The Hackney Marshes, sprawling across the eastern flank of the River Lea in East London, just south of Walthamstow, has been a haven for urban dwellers for centuries. More recently, from March 2020 and the proceeding lockdowns that followed it, it became a more cherished site than ever before, as people fled their homes and flocked to the greenery to frolic, meet friends, and stare at the horizon.
Photographer Freya Najade, a Hamburg native by birth and Londoner by relocation, has been frequenting the Marshes for over a decade. The precious symbolism of a place unspoilt by commerce and modernity has long resonated with her. Dozens of hours of lone strolls later, in which she documented the Marshes’ humanity and wildlife, Freya is proud to present a touching and timeless portrait of the area.
Ever since Freya moved to London to study, in 2009, she’s been drawn back to the greenery of the Marshes. In fact, it was during her first week in the capital that she knew she wanted to live as close to it as possible. ‘I was walking along the canal in Hackney in my first week, just leisurely,’ she tells me, ‘that became my first project for Hoxton Mini Press, Along the Hackney Canal.’
The marshes follow the canal as one makes their way through East London, so it seemed only fitting that Freya would publish The Hackney Marshes next.
Despite having so much love for the location, Freya has several environmental criticisms. There’s the rubbish left, especially in summer, by the public, as well as the lack of safety after nightfall. ‘But my biggest criticism would be that the river is so polluted. I’d be very happy if that changed.’
I ask Freya if the Marshes will still be here in a hundred years’ time. ‘It depends on how greedy society gets,’ she replies darkly, ‘I’m amazed there’s this humongous green space in the middle of the city, and it’d be very easy to chop some pieces of it off and turn into housing…but for now, this just means it’s even more of an incredible, precious space.’
The Hackney Marshes is available to buy now from Hoxton Mini Press.