Local residents celebrate unveiling of renamed Hackney park

Kit Crowley Gardens - the first public space in Hackney to be renamed in the borough’s Review, Rename, Reclaim project - was unveiled today in front of local residents and pupils from Wentworth Nursery where community stalwart Kathleen ‘Kit’ Crowley had worked for more than 30 years.

The ceremony was hosted by Cllr Carole Williams, Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources, and the UK’s first Council lead with responsibility for Windrush, who spoke about Kit's contribution to the community. Guests heard live renditions of some of Kit’s favourite songs performed by singer Vivienne Isebor and guitarist Joel Antwi-Boasiako, and a touching reading of Kit’s favourite poem, My Garden, by Thomas Edward Brown, delivered by Kit’s son John Di Carlo. 

The unveiling of the garden’s new information panel by Cllr Williams was followed by the planting of flower bulbs in the garden by Wentworth Nursery pupils.

Kit Crowley, who passed away in 2018, was a beloved member of the community who spent six decades supporting her neighbours. Experiencing a difficult childhood in a single parent household, Kit endured poverty and racial prejudice in nearby Bethnal Green, and grew up at a time where survival often relied on the kindness of neighbours, which shaped her resilience and sense of community spirit. 

Kit’s name was nominated and chosen by residents following a Council consultation that took place in February 2021. Kit replaces the  name of Sir John Cass, director of the Royal African Company – an English slave trading company that trafficked enslaved Africans for profit in the late 17th Century. The former Cassland Road Gardens sign now rests in Hackney Museum as an educational artifact

Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources
“Hackney is committed to ensuring our public spaces reflect all of our borough’s diverse history, that we do not wittingly and unwittingly glorify those who have not made a positive contribution to life in the borough, and to turn the tide.

In doing so, we are taking the lead, embedding the work in our anti-racism plan, and ensuring the borough’s history as a welcoming borough continues for new migrants who chose to make Hackney their home. 

It’s work that we can’t do alone. That’s why we are collaborating with community leaders, academics, cultural experts, historians, teachers and young people - a true partnership which reveals the hidden histories in plain sight and elevates those residents who have made a positive contribution to life in Hackney.

It is an honour  to share this special moment and to be part of this important step in our journey as a council to redress the balance and ensure that this council proudly acknowledges the achievements of our diverse communities. We will continue to work towards making sure that our public spaces reflect the people and events that mean something to our residents, speak to Hackney’s history and show our commitment to diversity and anti-racism, so that together we can celebrate our borough’s inspirational stories, amazing histories, and local heroes like Kit Crowley.”
Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources

The renaming of Kit Crowley Gardens is part of a wider Hackney Council review of the names of local landmarks, streets, buildings and public spaces in Hackney to ensure they reflect the borough’s diverse history, as part of the Council’s anti-racism programme.

This was the first action taken by the Review, Rename, Reclaim project, a collaboration between the Council, community leaders, cultural experts, historians, teachers and young people to make Hackney’s public spaces more representative of the communities that live in the borough. The Naming Review complements the Council’s Black Lives Matter motion and builds upon a long history of fighting racism in the borough. 

Notes for editors 

Kathleen “Kit” Crowley

Kit Crowley (1918-2018) was a beloved member of the local community. Kit moved to the newly built Gascoyne Estate in 1948 as a newlywed where she and her husband raised their family. Kit lived there for 62 years, working at Wentworth Nursery for 32 years. She is described by those that nominated her as ‘a role model for children of the Windrush generation growing up in the area’. 

Sir John Cass

The gardens and surrounding areas were first developed by The Sir John Cass Foundation during the 1800s, a charity founded by the will of Sir John Cass (1660-1718). Cass was a politician, as well as an official of, and investor in the Royal African Company. This organisation was granted a monopoly over all English trade to West Africa in 1660.

Although trade began with ivory and gold in exchange for textiles and weapons, it soon became focused on the trafficking of enslaved people. Between 1662 and 1731, the Company transported approximately 212,000 enslaved people, of whom 44,000 died on route. Cass retained shares in the company until his death and, like all its investors, would have been fully aware of its activities and intended to profit from this exploitation.

Visit hackney.gov.uk/naming-review for more information about Review, Rename, Reclaim.

In June 2020, the Council launched a naming review to listen to the views of residents, partners and others about how to tackle the issue of public spaces named after people who profited from the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans.

The Review, Rename, Reclaim project aims to reassess the names of the spaces where we live, learn, work and play to ensure they appropriately reflect the diversity of our residents and inclusive, anti-racist values that we can all be proud of.

Nearly 650 people took part in the consultation to select the new name for Cassland Road Gardens after signs bearing the previous name were removed in December 2020. A community steering group of local community leaders, cultural experts, historians, teachers and young people shortlisted four names of people who reflected Hackney’s African or African-Caribbean heritage and had links to the area, including nominations by local people. More than half of Cassland Road residents that voted chose Kit as the winner.

The review is currently exploring other contested figures, including: 

  • Francis Tyssen (1625-1699), absentee plantation owner who profited from an enslaved workforce, was a shareholder of the Royal African Company and was an active member in the East India Company.
  • Robert Geffrye (1613-1704), an East India merchant and shareholder of the Royal AfricanAfican Company, who directly profited from the trafficking of enslaved Africans.
  • Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), a British imperialist whose policies and practices have had a lasting negative effect on southern Africa.