Amir Dotan is a man on a mission. Having lived in the area since 2002, he decided to launch the ‘Stoke Newington History’ Twitter account after his keen interest in history prompted his curiosity about its past.
“The project’s ‘birthday’ is 2 October 2013, when I started my @HistoryOfStokey Twitter account to share my interest,” says Dotan, evidently excited that others shared something of his passion.
Dotan runs a series of talks to get people in the local area to consider its history, each of which can be found listed on his Twitter page.
“I considered it to be such an extremely niche subject that I didn’t expect more than 10 people would follow the updates. It’s nearly 4,000 now.”
Dotan’s project is fascinating. He manages to transform a collection of facts and figures into a breathing depiction of the area’s vibrant heritage, with maps, newspaper clippings and photographs from various stages in Stoke Newington’s history all providing snippets of the area’s complex identity. Every building, pub, person, street and park have a story and Hackney’s history is particularly vibrant.
According to Dotan, “researching Stoke Newington’s history is a great way to learn about London, the UK and life in general, as it touches on so many aspects like social history, politics, religion, architecture, transport, urban development and much more.”
When asked about his most important discovery, Dotan excitedly launches into an explanation about the Clissold Park Preservation Committee, which successfully campaigned to save the park from development in the mid-1880s.
“The great-great granddaughter of Joseph Beck, the chief campaigner, contacted me on Facebook and shared with me a detailed scrapbook that documented the campaign with many news clippings, letters and maps. I studied it for six months and uploaded it to a dedicated site called savingclissoldpark.com.”
The keen historian’s research led him to learn the full story of saving Clissold Park from urban development, meaning it can still be enjoyed by people today.
“It’s an incredible and inspiring story, with plenty of drama and suspense that shows how Victorians battled to save the last remaining open spaces in a city that was becoming ever more crowded and polluted. As a regular user of the park, I’m incredibly happy that the detailed efforts of the campaigners are now in the public domain.”
Dotan’s research also highlights how the commercial landscape of Stoke Newington is constantly changing. An annual photo survey has shown that 23% of the businesses on Church Street have since either closed or changed hands in the last year.
“That’s a remarkable figure and a trend that is becoming part of Stoke Newington’s story that in 100 years time a local historian might research,” says Dotan.
“As a local resident and local history enthusiast, I keep an eye on current developments as everything that is happening today, is going to be tomorrow’s history.”
While the Stoke Newington History Twitter is currently enjoying some well-deserved success, Dotan is eager to expand his efforts to educate people about the history of the area, with a number of additional projects in the works.
“A year ago I started running a free quarterly event called Stoke Newington History Talks, which features myself and two guest speakers, each giving a 20-minute talk about a Stoke Newington history-related topic.”
“I’m always looking for new ideas, speaking engagements and projects, though this being an evening and weekend hobby it can be challenging to balance with work and family life! I’m currently working with a local school, William Patten, on an upcoming local heritage project the school is going to run in the spring. I’m very excited about bringing local history to a local primary school. Communicating the content to children sounds like a fun and interesting challenge.”
The next event run by History of Stoke Newington will be a history talk, set to run in late May or early June. Check out Dotan’s Twitter page for more information.