Before you arrive at Stamford Hill, Stamford Hill is already coming out to meet you. Even before you get to the traffic lights on the intersection of Clapton Common and Amhurst Park, this north London district’s distinct feature makes itself known to the visitor. The conspicuous, high-crowned-black-hat-wearing, frock-coat-sporting Haredi were out en masse. To see them was to transport oneself to 18th-century Europe whence these strictly-Orthodox Jews apparently originated. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Haredi live in this five-ward area of London. Their solemn-looking demeanour concealed a feverish, almost demented passion. I was aware of their ecstatic approach to praying, even if I had never ventured into one of their synagogues.
N16 is also renowned for another more recent, gentrification-related phenomenon. To some, the demarcation of Clapton Common to the east and southeast, all the way to Victoria Park, southbound Stamford Hill itself (including when it turns into Stoke Newington Road and eventually into Kingsland Road), Commercial Road to the south and Essex Road to the west, constitutes the Hipster Republic of North, North-eastern and Eastern London. Unfair, some others might say, after all, not everyone in Shoreditch or Hoxton has a £5-a-bowl cereal for breakfast or wears checked shirts. However, the label has stuck and the deeper you go into east London the more heavily hirsute mugs you come across. Ironic beards, never forget the irony.
I did not go down that way on this day for my date was with two other stadia: Arsenal’s Emirates and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. To reach the former I turned right on to Manor Road at Stoke Newington train station. A sensuous ease took over me as the combination of the late-morning warm sun and a – now – downhill trajectory allowed me to soak up my urban surroundings better.
|An Arsenal fan: probably still waiting for another title... 12 years on|
Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Monday 15th February at 6pm (GMT)