackney Downs retains its integrity as an ancient space, albeit with some modern park facilities that are over to one side.
And they are compensated by the presence of the wildlife meadows and the logs that are left to provide a save haven for insects to improve the bio diversity of the downs, appearing to have been abandoned randomly here and there and resembling an elephants’ graveyard – but with a promise of a healthy future for this lovely space.
Walk from Stoke Newington Common or from Hackney Downs or Hackney Central stations