Hackney has a long history of migration and settlement to the borough over 2,000 years, starting with the Anglo-Saxons. The 20th century saw vast changes across the world and this influenced the make-up of the borough. Across the century, German, Jewish, Charedi Orthodox Jewish, South Asian, Kurdish, Turkish, Vietnamese and people from African and Caribbean countries have all made Hackney their home.
The Windrush Generation refers to the people who were invited to the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. This was primarily in response to a call from the British government for workers to help re-build Britain after the Second World War (1939-1945). From the mid to late 1960s, many people from the Caribbean settled in Hackney.
The earliest known occurrence of an African person living in Hackney is Anthony, whose burial in May 1630 at St. Augustine’s Church is recorded in parish records. We have no other record of Anthony, who may have been a servant to a prosperous Hackney resident or a visitor.
Recent excavations by Liverpool Street station have uncovered Bedlam, London’s first municipal burial ground (1569 – 1738). It was used by people from around London and shows evidence of a multicultural city. Records have identified Africans amongst the buried. There is also growing evidence of the community’s presence in the city across a variety of roles and levels of society. Hackney had connections with a range of 18th and 19th century
African writers, campaigners and activists:
- Joanna Vassa (1795-1857), daughter of renowned writer Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797), lived in De Beauvoir Town later in life. She is buried in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington.
- Joseph Jackson Fuller was born into slavery in Jamaica in 1825. As an adult he shared memories of his emancipation when he was 8 years old with thousands of people at public events in England and Jamaica. Fuller lived and worked in West Africa for 30 years and then settled on Sydner Road, Stoke Newington, where he lived until his death in 1908. He is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.
- Dominica born Samuel Jules Celestine Edwards (1858-1894) was a forerunner of Pan-Africanism and regularly spoke at meetings in Victoria Park.
Hackney suffered high levels of bomb damage during the Second World War (1939-1945). Until the period after the Second World War the favoured destination for Caribbean workers was the USA. After the war, the situation altered. To begin with, the USA passed legislation which limited ease of entry. Secondly, Caribbean veterans of the war in Europe spread the news about work available in the UK.
Following the war, many people moved out of Hackney to new towns and suburbs to get away from the damage. This left large Victorian properties in the borough either empty, in need of repair or with only a few residents. To help with the upkeep of these large houses, owners often took in borders. At the same time, there were many new arrivals from Britain’s previous colonies coming to the UK in search of better prospects. Many came from the Caribbean islands, Jamaica in particular, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and from African countries with connections to Britain such as Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. They found affordable houses in Hackney and set up homes. These new communities in the borough shaped the local environment by setting-up business, sharing cultural influences, music, food, fashion, language and a range of other aspects.
The mid to late 1960s saw the start of African Caribbean communities making Hackney their home. By 1971 around 21% of Hackney’s population was born outside the UK and over 8% was born in Africa, the Caribbean or Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and many more were born in the UK with roots in these countries. Today, nearly a quarter of the borough’s population identify as being of African heritage.