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The Battle of Hackney

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The Battle of Hackney

North Mill Field is the 'probable' site of a fierce battle which took place in 527 between Octa, the grandson of Hengist, King of Kent, and Erchenwin, the founder of the kingdom of Essex. This latter chief had revolted from the King of Kent, who made a powerful though unsuccessful attempt to win his subjects back to his allegiance.

He convened an assembly of the wise men of his kingdom, and placed before them the alternatives of peace and war with the usurper of his power. The vote was unanimous, and upon the advice of one of the sages it was decided that ' the measures for war be immediate in their adoption and prompt in their application, so that the rebels, having no forewarn-ment of invasion, might be surprised, and the success of the expedition thereby rendered sure.' The meeting - place was appointed at Hrofeceastre (Rochester), and galleys were ordered to be in readiness by the banks of the Medway ; and at sunrise one morning in 527 the Kentish King boarded his galley-ships with 15,000 followers.

The ships went straight to the Bay of Hal viz (Woolwich), and there a deliberation was held. The King had two proposals for consideration, both having the same object, viz., the surprise of Londinbyrig (London). This he proposed to carry out in one of two ways : either to land his warriors on the west bank of the Ligan (Lea) near the ford (at Temple Mills), and march upon the city in two columns ; or to disembark at the upper ford (formerly near Lea Bridge), and marching south to fall upon the city in that direction. He inclined to the latter proposal because he thought the people of London would be less prepared for an attack from the south, and this was the decision eventually arrived at. So the galleys proceeded upon their way and anchored in the waters of Lochtuna (the lake formed by the Lea over- looked by Leyton). In the meantime the people of London were not idle.

The deputy King had obtained information of the proposed expedition, and supposing, as the enemy had sailed to the Lea, that the attack would be from the north- east, he decided to march out to meet the foe. The route taken would be along Bishopsgate Street, Ermin Street (now Kingsland Road North), and then turning north-east they would make their way to Clapton and thence to North Mill Field. Erchenwin, to prevent the advance of the enemy by any other route than the one he was taking, ordered an advance detachment to post itself upon an ascent from the marsh, so as to command a good view of the surrounding district. It had not long been stationed there before the chief in command observed the approach of a division of the enemy, and a battle at once ensued in which the Londoners were completely victorious.

Erchenwin and the main body then arrived in sight of the Ligan (Lea), and a desperate fight ensued between the full strength of both armies. Octa was conspicuous for his bravery, but when, sorely wounded, he was compelled to retreat, the rest of his followers fled and were slaughtered by the conquering Londoners. On the following day the victorious East Saxons returned to their capital, having thrown off the yoke of the King of Kent; and so ended the Battle of Hackney.


Abridged from the 'History of Hackney' (manuscript), by John Thomas, 1832.

Glimpses of Ancient Hackney/ by F.R.C.S., p. 214.

leabridge.org.uk December 2012