Pleasure and Leisure at Hackney Museum


From cinemas to clubs and carnivals; Hackney Museum is exploring the history of pleasure and leisure in the borough over the past 300 years and is inviting residents to take part.

The museum is running a summer programme of events, from 21 June to 3 September, that includes an exhibition, family workshops, and tours. Celebrations will culminate with Hackney One Carnival on 11 September.

Starting in the early 1800s, the exhibition shows how rich city merchants had luxurious second homes in the rural retreat of Hackney, where they liked to entertain friends and family.

By 1880, the population of Hackney had increased dramatically, with almost 200,000 people from a diverse range of backgrounds to cater for. The entertainment industry boomed, with music halls and pubs popping up across the borough. One of Hackney’s oldest pubs, The Mermaid Tavern on Mare Street, was built in 1636. Back in the 1800s this was the place to be. The tavern’s pleasure gardens boasted hot air balloon ascents, military bands and firework displays such as the elaborately named ‘Boa Constrictor in pursuit of a Butterfly’. Today it is a fabric shop, and references its history in the name Mermaid Fabrics.

By the late 1800s music halls, with a variety of comedy, speciality acts and saucy songs replaced the theatre as the main form of entertainment in the East End. These couldn’t survive the arrival of the next form of popular entertainment however, the cinema.

The first purpose built cinema in the country was on Kingsland High Street, Dalston. Opening in 1908, The Amherst Hall could seat 707 people, and was designed by Frank Matcham, architect of Hackney Empire. It was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a Woolworths store, and is now a McDonald’s.

Sports have also been a big part of leisure time in the East End since the 1800s. Victoria Park got a swimming lake in order to stop people bathing naked in the nearby bat-filled Regent’s Canal in the 1840s.

From the 1860s onwards, local sports teams became a lot more common in Hackney. When upper class Eton Mission workers were sent to improve the living conditions of the poor in Hackney Wick, they set up football teams for young boys. These teams started using Hackney Marshes for football practice in 1889. Today it is the largest area of public football pitches in Europe, with world famous footballers including Bobby Moore and David Beckham having played there as youngsters.

Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, Hackney Council
Hackney in the past and today offers some of the most fun, diverse and inclusive entertainment in the country with a consistent reputation of being ‘the place to be’
Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, Hackney Council

Free events at Hackney Museum

28 July, guided tour (6.30-7pm)

3 August, guided tour (1-1.30pm)

11 August, family drop-in workshops (10.30am-12.30pm & 2-4pm)

18 August, family drop-in workshops (10.30am-12.30pm & 2-4pm) 

25 August, family drop-in workshops (10.30am-12.30pm & 2-4pm)


For more information go online; or call: 020 8356 3500.