In March 1972, a journalist called Geoffrey Wansell wrote in the Times about Dalston. The headline was The Fading Suburb with a Jaunty Air and Wansell placed the downtrodden London district as west of ‘now fashionable Canonbury’, east of Hackney and its marshes, and north of Hoxton Market, “known for more than a century as the thieves’ den of London”. He went on to describe the area as:
A once wealthier middle-class suburb, founded in the grounds of of a sixteenth-century mansion… Dalston is now neglected and faded, down at heel, but undeniably jaunty.
[Dalston] could never be described as “trendy”, there are no pizza palaces or antique markets as there are in Chelsea: there are only a myriad of “do-it-yourself” emporia and cash-and-carry warehouses with “cheap as the factory prices”. The pavement car dealers clutter the fronts of many houses.
And, essentially, for the next two or three decades that’s how Dalston remained, except, perhaps, the local dealers sold fewer used-cars and more of something slightly more lucrative.
Dalston, at one time, was an important entertainment centre, with four or five cinemas within a radius of a ⅓ of a mile. The Dalston Theatre, a former hippodrome and music hall later became the Four Aces blues club and the Labrynth nightclub. The building was demolished in February 2007.
Everybody knew that drug dealing went on in Sandringham Road. It was common knowledge that police officers took money and drugs from dealers. They would pocket the money and supply the drugs to other dealers. The Line is riddled with what we call “informers”, people who work for the police. It was as if the only people who were safe were the dealers, because, one way or the other, they were useful to the police. Anybody who was in the police’s way would be arrested. Innocent people who just happened to be in the area were planted with drugs to make it look as if the police were doing their job.
Hugh Prince in Fighting the Lawmen, 1992.