The history of Hackney’s diverse communities

Today’s Hackney is a dynamic, cohesive, growing community: in 2013, an Ipsos MORI survey of residents found 90% of residents said that Hackney was a place where people from different backgrounds got on well together.

The Charedi Orthodox Jewish community

Hackney is home to one of the largest Charedi Orthodox Jewish communities, outside New York and Israel. The Charedi community was established in Stamford Hill in the 1920s, growing significantly during the Second World War as new arrivals fled the Holocaust.

It remains within a tight geographic area centred on four of Hackney’s northern wards: Cazenove, Lordship, New River, and Springfield – as well as in South Tottenham in Haringey. According to the Census 2011, 7% of the population of Hackney are Charedi.

The community is young and rapidly growing – with around half its members under the age of 19. It is diverse, with a mix of backgrounds, countries of origin and congregations, but linked by a shared adherence to the tenets of the Torah, lifelong religious study and to marriage, family life, and support to others.

The majority of Charedim living in Hackney today were born in Britain, but others are from a range of countries including Western and Eastern Europe, Israel, the USA and Yemen. Yiddish and English are the first languages of the community, with a minority speaking modern Hebrew and other languages.

Turkish and Kurdish speaking community

Hackney has a well-established Turkish and Kurdish speaking community: Turkish Cypriots who arrived from the 1930s as commonwealth citizens, Turkish people from mainland Turkey who came to live in London for both political and economic reasons in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Kurdish community who fled persecution in Turkey, Iraq and Iran in large numbers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Many Kurds from Turkey live in Hackney and Haringey and many Iraqi Kurds in Hammersmith. Many Kurdish residents speak Kurdish as their first language.

The majority of Turkish-speaking residents belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, with most Kurds belonging to the Alevi sect, and there are also a small number of Kurdish Christians.

Limitations in Census classifications mean that there is no authoritative data on the number of Turkish speaking residents, but they are estimated at around 6% of Hackney’s population, concentrated mainly in southern, central and eastern parts of the borough.

Irish community

Although Irish people have emigrated to London for hundreds of years, the 1940s and 1950s saw significant numbers of Irish people coming to work in areas such as construction and nursing – including in Hackney.

In 2011, just over two per cent of Hackney’s population said they were from an Irish background.

Migration from the Caribbean

Hackney’s Caribbean community is very diverse, compared to some other areas in the UK. People from Antigua and Jamaica have settled in Stoke Newington, St Lucians and Dominicans mainly moved into the Clapton neighbourhoods in the 1960s and 1970s and Hackney was also a main settlement for refugee Montserratians displaced after the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995.

At the time of the 1981 census, 26,653 people (around 15% of Hackney’s population) lived in households headed by somebody born in the Caribbean.

By 2001, black or black British – Caribbean residents made up around 10% (20,887 people) of Hackney’s population and in 2011 8% (19,168 people) described themselves as black/black British Caribbean.

There has been a significant growth in Hackney residents with a mixed white and black Caribbean heritage, along with other mixed groups.

Mixed white and black Caribbean residents now account for two per cent of Hackney’s population, reflecting a high degree of integration.

Vietnamese community

Hackney’s Vietnamese population arrived during the years following 1975, when the UK government accepted quotas of refugees from camps in Hong Kong, under a planned re-settlement scheme.

Further arrivals have taken place through family reunification, and more recently, undocumented migration and some students. The number of Vietnamese people living in Hackney is unknown, though local community centres put the number of residents at around 5,000.

Migration from African countries

People from African countries began arriving in significant numbers during the 1960s and then again in the 1980s from a number of different countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Initially they settled in the Dalston area but now live throughout the borough.

In 1991, 6.7% of the population identified themselves as Black/Black British – African and this rose to 11.4% by 2011.

Migration from South Asia

There are long-standing connections between London’s East End and South Asia, but it was only in the 1950s and 1960s when significant numbers of people from South Asia began arriving in Hackney.

In 2001, 8.6 % of residents (17,401 people) identified as Asian or Asian British. In 2011 this 9.8% of the population (19,791 people), the majority originating from South Asia.

The largest number have Indian origins – including Gujerati speaking Muslims from India and East Africa, who often settled around Clapton. The second largest group were people with links to Bangladesh.

Hackney’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi population are overwhelmingly Muslim. The majority of residents of Indian heritage are Muslims, with smaller numbers of Sikhs and Hindus.

Changes since 2001

There have been new international migrants from A8 countries, Eastern European countries which joined the EU from 2004 onwards, most notably from Poland.

Recent data suggests increases in well-qualified, mobile young professionals, arriving in the borough mainly from other parts of London or the UK, but also from Western Europe especially Spain and Italy, Poland, Somalia, North and Latin America, Australia and New Zealand.

The ONS annual population survey shows a dramatic rise in the percentage of residents with the highest level of qualifications – NVQ level 4 or greater: from 33% in 2006 to nearly 48% in 2012.

The number of people of mixed heritage has grown from 4.2% of the Hackney population in 2001 (8,501 people) to 6.4% in 2011 (15,869 people).

Further information

Our history and heritage pages give a detailed account of when people first started to settle in Hackney’s different neighbourhoods, including different immigrants, and the work that they did.

Hackney Museum has an excellent permanent collection about the local history of Hackney featuring displays and interviews about people who have migrated to Hackney over the past 1,000 years.

Page updated on: 20 January 2020