Shepherdess Walk Mosaics | Artistic History in Hoxton
I’ve long been a fan of (within reason!) exploring London alleys. But the gem that rewards the curious after going through this one off Shepherdess Walk is really quite something.
Shepherdess Walk Mosaics
Ok, yes the mosaics are in the corner of Shepherdess Walk Park so you can reach them easily from there. But the absolute best way to approach them is through this intriguing alley under the homes along Shepherdess Walk.
Even before you reach the alley there are friendly little hints about what’s in store.
Emerging through alley, into the park you’re met with these stunning artworks. The mosaics were designed by Tessa Hunkin and completed over two years by a huge team of local volunteers (over 150 in total!)
Unveiled in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics, the scenes are a celebration of life in Hackney’s parks. Two later pieces on the floor were unveiled in 2013.
The two main panels showing the four seasons, they’re heavily influenced by Roman mosaic pavements but there depict contemporary people and pastimes.
Thinner side panels celebrate the different contributors and a dazzling selection of patterns.
While two later pieces on the floor depict local flora and fauna.
On the far left there’s also another panel celebrating the history of the park. So what is the story of Shepherdess Walk Park?
History of Shepherdess Walk
The park itself is fairly recent, with houses standing on the site until around the 1970s.
This is stark difference from the early history of the area, which until the late 18th century was rural, as seen in the map below (the red dot shows the site of the park).
John Rocque 1746, Layers of London © Maptiler and OpenStreetMap contributors
The fields which surrounded this area were used as a route for driving livestock from outside London towards Smithfield meat market (circled above).
In the 18th century there was a nearby pub called the Shepherd and Shepherdess. This catered to Londoners enjoying the green space as a pleasure garden, similar to the more famous ones in Vauxhall (1785-1859).
The Hackney Council website says that this pub later became The Eagle Tavern. Today this is around a 5 minute walk from the park, along the street ‘Shepherdess Walk’. It’s also the pub referenced int he nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’.
Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons
Back to the rolling green fields. Unsurprisingly, as London expanded, this area didn’t stay rural for long.
By the 19th century there was a building boom and the terrace of houses appears. On the site of park was two huge bathhouses, indicating the fact very few locals would’ve had access to washing facilities in their own homes.
Flicking between the maps above you can see the red line of the alley today, previously known as Turner’s Place.
Details of the Shepherdess Walk Mosaics
The detail of the mosaic are so worth a closer look, charming and thoughtful, here are some of my favourite moments in the artwork.
Bird-watching, swimming in the lido (love the goggles) and running with your headphones in…
A leisurely picnic and a game of cat and mouse.
Checking your phone and getting a Mr Whippy! If that doesn’t say British Summertime not sure what does?!
Given the collective nature of the work, it makes sense that there are lovely little individual details. I Recommend reading the article from Spitalfields Life here.
One of the volunteers, Ken, picks out ’Randy’ – his rabbit. Completely new to mosaics, Tessa taught him how to create them and he helped on the project for over a year.
Speaking to Spitalfields Life, I found this quote from Ken particularly moving;
“I was a painter and decorator before and when you paint a flat that’s it, but this work that we’ve done is going to be here long after we’ve all gone and that’s very important to me.”
Shepherdess Walk Park is in Hoxton, N1. The closest tube station is Angel of Hoxton Overground.