Emily Orley and Elinor Brass
Hoxton Distillery 2006
"Found Lunatic By Inquisition"

Hoxton Street has a chequered past. Having been home to poor houses, lunatic asylums, saloon theatres and political dissident groups for centuries, it has accumulated a rich and varied history. By looking into the life story of the street we were inspired to make this immersive installation with sound, which also explores the strange nature of memory and the way that it can be contained within the fabric of a place.

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Oddments of information about Hoxton Street

In 1568, the Portuguese ambassador had a house on Hoxton Street and opened up his private chapel so that English Catholics could join the Mass, forbidden in local parish churches.

Worried by the growth of London, Elizabeth 1 had issued a proclamation against the building of new houses within three miles of the City of London, but no one took any notice and by 1601 there were over twenty houses along Hoxton Street.

Some of those who had done well at court came to live in Hoxton. The father of Jerome Bassano, said to be descended from a family of Italian Jews, had come from Venice to be a musician at the court of Henry VIII. Jerome both played and composed, and used his accumulated wealth to buy a house in Hoxton Street around 1589

The combination of being a pleasant rural retreat, and the fact that the area was so close to the City of London, made it popular with benefactors wishing to make provision for the care of the poor, and as the 17th century progressed, a number of wealthy City merchants left money in their will to establish almshouses.

Hoxton was one of the birth-places of the illegal Non-Conformist sects, who met behind locked doors and constructed secret escape passages. The Act of Uniformity, passed in 1662, barred these religious dissenters from school teaching and excluded them from the universities. So they started to establish their own colleges or academies. One of the earliest academies was opened in 1669 in Hoxton Square.

The name Hoxton was once synonymous with lunacy...For nearly three hundred years it had achieved an unwanted notoriety from its private madhouses.

Hoxton House on Hoxton Street, owned by the Miles family, became an asylum in 1695 and continued into 20th century. It was demolished in 1911. Referred to by Coleridge in 1803 as THE Hoxton madhouse, it included (at different times) a gentleman's residence where the owner lived, apparently separate from the asylum, and asylum departments for private (fee-paying) men and women, for male and female pauper lunatics (particularly from the City of London), and for "maniacs" from the navy. It was the naval lunatic asylum until 1818. It also received criminal lunatics. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, when a person has been found lunatic by inquisition he becomes subject to the jurisdiction in lunacy, and remains so (unless he succeeds in setting aside the verdict by a ‘traverse’ until his recovery or by his death. The results of the inquisition are worked out in the Lunacy Office.

Before the Second World War, Hoxton was the most notorious slum district in London, and Hoxton Street was one of the roughest in Britain.

According to the ViewLondon.co.uk website, the area is now “possibly the epicenter of all that is hip and happening in Shoreditch (well, it certainly used to be anyway). Hoxton Square still attracts a devoted following of art students, ethnogeeks, Japanese fashion brats and an assorted (and motley) selection of scruffily dressed locals.”