Hoxton was a popular place of retreat and by the early C17th wealthy people had large houses here. Hoxton Square was built in 1683 and the houses would have been fronted by gardens looking onto the central garden, which was laid out in 1709. By the mid C19th the residential character of the area was largely superseded by trade activities. The privately owned central garden was leased to Shoreditch Borough Council and protected from building development. A drinking fountain was donated in 1901. The garden was described in 1928 as 'a great amenity in a densely developed neighbourhood' and this remains the case today as Hoxton has become a hub of activity again.
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Settlement in Hoxton is recorded in the Domesday survey, called 'Hochestone'. It was a rural area despite its location close to the City, just outside the walls. Hoxton Fields were used for archery, and it became popular as a place of retreat from Tudor times; a number of public pleasure gardens were established in the area, such as Pimlico Pleasure Gardens near what is now Hoxton Street and it was also a hub of theatrical activity. In the late C16th the dramatist Ben Jonson, whose plays were performed at the nearby Curtain Theatre, fought a duel on Hoxton Fields and killed actor Gabriel Spencer and as punishment had his left thumb branded. By the early C17th wealthy people had built large houses here but these estates began to be sold off towards the end of the century and a number of them were converted for use as private asylums and almshouses, Hoxton becoming the home of the majority of London's privately housed lunatics. It became a densely populated working district during the C19th, particularly following the opening of the Regent's Canal. The wealthy residents had moved to the more distant suburbs that were being built up, but Hoxton remained a place of entertainment, with theatres such as the Britannia Theatre and Hoxton Hall.
Hoxton Square, to the east of Hoxton Fields, was built in 1683 when the area began to be developed; the house at No. 32 Hoxton Square still stands on the east side and probably dates from that time. The houses would originally have been fronted by gardens looking onto the central garden area, which was laid out in 1709 in the shape of a parallelogram in emulation of the developments in Soho Square (q.v.) and Golden Square (q.v.). The garden was enclosed in 1777. The north side of the square was demolished when St Monica's Roman Catholic Church was built, and by the mid C19th the residential character of the area had been largely superseded by trade activities; the windows of former furniture workshops are still visible in Nos. 8 and 9 Hoxton Square. The physician Dr James Parkinson (1755-1824), who first diagnosed Parkinson's Disease in 1817, lived in Hoxton Square and a Blue Plaque commemorates this on the house, which later become well known as a jazz club.
The central garden remained in private ownership of the Hoxton Square Trustees, who leased it to Shoreditch Borough Council at a cost of £12 per annum. It was protected against any building during the period of the lease by a 1901 Order in Shoreditch Council and later by the 1906 Preservation of London Squares Act. In 1901 a granite drinking fountain was erected in the square by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, donated by the philanthropist J. Passmore-Edwards, who provided for a similar fountain in Albion Square (q.v.). In the 1928 Royal Commission on London Squares Report Hoxton Square was described as 'a rectangular area surrounded by hedge, attractively laid out with lawn and some well-grown trees . . . a great amenity in a densely developed neighbourhood'.
The garden layout has little changed, consisting of two areas of lawn surrounded by paths, with shrubs and some mature trees around the perimeter, which is bordered by modern railings. Two fine plane trees with new seating encircling their trunks are either side of the central drinking fountain, with a small tiled pavilion at the north end of the garden. It is now maintained by the Hoxton Trust, which was founded in 1982 as a community charity whose aims are to protect the Hoxton community's past, to improve its present and to secure its future. Trust activities include a Horticultural Training Programme and also Parks Management Service; in 1993 it set up a free Legal Advice Service. Other gardens in the Hoxton area that are managed by the Trust include The Hoxton Trust Community Garden (q.v.), the garden of St John the Baptist Church (q.v.) and gardens on local housing estates.
Hoxton Square was refurbished in the mid 1990s and remains an important amenity as the surrounding area has become increasingly popular, with the opening of contemporary art galleries, clubs, bars and restaurants, and the garden itself has hosted a variety of events such as National Youth Theatre's Shakespeare in the Square in 2004. As a result, the well-used garden is undergoing further improvements, to be completed in summer 2011, with new planting, additional seating, restoration of the drinking fountain and the path around the square re-laid.
Robinson, Lost Hackney; Parks and Open Spaces in Hackney, A Report by the Hackney Society, London 1980; Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950); The Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch, London 1933; Report of the Royal Commission on London Square (1928); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972)