A website & blog for residents (and neighbours) of Dalston Square

History of Dalston

Dalston is a district of north-east London, England, located in the London Borough of Hackney. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London. Its historical borders are Kingsland Road and Kingsland High Street in the west, London Fields in the east, Downs Park Road in the north and the Shoreditch parish boundary in the south. Its main shopping street, Kingsland High Street, follows the route of the Roman Ermine Street, and has the road number A10. Modern Dalston is often seen as the area surrounding both sides of Kingsland High Street, even though some of the west side is within the London Borough of Islington.

The name Dalston is thought to have derived from Deorlaf’s tun (farm), in much the same way as nearby Hoxton was named after the farm of ‘Hoch’. The village was one of four small villages within the Parish of Hackney (along with Newington, Shacklewell, and Kingsland) that were grouped for assessment purposes, together having only as many houses as the village of Hackney. John Rocque’s map of circa 1746 shows the village of Kingsland centred around the crossroads at Dalston Junction and the small village of Dalston further east along Dalston Lane. Around AD 1280 a leper hospital was founded in Dalston by the citizens of London and in AD 1549 it was attached to the chapel of St Bartholomew as an outhouse. During the 18th and 19th Centuries the area changed from an agricultural and rural landscape to an urban one. By 1849, it was described as a recently increased suburban village, with some handsome old houses, and by 1859 the village had exceeded its neighbour and with the railways and continuous building, the village of Kingsland disappeared.

The gentrification of the area has led to a rapid increase in the price of property. The process of change has been accelerated since the East London line extension (to be renamed the East London Railway on completion) and since the reopening of Dalston Junction Station was confirmed in the run-up to London’s successful bid to hold the 2012 Olympics.

Dalston has always been an important transport and shopping centre. It was also, at one time, an important entertainment centre, with four or five cinemas within a radius of half a kilometre, and the Dalston Theatre, a former hippodrome and music hall that later became the Four Aces blues club and the Labyrinth nightclub. The Dalston Theatre was demolished in February 2007, despite an active local campaign to save it.

The last survivor of Dalston’s 20th-century entertainment boom is the Rio Cinema, one of the very few cinemas left in East London and, indeed, one of the few independent cinemas left in London. Besides its regular programmes of popular and art movies, the Rio also features film festivals and children’s matinees. In one scene at least, the Rio Cinema is seen in the movie ‘One Day’ starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Arcola Theatre in Ashwin Street produces some fringe theatre and is a centre for a number of theatre-related community activities such as its theatre writers’ programme, youth theatre and over-sixties drama. Dalston was a hub for 1970s and 1980s pub rock venues but these are largely defunct. However the new Dalston Culture House, the first wing of which has opened on Gillett Square, hosts the Vortex Jazz Club, recently moved from Stoke Newington. Land of Kings is Dalston’s annual, multi-venue music and arts festival which launched in April 2009. Featuring local artists, musicians and curators, the event takes place in a mix of established venues and temporary spaces. Centerprise is a long-established BME community bookshop where regular events take place in the coffee bar. Fassett Square in Dalston was the inspiration for the fictional location of the BBC soap opera EastEnders’, Albert Square.

Established in the 1880’s Ridley Road Market is opposite Dalston Kingsland railway station. Fruit and vegetables, some fairly exotic, are available, and the local halal butchers, clustered around the high street end of the market. Ridley Road market is, again, reputedly the basis for the one found in BBC’s EastEnders. The Kingsland Shopping Centre (formerly Dalston Cross) is just south main market street.

Contemporary Dalston is a lively neighbourhood with an ethnically varied population. Architecturally it is a mixture of 18th and 19th century terraced houses and 20th century council estates. It is currently undergoing rapid gentrification, partly because of the construction of a new railway station at Dalston Junction, part of the extension of the East London Line completed in 2010 and partly due to the revitalisation of large parts of east London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics (Hackney is one of the four host boroughs of the Games). Dalston has attracted new immigrants to the UK for over one hundred years; at the turn of the century it was a popular Jewish area for the newly arrived from central Europe. In the fifties and sixties, as the Jewish community became more affluent, they were replaced by a large Caribbean community which is reflected by the wide choice of Caribbean foods available in Ridley Road. As the Caribbean community slowly drifted out of Dalston it then became popular with the Turkish, as well as the Vietnamese. Recent émigrés to the community are the Polish .

Fassett Square was the inspiration for the BBC Soap EastEnders. Originally, there were plans to film the series there, on location. However, Fassett Square (Albert Square) and Ridley Road Market (Walford Market) were rebuilt on the set in Elstree, Borehamwood to have a more controlled filming environment. The origin of the area of Walford was from Walford Road and many of the houses on the show use the same exterior design. Both Barbara Windsor and Tony Holland, one of the original creators of the show, lived at different times on the street. That is not the only connection with entertainment industry. Around the corner, music hall artiste Marie Lloyd (1870–1922) used to reside on Graham Road. The house now has a Blue Plaque. In April 2009 The Guardian wrote an article on Dalston being the coolest place to live in Britain. Also, the interior of St. Marks church in Dalston, is featured in the 2007 film ‘Run Fat Boy Run’. The seventh track on Razorlight’s 2004 debut album ‘Up All Night’, is named Don’t Go Back To Dalston. Bad Manners’ 1980 song “Night Bus to Dalston” is the B side of hit “Lip Up Fatty”. The fifth track of Snowpony’s 2001 album “Sea Shanties for Spaceships”, is named “into the heart of dalston”. In the second series of TV show The Mighty Boosh, Vince, Howard, Naboo and Bollo share a flat in Dalston and in the third series they work in a second-hand shop – ‘Nabootique’ – there. Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’ featured exterior shots of 33 Saint Marks Rise. The interior scenes were also filmed in the top floor flat of this house. In Stephen Frears’ film ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, Audrey Tautou’s character Senay Gelik lives in a flat overlooking Ridley Road’s street market. In the Doctor Who episode “Love & Monsters” Obsessive fan “Elton” had a market stall on the Ridley Road. The 2007 film ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ (directed by David Schwimmer) was filmed in Dalston (St. Marks Conservation Area). Dennis (Simon Pegg) stays in a flat on Sandringham Road across the road from St. Marks Church. ‘Dalston Songs’ is a staged song cycle with seven singers created and composed by Helen Chadwick and choreographed by Steven Hoggett. It was based on interviews with people in East London about home and was performed in 2008 at the Royal Opera House. The Prodigy made their live debut at Labyrinth in Dalston, London’s Four Aces Club in 1990. Award-winning short-film director Paul Fuller (Scarytree Films) is based in Dalston and shot most of his films in the area. In The Mighty Boosh episode “Eels”, character Howard Moon is referred to as “the biggest ball fondler in Dalston”.