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Hoxton

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Hackney
A formerly working-class district in north-west Shoreditch, now fashionable with members of London’s media and ‘dotcom’ industries. It is possible that hogs were once kept here (hence Hogsden, a widely used alternative spelling in the past) but more likely that the place name derives from a farm belonging to a man called Hōc. St Paul’s Cathedral owned the manor at the time of Domesday Book. There were attempts in the 1680s to make Hoxton a sort of ‘North End’ to rival the West End, but the creation of Hoxton Square and Charles Square failed to spark an inrush of wealthy homebuyers. Instead, Hoxton’s open spaces retained their market gardens and gained hospitals, schools and public houses. A number of religious dissenters came to live here, most memorably the Ancient Deists, who believed that they conversed with the dead. In The Birth of Modern London, Elizabeth McKellar suggests that Hoxton’s unusual character encouraged ‘an alternative building tradition even on the very edge of the commercial centre itself and ensured the continued survival of these buildings unmodernized throughout the 18th century’. This piecemeal development encompassed a wide range, from mean tenements to mansion houses. Among the professional men who settled here was James Parkinson of Hoxton Square. His Essay on Shaking Palsy, written in 1815, identified the disease that now bears his name. Hoxton Fields had disappeared beneath Hoxton New Town by 1850. Hoxton was home to the renowned Britannia Theatre, a music hall that Dickens compared with Milan’s La Scala. Built in 1858 it became one of Victorian London’s greatest palaces of entertainment. Converted to a cinema in 1923, then demolished after wartime bomb damage, its name lives on in the leisure centre at the corner of Shoreditch Park. Hoxton Hall, a saloon-style music hall built in 1863, survives and is used for community arts and education purposes. Despite the post-war replacement of slum terraces with slum tower blocks and the recent arrival of assorted creative types, Hoxton retains an identity and a spirit that has been lost in much of inner London.
 
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Hoxton Hall: a visible artistic and creative presence in the community since 1863

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson killed fellow actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel on Hoxton Fields in 1598, evading a death sentence because he could read from the Latin Bible. The proto-feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft was born in Hoxton, where her father was a silk weaver.
 
In 2002 David Beckham popularized a short haircut fronted with a narrow tuft that was nicknamed a ‘Hoxton fin’.
 

Postal district: N1
Population: 10,698
Further reading: Christopher Miele, Hoxton Architecture and History Over Five Centuries, Hackney Society, 1993
Bryan Magee, Clouds of Glory: A Childhood in Hoxton, Jonathan Cape, 2003
 
Hoxton Hall
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Text and selected images are reproduced with the permission of Chambers but may differ from the published versions
All content 2005–2010