Shepherdess Walk

London, England

More than just a road, park and mural name in Hackney, London, Shepherdess Walk is the place to go to see where medieval meets modern in the capital.

The name Shepherdess Walk refers to a street, park and contemporary art installation in the London Borough of Hackney. The Roman-inspired mosaic murals were designed to showcase the area’s modern history and commemorate the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Shepherdess Walk Mural
- ©Matt Brown

Designed by local artist Tessa Hunkin, the artworks consist of Roman mosaic wall panels. Some 216,000 tiles make up the art installation, and it took over 150 people 1,560 hours to complete.

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Shepherdess Walk History

As the name suggests, the road called Shepherdess Walk is built on top of the remains of a medieval path from Hoxton, now part of Hackney, to Smithfield meat market inside the city walls.

The market was at the centre of London’s meat trade from the 10th century onwards.

In 1790, it was estimated that 90,000 cattle and 1 million sheep and lambs were bought and sold there every year.

- Grandiose, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Over time, the City of London emerged beyond the city walls and by the 19th century, the rolling fields that once flanked Shepherdess Walk had been replaced by rows of townhouses. 

Instead, the pathway that had once led millions of farmers to Central London became a new road which took residents of Hackney and Shoreditch to London’s two largest bathhouses, which were built in 1842.

The bathhouses provided body washing and laundry facilities for 90 years. In the 1950s, the bathhouses were converted into factories.

Growing discontent from local residents about the lack of green spaces in the area was eventually alleviated in the 1970s when the bathhouses and nearby Turner Place were demolished and made into the park that stands there to this day.

Shepherdess Walk Mosaics

Shepherdess Walk History in The Making
- ©Jelm6

Fast forward to 2011 and the bubbling excitement ahead of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Shepherdess Walk had its park and an alleyway leading off the main road to it, but it was in a shabby condition. In fact, it was little more than a derelict and slightly dodgy-looking shortcut.

Artist Tessa Hunkin saw an artistic opportunity to beautify a disused space, as well as showcase Hackney’s community spirit and celebrate the upcoming Olympics.

To achieve this, Hunkin set about designing two panels which would depict modern life in Hackney throughout the four seasons - with a twist. 

The Shepherdess Walk mosaics were inspired by Greece - the home of mosaic-style art and, of course, the Olympics. While the methods and style of the art would be ancient, the images depicted in them would be thoroughly modern.

- ©Matt Brown

Just as Roman mosaics showcased what was important to them (urns, gods and goddesses), the Shepherdess walk mosaics illustrate daily life in the London Borough of Hackney as it was in 2011. Individuals, couples and families are shown using mobile phones, wearing headphones and using skateboards. 

Hunkin worked in collaboration with Hackney Council and local charities Lifeline and Hackney Drug and Alcohol Action Team who helped assemble the mosaics. 

Around 150 people helped to create the mosaic which is made up of 216,000 tiles. It was unveiled on 24th May 2012, just in time for the London Summer Olympics.

Best Way to Visit Shepherdess Walk Hackney

Shepherdess Walk To The Mosaics
- ©Matt Brown

There are two main entrances to the Shepherdess Walk mosaics. 

First, the less interesting way: simply walk through the park. You’ll find the Shepherdess Walk mosaics in the northernmost corner. 

But we recommend you discover this hidden gem the way it was supposed to be found.

Walking along Shepherdess Walk road, stop when you reach number 107. Look closely at the protruding gate between numbers 105 and 107 and you’ll see a tiny plaque, also a mosaic, reading “To the mosaics”. 

Follow the pathway until you reach the grand finale where you can read the names of locals who helped create this community-inspired piece of art.

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