hackney downs


Dream of a common language

Sounds: birdsong, footsteps on tarmac, then a helicopter blotting out all other sounds.

It is a still day and up on the Downs the skies are big and and heavy, I walk round the perimeter along the plane tree avenues where their solid trunks create a sturdy boundary round the edges of the common. I then walk back and forth across the paths that cross the centre of the park recording the sounds as I go. On an early morning walk where the Downs are still and quiet it is the empty volume of the park that seems to hold the memory of the past and draws me into another time when those who once subsisted on this land could stand at the top and look down on the valley where the River Lea runs and then turning round to look in the other direction towards the villages of Dalston and Stoke Newington.

It seems almost magical this continued existence of common land, land that has never been built on for hundreds if not thousands of years, the soil deep beneath our feet never disturbed, land that has been treasured and fought for.

This was a much contested space, in the late 1870’s local landowner Lord Amhurst tried to enclose it and 3,000 people led by working class activists fought with police, tore down the fences and restored the space as a common for all. In more recent times the Downs has been a place of communal gathering it was where Hackney council used to hold the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire and where crowds gathered to watch the blowing down of the tower blocks of the Nightingale estate. A continuity of human existence is told in the story of this patch of land.

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