The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 8 Commons and Open Spaces

Highbury Fields

Previous - Next

Highbury Fields, although much smaller than Hackney Downs, being only 27 instead of 41 acres, play as important a part in the north of London, as the Downs do in the north-east. They are not, however, Common Lands, but until recently were actually fields with sheep grazing in them. Tradition points to Highbury Fields as the site of the Roman encampment during the final struggle with Boadicea. In the Middle Ages they belonged to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and there the rebels of the Wat Tyler rising, headed by Jack Straw, camped after leaving Hampstead. There are a few old trees still standing in the Fields, which were formerly within the grounds of two detached resi- dences, one of them the Manor House. An old "moated grange," or barn, belonging to the ancient Priory, gives its name to the public-house, Highbury Barn, the goal of motor omnibuses. The moat was only filled up fifty years ago, and the old buildings pulled down, after enjoying some notoriety as a Tea Garden for over a century. A part of the present Fields was called "the Reedmote," or "Six Acre Field," and is also shown on old maps as "Mother Field." When Islington Spa was a fashionable resort, and Sadler's Wells at the height of its prosperity, the houses facing the Fields were built. On the north-west the row is inscribed in large letters, "Highbury Terrace, 1789," and this, according to old guide-books, "commands a beautiful prospect." On the east lies another substantial row of eighteenth-century mansions, and the inhabitants are proud to point out to strangers No. 25 Highbury Place as the house in which Mr. Chamberlain lived, from the age of nine until he was eighteen, when he went to live in Birmingham. His present home, now so well known, was built in 1879, and was named in remembrance of Highbury Place. In the early years of the nineteenth century several well-known people were living in these houses. John Nichols, the biographer of Hogarth, who was for fifty years editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, died there in 1826. A few years later a historian of Islington describes Highbury Place as "thirty-nine houses built on a large scale, but varying in size, all having good gardens, and some of them allotments of meadow land in the front and rear. The road is private, and is frequented only by the carriages passing to and from the several dwellings situated between the village and Highbury House." This description draws a very rural picture, of which nothing now remains but the name. The Fields were turned into a public Park in 1885, and now consist of wide open spaces for games, with intersecting paths well planted with limes, elms, chestnuts, and planes, and an abundance of seats. Near the point where Upper Street, Islington ends and Holloway Road joins it, a memorial to the soldiers and volunteers of Islington who fell in the Boer War has been erected, and the figure of Victory stands conspicuously facing the approach from the city.