Until his eviction in 2006, the Mole Man of Hackney had spent forty years burrowing a warren of exploratory tunnels beneath his house. His digging was gradual, improvised, and deeply eccentric. It upset the neighbours. In 2007, two miles further east, the Olympic Development Authority began to plough up Hackney Wick under the mantra ‘Demolish, Dig, Design’. Its digging was rapid, mechanical, and aggressively logical as former brownfield sites were transformed into blank space for development. The Mole Man’s madcap archaeology is an apt metaphor for how Iain Sinclair has answered what he views as the architectural and political arrogance of the Olympic planners and their ‘demolition and ransacking of a mythical past’. He has tunnelled into the life of Hackney in unexpected places and undermined many assumptions about the borough.
Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire is Sinclair’s literary homecoming, following his remarkable excursions around the M25 in London Orbital and on the trail of John Clare’s journey out of Essex in Edge of the Orison. He moved to Hackney in 1968 and has been fossicking in its cultural detritus