Quick access:

Go directly to content (Alt 1) Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)

Traces of Resistance
Part II: Hackney

If this was then, then you’d be here.

In the second part of his notes on walking the Hackney Brook, one of London’s many underground rivers, the author follows the hidden path to its very end that simultaneously reveals itself as the beginning of the city.


I walk the Western border of the Hackney Downs that is defined by the course of the Hackney Brooke. The course of the water reveals a secret, underlying geometry of the city. No-one can be seen.
Autumn winds. I speed up.


»The faster we walk, the more ground we lose.«
– Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London

The privileges of the white male Flaneur.


A lane of car mechanics, under the bridge, one car at a time, mechanics lingering, the backstage of the car-friendly city.
  • Car Care Centre
  • Brakes
  • Balancing
  • Batteries
  • Suspension
  • Exhausts
  • Welding
  • Alternators


An advertisement for a new phone: signal all the way – the screen is broken, digital trash flickers nervously in a loop.
Arrival at Hackney Central,
a medieval tower,
Perfect Chicken.
Once a suburb outside the city walls, owned by a Danish nobleman named Haca, Hackney derives from Haca's Eoth, meaning »Haca’s well-watered marsh.« Marshland.  


The river leads me passed Mare Street, evoking memories of the ocean, waves of cars.

The word mare refers either to the boundary (that the street was) or a large pond in the area, fed by the Hackney Brook.

Now all the water is covered up. Only sometimes the river announces itself: Between Stoke and Newington and the Hackney Downs lays Brooke Road.


Dorothy Miller Richardson was one of the first authors to write in the »stream of consciousness« style, yet the style gets attributed to Virginia Woolf most of the time. Her feminist 13-novel series Pilgrimage follows the Flaneuse Miriam drifting around London.

In Backwater, the second book of her series, she writes:

Everything had disappeared into a soft blackness; only on the water, a faint light was left. It came and went; sometimes there was nothing but darkness and soft air. The small paper lantern swinging at the bow made a little blot of light that was invisible from the stroke seat. The boat went swiftly and easily. Miriam felt she could go on pulling for hours at the top of her strength through the night. Leaning forward, breasting the featureless darkness, sweeping the skulls back at the full reach of her arms, leaning back and pressing her whole weight upwards from the foot-board against the pull of the water, her body became an outstretched elastic system of muscles, rhythmically working against the smooth dragging of resistance of the dark water.


On Mortimer Road in Hackney, William Lyttle, owner of an old Victorian property, has been digging a web of tunnels and caverns since the early 1960s. According to ultrasound scans, the tunnels spread up to twenty meters in every direction from his house. He says: Inventing things that don't work is a brilliant thing, you know. People are asking you what the big secret is. And you know what? There is none.


Post-industrial gentrification lane, black doors, a red neon light: Night Tales, a song playing from the open door:

I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel
I want to drive you through the night, down the hills
I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear
I'm gonna show you where it's dark, but have no fear



Cross tunnels,
barb wire,
the Tesco backstage,
blind walls to estate houses,
an empty advertisement poster on a firewall.


He parked in a nearby street and walked out on to the bridge. Below him the lights of London spread away in a wash of low wattage, Their dimness gave the lie to the very vastness of the city. Bull heard its distant roar, its night-time sough, its terminal cough

Will Self, Cock & Bull



Morning news off license grocery fresh fruit newsagent
A blue fence, freshly painted, a hole at a pillar, tilted, a short cut: the path of least resistance
Docklands, Stratford, Blackwell Tunnel straight ahead
Stansted to the left,
Red Route,
No Stopping,

Trash in the bushes,
cruising spots,
no-one waiting at the bus stop,
New Map coming soon


Arriving in Hackney Wick, the sky is filled with cranes, marking the emptiness of modernisation.

Well it's like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don't wanna feel those metal clouds



A squat on the left, luxury condos on the right:
Shithouse to Penthouse

On the penthouse:
Warehouse style apartments for Sale / Considerate construction - respect the community
On the shithouse:
Meanwhile, in East London Lunatics decorate a building
57© Fabian Saul


The beginnings of the Docklands. For a long time, an area of the working poor, the double exploitation of colonialism.
Now private properties with their own security forces. The Wasteland turned Wall Street – Canary Wharf is calling: once a privately owned dock, walled off. Drawing a line from colonialism to neoliberalism.


Young people everywhere have been allowed to choose between love and a garbage disposal unit. Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal unit.

Guy Debord


A graffiti: Edwin Smells
Fences, old industrial houses, new designers offices
Graphic design vs. Graffiti
Edwin has herpes
The white building

Edwin doesn't live here anymore


The Olympic Park
Towards Old Ford Lock
Royal Connection
Cyclist dismount and use footway
A small shack, a dream of fishermen bringing in the nets.
Canary Wharf the city disappearing in fog and glass© mattbuck [CC BY-SA 2.0]


Old Ford is the ancient most downstream crossing point of the River Lea. It is part of a pre-Roman route that followed the modern Oxford Street, Old Street, through Bethnal Green to Old Ford and across a causeway through the marshes. At this time, the Lea was a wide fast flowing river and the tidal estuary stretched as far as Hackney Wick.



In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Old Ford is the point where the Old Forest Road crosses the River Anduin. In older times, the river was crossed by a stone bridge here, but by the end of the Third Age, the bridge had disappeared long ago, the crossing is not more than a simple ford anymore.


My phone running out of battery, the Hackney Brooke pours tiredly into River Lea, a small creek under a little bow. No-one witnesses this anti-climax. A few after-work joggers pass and check their smartwatches.


Supported by the Mayor of London:
152 Homes for Private Sale
18 Shared Ownership Homes
32 Affordable Rent Homes

a sign:
Canal & River Trust

an old map showing Carpenters Road Lock, Old Ford Lock:

If this was then, then you’d be here.

And further down on the sign:
You are here, now!
66© Scott Wylie [CC BY 2.0] -London Docklands


The Spartacus Guide didn’t show up anymore. This world had ended.
Because this book had ended
that created this world in the first place. [...]
The Voltaire bath was torn down
The Cinéma Luxor on Boulevard Magenta was a ruin. Paris had lost its navel.
Like New York Men’s Country.

- Hubert Fichte

  go back to Part I: Holloway

  go to overview: Traces of Resistance