The Real Reason for the Influx of People
into Stoke Newington in the 1860's

The Vicar could see a tide of houses approaching Stoke Newington across the Kingsland corn fields towards and was reminded of the opening of the West in America . This was happening at te same time and must have been in the news. In America a flood of people from Russia and Eastern Europe was arriving to claim large plots of free land. They lined up, a gun was fired and they raced to plant their claim in a plot, register their claim and begin to break the open prairie. The great book on the life of these early settlers is My Antonia by Willa Cather, one of the best books she ever wrote. It is a lyrical story of the unremitting toil of breaking land and the eventual feeling of success, very different from the Grapes of Wrath , by Steinbeck in the 1930s.

The advance of the houses into Stoke Newington was not as precipitate as in America and did not start with the sound of a gun. Instead it was a steady flight and the real reason can be seen in the houses that Cubitt had built in Albion Road in the 1830s and 40s and thousands of others built like them.

The 1848 Tithe Map of Church Street houses

Lot 505 was Defoe's Paddock and 542 was his garden

Many of these houses show small red squares in the back gardens. They are the earth closets. The others must have had them as well, perhaps attached to other buildings. Each house had one and in many cases there was a well beside it. Many families drew water wells contaminated by their sewage. This was the well and sewage system of a medieval village and completely unsuitable for a crowded town, yet nothing had been done to improve it and the hospitals were full of people with unexplained fevers.

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1848 Tithe Map of Albion Road houses

These houses do not show the privies but they must have had them, for it was before the time of bathrooms and sewers. The whole of London had been built like this and the whole of London was unhealthy. In 1851 the Stink was so great that Parliament acted. They passed a bill demanding that no more houses should be built with earth closets. A new sewer system was to be created and at last houses would be able to have bathrooms and inside lavatories.

The contrast between 1855 and today is startling.

Link to Leonard Woolf

Stoke Newington Lecture

1858 Post Office London Directory

Updated: October 19, 2011