LPG Research Volunteer Barbara Deason describes the history of the recently renamed Joe White Gardens, Hackney.
A second public green space in the London Borough of Hackney is being renamed following a proposal from the Hackney Naming Hub. The Hub was launched two years ago as part of Hackney Council’s anti-racism programme and the renaming is part of a wider review into the names of local landmarks, streets, buildings and public spaces in Hackney, to ensure they reflect the borough’s diverse history. Readers may recall that Cassland Road Gardens was renamed Kit Crowley Gardens in November 2021.
The second garden to be renamed was originally known as Aske’s Hospital, and then, until the renaming, as Aske Gardens. Aske’s Hospital, one of the earliest and grandest almshouses to be built in Shoreditch, took its name from its benefactor Robert Aske (1619 -1689), who also bequeathed money for Haberdasher Aske’s School. Aske’s will of January 1689 left £20,000 to the Haberdashers’ Company for the establishment of almshouses for “20 poor single freemen and a school for 20 sons of freemen”, and in 1690 a charity was set up by Act of Parliament to carry out the terms of the will, and a site was obtained. The original almshouses were designed by Robert Hooke in 1692 and the building was completed by 1695. This building fell into disrepair, being pulled down in 1822 and rebuilt in 1825-27 by David Riddel Roper with increased educational provision.
By 1882, the almshouses part of the building had been demolished, school buildings had been enlarged and it was in use as an educational establishment for 300 girls and 300 boys, subsequently becoming the LCC-run Shoreditch Technical Institute. At this point the open space in front was designated as public open space. The Institute was later renamed City and East London College.
However, Robert Aske was an investor in the Royal African Company, and as well as using some of his money to establish the almshouses and educational buildings was also an active participant in the slave trade. Between 1672 and 1731 he is known to have transported 187,697 enslaved people on company-owned ships to English colonies in the Americas. 20% of these enslaved people died on the journey.
Robert Aske’s name will now be replaced by that of Joe White (1962 – 2002), an inspirational Hackney-raised sportsman. White forged a successful career as a professional basketball player representing Team GB, before becoming one of the most successful youth coaches in UK basketball history, winning 14 national schools titles and 18 national club titles.
Joe White also developed some of the country’s best players, two of whom went on to represent Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, and coached many more who achieved professional careers in sport, as well as helping change the lives of hundreds.
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