Church of St John-at-Hackney

St John at Hackney is a Grade II* listed Anglican Church in the heart of the London Borough of Hackney with a large capacity of around 2,000. It was built in 1792 to replace Hackney's medieval parish church, of which St Augustine's Tower remains, at the edge of its churchyard. The church faces north towards Clapton Square, with the nearby Sutton House and Hackney Central station also accessible from the churchyard to the east and south, respectively.

St John at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, London E8 - Pulpit - - 1678973
A late Victorian pulpit that formerly stood in the church. The pulpit shown replaced a long-lost original pulpit designed by James Spiller. This pulpit, together with the pews pictured, was disposed of in the most recent reordering.

In 2018, St John at Hackney partnered with nearby St Luke's Homerton Terrace to form Hackney Church, and was designated a City Centre Resource Church. In the same year, St John at Hackney embarked on a multimillion-pound Restoration project, working with John Pawson and Es Devlin, among others. In 2019, the church will also open new community facilities in the adjacent Hackney Gardens development to enable it to grow its outreach work and community activity. The church also partners with the nearby Hackney Church Brew Co., whose profits help to fund the church's work with the homeless and vulnerable.

The church has also become a notable music venue, having recently hosted performances by Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Ed Sheehan, Emeli Sandé, Florence and the Machine, Rufus Wainwright and many others.

Church of St John-at-Hackney
LocationLondon Borough of Hackney
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Dedicated15th July 1797
Architect(s)James Spiller
Years built1792
DioceseDiocese of London
Bishop(s)The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London
RectorRevd Al Gordon
Curate(s)Revd Mark Nelson; Revd Tosin Oladipo
ArchdeaconVery Revd Liz Adekunle
Church of St John-at-Hackney
The Church of St John at Hackney


The current church of St John at Hackney was designed by James Spiller and built in 1792,[1] when demand in the parish of Hackney was in excess of 3,000 parishioners. At an original 3,300 acres (13 km2), at the time the parish was the largest civil parish in Middlesex of those which joined the County of London (created in 1889).[2] The vast, classical, stock-brick building, on a Greek Cross plan, can hold around 2,000 people.[1] The building is Grade II* listed and contains monuments dating from the early sixteenth century, which were transferred from the medieval parish church.

St Augustine's Church

It is possible that a chapel stood here serving the small, prosperous manor of Hackney north of the City of London, before the Norman Conquest. No records survive of a conceivable chapel before 1275 for a chapelry within the parish of Stepney which covered the 13km² of Hackney (see St Dunstan's, Stepney). From the 14th century the church was dedicated to Saint Augustine of Hippo until, in 1660, it was rededicated to Saint John the Baptist, thenceforth becoming commonly known as St John at Hackney.[2]

In the 13th century much of the land around Hackney formed part of the possessions of the Knights Templar. When the order was disbanded its possessions were passed to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, who had a mansion on Church Street. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries their lands passed to the Crown and were parcelled amongst Tudor nobles, including Thomas Sutton and Ralph Sadler.[2]

1750 st augustines tower
c.1750 View of St Augustine's Tower showing the (then) adjacent Black and White House

Growing congregation

Hackney's proximity to the City of London and the royal court made it popular with courtiers, city merchants and businessmen. An increasing number of private schools were established in some of the older houses. By 1789 the church capacity, with the addition of numerous galleries, had reached 1,000. This, however, was not enough.[2]

In 1779 a surveyor, Richard Jupp, proposed a rebuilding to increase the capacity to 1,480, but no action was taken. By 1788 a committee found that the population of the parish had increased so much that the church should seek to seat 3,000. The appointed architect, William Blackburn, firmly rejected the idea of building on the old site, advising that a budget of £15,000 be created to buy land on which to construct a new church.[2]

In April 1789 the committee put the matter to a parochial vote, winning their case by 313 votes to 70. A bill was put to the House of Commons. Opponents of the proposal undertook yet another survey with a view to rebuilding on the old site. Finally a compromise was reached; the bill became an act empowering the trustees to acquire, for £875, Church Field which lay to the north-east of the existing churchyard.

New church

Brayley(1820) p5.029 - Hackney Church, Middlesex
1812 engraving of the church, without a tower

A new church, tower and vestry room would be built within three years of laying the foundation and the old church subsequently demolished, with only its Tower remaining. In the event the initial estimates of costs were significantly incorrect and two further acts had to be passed through Parliament to allow extra money to be raised.

William Blackburn died suddenly in November 1790; a month later James Spiller, influenced by and a friend of Sir John Soane, was chosen from six candidates; Hackney Church was his largest project to date and remains Spiller's magnum opus. Believing that a building seating 3,000 would have poor acoustics, he persuaded the trustees to allow him to reduce the capacity to 2,000, but remained convinced that the acoustics would not be good unless the church was full.

Work began in 1792 and the main structure took more than two years to complete. The church was consecrated on 15th July 1797.

Loddiges' family vault in St John's Church Gardens

Harry Sedgwick, a trustee, oversaw a subscription for planting the churchyard. 129 subscriptions enabled nearly 200 elms and horse chestnuts to be planted in avenues. Sedgwick was later buried in the churchyard; and his planting achievement is commemorated on his tomb. Sedgwick lost his only son in action in the Napoleonic War; he has an elaborate memorial inside the church.

In March 1798 the body of the old church was demolished and several of the tombs removed to the new church. The tower remained - left intact to hold the bells as funds did not allow building a tower on the new church. In 1814 the tower was added to the church and, in 1816, a stained glass east window was installed behind the altar.

The old tower of St Augustine's Church remains standing and plays a symbolic and ceremonial role in Hackney: it has adorned the masthead of the Hackney Gazette since its foundation in 1864 and is incorporated in the coat of arms of the London Borough of Hackney. In 1871 an appeal was launched to provide the tower with a four-faced clock, and this was duly installed by Gillet & Brand on New Year's Day in 1872.

In 1890 the church purchased the early 16th-century house on Homerton High Street, in the grounds of which was constructed a school, and the house named the St John's Church Institute. This would later be purchased by the National Trust, and is now known as Sutton House.

In 1902 the church was renovated and had electric lights installed, the repairs and alterations costing ₤1,823.[3] In the 1920s, with the roof becoming structurally unstable, the church was forced to temporarily close, with the timbers being shored up with scaffolding. The roof was reconstructed in 1929.

The war dead of Hackney are commemorated by a stone monolith in the churchyard in front of the north entrance, erected in 1921.


Fire damage and repairs

Beaufort tomb in St John's Church Gardens

The repairs to the roof had not entirely fixed the problems of the 1920s, and further reconstruction work was scheduled for the summer of 1954, which was scheduled for completion on 19 May 1955.

On 18 May 1955 a fire started in the church roof among workmen's tools, destroying the roof, some of the pews and the 1799 organ by George Pike England. During the ensuing major reconstruction work there was some reordering of the interior, including the insertion of a partition at the south end of the nave of the church to create the Hurdman Hall.

A replacement three manual Mander organ came from All Saint's Ennismore Gardens, Kensington; altar hangings designed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey were donated; and the east window replaced by a new one designed by Christopher Webb. The new church was reconsecrated on 24 June 1958 (St John's Day).

At the fête on 5 July 2008, the church and its churchyard were rededicated by the Archdeacon of Hackney, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the reconstruction and the major works undertaken to regenerate the church gardens over the previous year. St John's Church Gardens, around the tower and church, were awarded both a Green Flag award and Green Flag Heritage status in 2008.

With the fabric of the church still requiring significant maintenance, a multi-million pound Restoration project began in 2018, which will reconfigure the church to its original Greek Cross plan, reconnecting the church with its original architectural language, and providing more space for a range of activities, including church services and use as a music venue. New features will include the creation of two new chapels in the north and south wings, a raised stage and a range of new facilities.

Hunter tomb in St John's Church Gardens

Operation of the church


The current Rector of Hackney is Revd Al Gordon, who was instituted by the Bishop of Stepney in 2016. Other clergy include Revd Mark Nelson & Revd Tosin Oladipo.’

Restoration project

In 2018, St John at Hackney embarked on a multimillion-pound Restoration project, including a £1.84 million-pound grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The design team includes internationally renowned designer John Pawson CBE, with other contributors including critically acclaimed visual artist Es Devlin OBE. In 2019, the church will also open new community facilities in the adjacent Hackney Gardens development to enable it to grow its outreach work and community activity.

Notable burials


  1. ^ a b Historic England. "CHURCH OF ST JOHN (1226959)". National Heritage List for England.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hackney: The Parish Church, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney (1995), pp. 115-122 accessed: 26 July 2008
  3. ^ "Ecclesiastical intelligence". The Times (36891). London. 6 October 1902. p. 5.


  • Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.1, Frederic Youngs, London, 1979

External links

Coordinates: 51°32′57″N 0°03′12″W / 51.549224°N 0.053360°W

1792 in architecture

The year 1792 in architecture involved some significant events.

Clapton Square

Clapton Square is the second largest garden square in the London Borough of Hackney, located in Lower Clapton, Clapton. It is lined by buildings on three sides. Its Conservation Area designated in 1969 – extended in 1991 and 2000 – takes in a larger green space separated by a stretch of open road: St John’s Gardens. Those gardens have the tallest and largest building visible from all parts of the square's garden, the Church of St John-at-Hackney, rebuilt in 1792-97 which contains older monuments. Two sides of the square are lined with tall, partly stone-dressed, classical, Georgian terraced houses.

Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John

Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John by Hendrick ter Brugghen is an oil painting, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was probably painted in about 1625 as an altarpiece for a Catholic schuilkerk, a "hidden church" or "church in the attic", in the Calvinist Dutch United Provinces, probably Utrecht. When discovered in a bombed out church in South Hackney, London in 1956, it was unknown, but by the time it appeared in Sotheby's salesroom in November of that year it was recognized as an important example of Utrecht Caravaggism. It was acquired by the museum in the sale.

Hackney (parish)

Hackney was a parish in the historic county of Middlesex. The parish church of St John-at-Hackney was built in 1789, replacing the nearby former 16th-century parish church dedicated to St Augustine (pulled down in 1798). The original tower of that church was retained to hold the bells until the new church could be strengthened; the bells were finally removed to the new St John's in 1854. See details of other, more modern, churches within the original parish boundaries below.

Hackney Central

Hackney Central is a sub-district of Hackney in the London Borough of Hackney in London, England and is four miles (6.4 km) northeast of Charing Cross.

The Hackney Central area is focused on Mare Street and the retail areas to the north of it including Narrow Way and surrounding local area around Hackney Downs railway station. As such it extends north from Regent's Canal (with Bethnal Green), takes in most of Broadway Market and London Fields, and follows each side of Mare Street till it terminates in the vicinity of Hackney Central railway station. The area also includes the central retail area which extends from Hackney Downs station in the west to the Hackney Walk Outlet Village, on Morning Lane and goes in between Wick Road (Homerton) and Cassland Road (South Hackney) till meeting Hackney Wick, to the east.

Hackney Central is the area that once would have been known as Hackney Village. This was a place that flourished from the Tudor period, when principal members of the Court had their houses in the surrounding area, and King Henry VIII of England had a palace (located near the modern Lea Bridge Road roundabout). Hackney Central remained a popular resort for Londoners until the end of the Georgian era, when this suburb of London began to be completely built up. Railways, trams and factories brought an end to Hackney's rural atmosphere during the Victorian era, and its fortunes declined.

The industries of nearby Homerton and the Lee Valley have largely disappeared, leaving the NHS and local council as the largest employers. Successive waves of immigrants, both from abroad and within the United Kingdom, make modern Hackney a culturally vibrant part of inner London, with both the benefits and challenges that this brings.Extensive post-World War II redevelopment replaced much of the housing stock, but the Georgian housing and Victorian terraces that remain have become popular again.

Henry Handley Norris

Henry Handley Norris (1771–1850) was an English clergyman and theologian. He was the clerical leader of the High Church grouping later known as the Hackney Phalanx, that grew up around him and his friend Joshua Watson.

James Henry Nixon

James Henry Nixon (1802-1857) was an illustrator and painter during the Victorian period, who worked in the firm Ward and Nixon painting stain glass windows. James Henry Nixon was a protege of Charles Winston, who praised Nixon's work at Westminster Abbey and Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury. The company Ward and Nixon was followed by Ward and Hughes.

James Spiller

James Spiller (c.1761–1829) was an English architect and surveyor, a close associate of Sir John Soane. His designs included the Church of St John-at-Hackney, and the Great Synagogue, London.

John Hunter (Royal Navy officer)

Vice Admiral John Hunter (29 August 1737 – 13 March 1821) was an officer of the Royal Navy, who succeeded Arthur Phillip as the second governor of New South Wales, Australia and served as such from 1795 to 1800.Both a sailor and a scholar, he explored the Parramatta River as early as 1788, and was the first to surmise that Tasmania might be an island. As governor, he tried to combat serious abuses by the military in the face of powerful local interests led by John MacArthur. Hunter's name is commemorated in historic locations such as Hunter Valley and Hunter Street, Sydney.

Kingston House estate, London

The Kingston House estate in Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, is situated between Prince's Gate and Ennismore Street. It includes several streets of privately owned houses including Ennismore Gardens, and the prestigious 1930s double-block of flats called Kingston House, fronting onto Knightsbridge, built on the site of the demolished townhouse of Evelyn Pierrepont, 2nd Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull (1711-1773). The estate is situated in the local government wards of Knightsbridge and Belgravia.


The Loddiges family (not uncommonly mis-spelt Loddige) managed one of the most notable of the eighteenth and nineteenth century plant nurseries that traded in and introduced exotic plants, trees, shrubs, ferns, palms and orchids into European gardens.

Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams Tour

The Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams Tour was the third worldwide concert tour by American rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars in support of the band's fourth studio album Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams.

Reset (Tina Arena album)

Reset is the tenth studio album released by Australian singer and songwriter Tina Arena on 18 October 2013. The first single, "You Set Fire to My Life" was released on 26 September 2013. Despite not being released as a single, "Only Lonely" charted in the top 50 in late November due to being used in an advertisement for the Australian soap opera Home and Away. "Reset All" was released as the second official single on 18 December. Reset is Arena's sixth top 10 album in Australia. Reset was released in the United Kingdom on 3 November 2014.

Rob Wickham

Robert James "Rob" Wickham (born 3 May 1972) is a British Anglican bishop. Since September 2015, he has been the area Bishop of Edmonton. From 2003 to 2007, he was Team Vicar of the Parish of Old St Pancras. From 2007 to 2015, he was Rector of the Church of St John-at-Hackney; he was additionally Area Dean of Hackney from 2014. He has spent all of his ecclesiastical career in the Diocese of London.

Robert Pulsford

Robert Pulsford (1814 – 3 June 1888) was a British Whig politician.Baptised on 21 April 1815 at Church of St John-at-Hackney, Pulsford was the son of William Pulsford and Martha, daughter of William Hobson. He died in 1888 at Hennock, Devon, leaving £192,468 to three sons and five daughters.Pulsford was elected a Whig Member of Parliament for Hereford at a by-election in 1841—caused by the resignation of Henry William Hobhouse—and held the seat until 1847 when he did not seek re-election.

St Augustine's Tower, Hackney

St Augustine's Tower stands in St John's Church Gardens, in Hackney Central, in the London Borough of Hackney, just off the southern end of the Narrow Way (formerly Church Street). It is all that remains of the early 16th century parish church of Hackney of St Augustine, which replaced the 13th century medieval church founded by the Knights of St John. The Tower comprises four stages beneath a restored parapet with diagonal buttressing. A fine working 16th century turret clock has remained on the third floor of the Tower since at least 1608. The Tower and contents are Grade I listed.

The Tower is seen as a symbol for Hackney, and is even represented in the coat of arms of the London Borough of Hackney. During the First World War, it appeared on the cap-badge of the 10th (Hackney) Battalion of the London Regiment.

Sutton Place, Hackney

Sutton Place, is a small street in the London Borough of Hackney. It links Homerton High Street with St John's Church Gardens, in Hackney. The Georgian terrace of 1790–1806, is Grade II listed as a whole, together with the villas on the north side of the street which date from 1820, and is sited in the conservation area around the gardens of St John-at-Hackney. The street replaced Church Path, an historic path connecting the villages of Homerton and Hackney.

William Nash (VC)

William Nash (23 April 1824 – 6 April 1875) born in Newcastle, County Limerick he was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Churches in Hackney
Ancient parish churches (pre-1800)
Anglican daughter churches
Other denominations

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