If I’d put you in a blindfold and taken you straight to the middle of Lauriston Road, you wouldn’t believe you were in London. With a quaint redbrick church, a tranquil countryside vibe and a luscious green landscape surrounding you, you’d feel like you were in a small English village. And indeed, you would be. South Hackney is home to the calm, leafy area known as Victoria Park Village. It’s that Vicar of Dibley feel, in the heart of London’s East End – and it’s well worth a visit.
This charming little oasis of calm is the perfect place to spend a sleepy Sunday. It boasts a handful of independent cafés and restaurants and a row of the types of local shops you’d expect of any village – a butcher, a florist and a bookshop. Don’t worry though – after a coffee and stroll around the shops, there are also plenty of pubs for a Sunday pint or three. As the name suggests, it’s also right next to Victoria Park, one of London’s most beautiful parks, which has its very own fascinating little-known history.
It was opened in 1845 and became somewhat of a border between the working classes living in Bethnal Green and the slightly more upmarket Hackney. It was known as the People’s Park and was a key location used by Suffragettes and other activists for gatherings of the masses, playing host to many rallies and speeches. During World War 2, it was put to use as an allotment for growing vegetables and as a base for anti aircraft or Ack Ack guns.
Compared to the rest of the East End, the village in South Hackney always had a better quality of Victorian housing, aimed at the middle classes. It was also lucky enough to avoid significant damage during The Blitz. These two facts are probably what allowed it to escape the 1960s regeneration projects that have given much its neighbouring districts rather generic, unappealing high-rise blocks of flats. This, in combination with a lot of hard work and dedication from the locals, have allowed Victoria Park Village to keep its hamlet-like atmosphere and right now, business seems to be booming… in a calm villagey way, of course.
So, you don’t have to venture out of London to feel like you’ve had a bit of a countryside rest bite. Go for a brisk walk in Victoria Park, before stopping off in the village for some of their wonderful shops, like the butcher’s The Ginger Pig, the wine specialists, Bottle Apostle and the quirky gift shop, M.E.G. After all that walking, you’ll need a good old traditional East End pub pit stop, so choose from The Lauriston, The Royal Inn on the Park, The Village Tap or The Empress. Even though that’s a lot of walking, shopping and drinking, somehow the atmosphere here means that time just moves at a more leisurely pace. A day out here makes for the ideal lazy London Sunday.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.