Park Lane, London, W1. Photo ©RogerDean 2014
Birds in London – W. H. Hudson, 1898:
There is a great deal of running water in Hackney Marsh, and most of the ground lies between two large currents – the East London Waterworks canal on the west side and the sinuous River Lea on the other side. Midway in its course over the Marsh the river divides, the lesser stream being called Lead Mill Stream; lower down the currents reunite: thus the land between forms a long, green, flat island. On this island stands the White House, or White House Fishery, close to the bridge over the Lea, a favourite house for anglers in the vanished days when the Lea was a good river to fish in. The anglers have long forsaken it; but it is a pretty place, standing alone and white on the green level land, surrounded by it few scattered trees, with something of the air about it of a remote country inn, very restful to London eyes. It is also a place of memories, but these are not all of sweet or pleasant things. The White House was the centre and headquarters of the Hackney Marsh sportsmen, and the sports they followed were mostly of that description which, albeit still permissible, are now generally regarded as somewhat brutal and blackguardly in character.
Rabbit coursing, or rabbit worrying, with terriers; and pigeon, starling, and sparrow shooting from traps, were the favourite pastimes. The crowds which gathered to witness these matches were not nice to see and hear, nor were they representative of the people of any London district; they were, in fact, largely composed of the lowest roughs drawn from a population of a million souls – raucous-voiced, lawless, obscene in their language, filthy in their persons, and vicious in their habits. Yet you will find many persons, not of this evil description, who lament that these doings on the Marsh have been abolished, so dear is sport of some kind, involving the killing of animals, to the natural man! Others rejoice at the change. one oldish man, who said that he had known and loved the Marsh from boyhood, and had witnessed the sports for very many years, assured me that only since the County Council had taken this open space in hand was it possible for quiet and decent folks to enjoy it. As to the wild bird shooting, he was glad that that too had been done away with; men who spent their Sundays shooting at starlings, larks, and passing pigeons were, he said, a rough lot of blackguards. […]. One Sunday morning when he was on the Marsh a young sportsman succeeded in bringing down a pigeon which was flying towards London. The bird when picked up was found to have a card attached to its wing – not an unusual occurrence as homing birds were often shot. On the card in this case was written the brief message, ‘Mother is dead.’