A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Barnsbury and King's Cross
Covering the whole of the parish west of the settlement along Upper Street and south of the N.L.R. line, was mainly built over in the earlier 19th century. The only medieval building recorded was Barnsbury manor house, (fn. 94) which was probably not inhabited after the 14th century, although its moated site remained until the 19th century; no other early sites have been identified. The extreme south-western corner of the parish was part of a settlement called Battle Bridge, on the boundary with St. Pancras, where lived a miller punished for sedition in the 1550s and Cliffe, a cobbler said to have written The Cobblers Book, printed in 1589, denying the Church of England. (fn. 95) A chapel was built near the south end of Maiden Lane in the 1770s and a few small houses existed by the end of the century, inhabited in 1810 mainly by shopkeepers and artisans and labourers. The area was made unattractive by its proximity to the Fleet river and the trades that had gathered there, including a pottery, a paint manufacturer, and a bone collector. Tile kilns were operating farther north along Maiden Lane, (fn. 96) while the building of the Horsfall basin on the canal in 1825 (fn. 97) drew more trade, especially in heavy building materials. Farther east at the conduit house near the Back Road on the boundary were the tea-gardens called the White Conduit House, opened in the 1730s but possibly with an earlier forerunner, since there had been a bowling green beside the conduit in the 1650s. (fn. 98) In 1777 the parish work-house was built half-way up the Back Road, (fn. 99) but speculative building did not follow until nearer the end of the century.
The first such building took place in the Back Road, as individual landowners sought to take advantage of a demand stimulated by the building of Pentonville, in Clerkenwell. Park Place, a small terrace at the junction of Islington Park Street, is dated 1790. (fn. 1) Opposite on Nathaniel Bishop's Barnfield estate, building also began around that date. Although 3 1/2 a. fronting the Back Road had been reserved for building in 1718, (fn. 2) no houses were recorded in the 1740s. (fn. 3) In 1810 there were cottages on land included in a building agreement. Five houses, already built on 1/2 a. excluded from the agreement, (fn. 4) probably formed the beginning of Barnsbury Terrace, on the Back Road above the lane later known as Barnsbury Park. Farther south, on the glebe estate between the Back Road and White Conduit gardens, the rector granted leases to Richard Chapman on completed houses in Strahan Terrace, fronting Liverpool Road, and in the streets running back to White Conduit Street, later Mantell, Ritchie, and Batchelor streets, in 1808, 1810 and 1813, and on Elizabeth Terrace in Cloudesley Place in 1819. (fn. 5) Just north of the workhouse Morgan's Place (nos. 281-5 Liverpool Road) was under way by 1817 (fn. 6) and completed in 1818, (fn. 7) and south of the workhouse houses in Felix Place on the east side of Liverpool Road were let by the builder, George Pocock, in 1805; (fn. 8) the terraces opposite, called Felix Street, Prospect Place, and Felix Terrace, had also been completed by 1817. (fn. 9) West of the houses were 9 a. called Great and Little Bowling Alley fields, which George Thornhill let to Christopher Bartholomew in 1789. Bartholomew farmed them until 1794 and was succeeded by a cowkeeper, who occupied the land in 1808, when the fields were used for cricket and other sports. (fn. 10) There was one house there in 1803, later known as Oldfield's dairy, and by 1817 Thomas Oldfield, who had taken over the lease, had built four more houses known as Albion Cottages in what became Thornhill Road, one of them being a tea-house. (fn. 11)
By 1817 two streets linking the Back Road with Upper Street had terraced building: Park Street was almost completely lined, but Barnsbury Street had only a little building on the north side. The rest of the area between the two north-south routes was mostly still fields. Laycock's large dairy farm was at the north end, a paste-board factory had been built towards the south opposite the later Cloudesley Place, and between Park and Barnsbury streets lay a large nursery. (fn. 12) From the 1820s some of Islington's most attractive estates were laid out, in a metropolitan style: spacious squares were linked by unified terraces with regular facades, in contrast with the monotonous terraces that were to cover much of the parish.
The trustees of the 16-a. Stonefields charity estate, which adjoined the glebe estate, obtained an Act to grant building leases in 1811, (fn. 13) but building began only in the 1820s. Parcels were let in 1824 to John Emmett, Dorset Goepel, Philip Langhorn, David Sage, and Richard Chapman; (fn. 14) Cloudesley Square formed the centre, and the estate included a terrace facing Cloudesley Road and Cloudesley Terrace in Liverpool Road, the latter built by Emmett and completed by 1829. (fn. 15) Holy Trinity church was built 1826-9 in the middle of the square, and the parish school in 1830 (fn. 16) at the top of Cloudesley Street, which was not completed until 1839, by Louis England, a local timber merchant. (fn. 17) Building continued in the 1820s on the Barnfield estate under an agreement with Robert Clarke, with villas on the north side of Barnsbury Park, and two cottages at the east end of the south side were built in 1821. Park Terrace, fronting Liverpool Road, was built in 1822 stretching both sides of Brooksby Street. (fn. 18) Leases were granted to Samuel Dallman for houses in Barnsbury Terrace in 1824 (nos. 341-5 Liverpool Road) and 1826 (nos. 329-39). Dallman also built nos. 44-6 Bewdley Street, leased in 1824, while houses at the corner of Bewdley Street and Thornhill Road, part of Minerva Terrace, were leased in 1830 to Louis England and included one which became the King William IV. Clarke took the remainder of the estate for building in 1830; the rest of the south side of Barnsbury Park was leased in 1833-5 and the rest of Bewdley Street 1836-7. (fn. 19) Land on the west side of the estate was let to John Huskisson in 1832, and by 1834 Mountfort House, on part of the moated manor-house site, was ready for letting. (fn. 20)
In the south-western part of the parish, George Thornhill had let large areas on brickmaking agreements from 1808, and in 1823 he began making building leases for 3 1/2 a. south of the canal, including Southampton (later Calshot) Street and Thornhill Street (later Wynford Road). Land was reserved for Thornhill Bridge Place north of the canal in 1827, and on the east side of his estate Gainford Terrace in Richmond Avenue, near Thornhill Road, was built c. 1829. He also put capital into the making of Caledonian Road in 1826, which furthered growth in the western part of the parish. (fn. 21) The laying out of the estate was mainly supervised by Joseph Kay (d. 1847), who took over in 1813 from Henry Richardson, who had also been originally involved in the Barnfield estate. (fn. 22) Other building was started from 1827 at the east end of Copenhagen Street, where c. 25 houses were completed by 1833, (fn. 23) and at Cooks field between Park and Barnsbury streets, where Thomas Cubitt laid out c. 5 a. behind the Church Missionary College. He marked out College Cross, where he laid sewers, and c. 1827 built two or three pattern houses in College Cross and in Manchester Terrace fronting Liverpool Road, but sublet the other plots to local builders. Few were let until after a building recession and most of the agreements were made in 1833-4. By c. 1835 only the north end of Manchester Terrace and three houses in the middle (nos. 10-12) had been built, with houses on the south side of Park Street and four at the south end of College Street (later Cross). (fn. 24)
Just south of Cubitt's land, between Barnsbury and Theberton streets, building on Thomas Milner Gibson's estate also started in the 1820s. (fn. 25) Leases were granted for houses in Moon Street in 1824, near the Pied Bull and in Studd Street at the east end of Theberton Street, and for the White Horse and houses at the west end in 1825. Leases for houses on the south side of Theberton Street followed, 1827-33, and on the north side, 1835-7. The south side of Gibson Square, a continuation of the south side of Theberton Street, was let in 1829, the west side in 1833-4, the north in 1834-5, and the east in 1835-6. The 22 houses in Trinidad Place fronting Liverpool Road were completed from 1830 to 1835. The proprietary school and the chapel and school on the south side of Barnsbury Street, east and west of the street into Milner Square, were completed in 1831 and 1835 respectively. Milner Square was started in 1827 (fn. 26) but houses on the east side were not leased until 1840 and although building on the west side had been agreed with William Spencer Dove, work had not started in 1846, when Gibson's estate was enfranchised, and was completed only in the 1850s. Leases were granted to jobbing builders or their nominees and the most important leaseholders in 1846, and therefore builders of the estate, were Louis England with 60 houses, William Spencer Dove with 44 houses, some workshops, and building land in Milner Square, Thomas Gardiner with 18, and Charles Weston Anderson with 15 and the Pied Bull inn. Their holdings were scattered and only Dove held leases of an entire run of houses, in Milner Square. The construction of a terrace by several builders with a handful of plots each, the method used for most building in the 19th century, is often evident in the facades, despite a uniform elevation and plan.
Just as building seems to have been slow on the Gibson estate, with 13 years between agreement and lease for a house in Milner Square for example, so the recession affected work on the Thornhill estate, where the main building started only from the late 1830s. (fn. 27) Agreements for Hemingford Terrace at the south end of Hemingford Road and for land on the south side of Richmond Avenue at its east end were made by Thornhill in 1838 and 1840 with William Dennis and George Price, partners who also agreed in 1838 with Henry Rhodes, surveyor for the Coxe family's Denmark estate, to build 10 houses in Denmark Terrace and 17 in Denmark Street, allowing a plot for the British school in 1840. Dennis and Price also agreed in 1841 for a large plot west of Caledonian Road, from Copenhagen Street probably to the N.L.R., and in 1841 agreed with Thornhill for the land between Hemingford and Caledonian roads on either side of Richmond Avenue, subletting some plots. The Drapers' Company's estate between Stonefields and Barnfield was also laid out from 1839, after several attempts to interest builders from 1824. Thomas and Richard Carpenter, cattle salesmen, took a short lease in 1831, but in 1839 Richard took a building lease of most of Lonsdale Square and a few plots in Barnsbury Street on the north side of the estate and of St. George's Terrace on the south. His son R. C. Carpenter, the church architect, was appointed to design the square. Six other builders took leases on the estate: Louis England had nearly all of Barnsbury Street and a few plots in St. George's Terrace; T. Pearson and S. Phillips had a few plots each in the square, and three builders had two each in St. George's Terrace. Barnsbury Street (nos. 73-111 (odd), 28-62 (even)) was ready first, in 1840, followed by St. George's Terrace (later nos. 91-107, 111-125 (odd) Richmond Avenue) by 1841, and the square was completed in 1845. (fn. 28) In addition Malvern Terrace and the east end of Albion (later Ripplevale) Grove were built 1839-41, the latter being completed in the mid 1840s, and Belitha Villas were built as Italianate pairs c. 1845. (fn. 29)
In 1841 the area between Liverpool and Thornhill roads was filling rapidly but the rest of Barnsbury was largely empty. Cloudesley Square and its adjoining streets were almost filled, as were Barnsbury Park and neighbouring streets on the Barnfield estate. East of Liverpool Road only Gibson Square, Theberton Road, and College Cross were filled, leaving cow layers north of Park Street and some land around the Gibson estate still open. West of Thornhill Road the area nearest the road and between Richmond Avenue and Pentonville was nearly all built over, as was a patch between the canal and the Clerkenwell boundary east of Caledonian Road. West of Caledonian Road what seem to have been detached or semi-detached villas and cottages were built in Bemerton, Lyon, and Gifford streets, and in Buckingham (later Boadicea) Street c. 1845 near the canal, with terraces between the latter and Caledonian Road, besides a small terrace on the south side of Randell's Road. (fn. 30)
By the mid 1850s the rest of Barnsbury was almost completely filled. (fn. 31) West of Caledonian Road the detached villas planned or built in Bemerton Street were replaced by terraces, except in Sutton Gardens west of Upper Bemerton Street, which was laid out with detached or semi-detached houses. The street plan between Sutton Gardens and Maiden Lane was altered by the G.N.R. line's cutting and tunnel, which separated from the rest of the parish a small portion built over by c. 1853 and the site of Stroud Vale Artisan dwellings in 1879. (fn. 32) Apart from Randell's 4-a. tile field and kilns in Maiden Lane, the area north of the canal was filled with terraces by c. 1853, while south of the canal some streets of houses were built to join the factories and warehouses, including Keystone Crescent west of Caledonian Road, and 30 houses in Albion (later Balfe) Street built by 1847 by George Crane. (fn. 33) In 1862 the banks of the canal had many tall factory chimneys, but Caledonian Road north of the canal was still lined with its 'genteel suburban terraces', each with little front gardens. (fn. 34)
Thornhill Square (fn. 35) was being laid out in 1848 with its adjacent streets, and St. Andrew's church in the centre of the crescent was completed in 1854. Barnsbury Square was laid out with semi-detached villas between Mountfort House and Thornhill Road and in Mountfort Crescent north of the house. On the south side Mountfort Terrace was built and some villas were also built behind the house; all were completed by 1848. South of Barnsbury Square, land that had been a nursery in 1848 (fn. 36) was the site of Richmond Crescent and Terrace on the north side of Richmond Avenue and a continuation of Ripplevale Grove by c. 1853, but the central portion of Lofting Road was finished only in the 1860s. Open space also remained towards Upper Street. Part, just south of Theberton Street, was used for the London Fever hospital, built in 1849 with ground for expansion behind. Farther south King Edward and Paradise (later Parkfield) streets were built with small terraced houses, but some open ground remained behind the terraces lining Liverpool Road, while north of Park Street the cow layers kept open most of the ground as far as the N.L.R.
Thereafter, the only major additions in the area were buildings on the site of Randell's tile field and Sutton Gardens in the 1870s. York Way board school was built on the west side of the tile field in 1874, (fn. 37) with small terraced houses in Delhi and Outram streets behind. Houses in East Street, later a continuation of Gifford Street, made way for Gifford Street board school at the north end in 1877, (fn. 38) with five-storeyed blocks of model working-class dwellings called Beaconsfield Buildings built south of the school in 1878-9 by the Victoria Dwellings Association to a design of Charles Barry the younger. (fn. 39)
The houses in the squares, in major roads such as Caledonian, Liverpool, Hemingford, and Richmond roads, and in other groups such as Barnsbury Park, Richmond Crescent, and Albion Grove, were middle-class: substantial three- or four-storeyed terraces with basements and attics, or detached and semi-detached villas, generally stuccoed with bay windows. The lesser streets had two- or three-storeyed houses for the lower middle class and artisans. The social status of many streets soon declined. Three quarters of the occupants of Denmark Terrace, for example, were middle-class in 1841, but only a third in 1851. (fn. 40) The squares maintained their status longest, being self-contained and often cut off from the rest of the neighbourhood by gates; in some cases, such as Lonsdale Square, the leases stipulated single-family occupation. (fn. 41) West of Caledonian Road the tile kilns and pollution from industries at Belle Isle in the early 1850s exasperated householders who had moved there for fresh air and perhaps accounted for a particularly quick decline. Problems were exacerbated by poor drainage. Houses in Great and Little William streets suffered from damp basements and sewage oozing through the walls; farther east an open sewer behind Mountfort Terrace and Lofting Road complained of in 1848 was still a health hazard in 1853. In Storey Street piles of builders' rubbish prevented it from being paved for several years after the houses were occupied. Many of the defects, not unique to Barnsbury, were the result of quick growth and discouraged from staying those who could afford to move farther away. The occupants of most of the large terraced houses fronting Caledonian Road, between Lyon and Copenhagen streets, changed from private residents to tradesmen and craftsmen between the beginning and middle of the 1850s.
After the area was built up there were few major changes until the Second World War. Some houses made way for schools: in Everilda Street for St. Thomas's school in 1866, in Vittoria Place in 1879, between Edward Square and Buckingham Street in 1887, and between Batchelor and Ritchie streets in 1891. Public buildings included the imposing Agricultural Hall, built in 1861-2 between Liverpool Road and Upper Street. (fn. 42) The Great Northern hospital moved in 1864 to Pembroke Villa, Caledonian Road, which had been occupied by George Price,the builder, in 1844. It took over the neighbouring Twyford Villa, once the home of William Dennis, and adjoining houses until by 1867 the hospital occupied the whole block between Stanmore and Twyford streets, where it remained until 1888. The buildings were replaced by Caledonian Road baths in 1892. Not far away a branch library was built in 1907 by the western exit from Thornhill Square. Open land beside Laycock's dairy and cow layers was taken in 1883 for the four blocks of model dwellings at the junction of Station and Liverpool roads, called Liverpool Buildings, as well as a board school in Station Road in 1885, and the L.G.O.C.'s factory extending either side of Laycock Street by 1886. (fn. 43) Factories were built on part of Laycock's yard by 1908 and part was sold for Laycock Street school, built 1915. (fn. 44) Laycock Mansions were built nearby in 1926. (fn. 45) At the junction with Liverpool Road the Samuel Lewis Trust built five blocks of dwellings between 1910 and 1914. (fn. 46) More artisans' dwellings were built in 1902 at the corner of Thornhill Road and Barnsbury by the East End Dwellings Co. and called Thornhill Houses. (fn. 47)
Municipal housing began in the area shortly before the Second World War with the L.C.C.'s 4 1/2-a. Barnsbury estate near Pentonville, begun in 1936 (fn. 48) to relieve serious overcrowding. In 1931 Denmark Street and Terrace, Beaconsfield Buildings, the area between Station Road and Laycock Street, and a small area on the south side of Park Street were the most overcrowded, with 1.75 or more persons to a usable room. Streets north of Bingfield Street, around King's Cross, south of Copenhagen Street, near Barnsbury Road and Richmond Avenue, and the Samuel Lewis Buildings had 1.50 to 1.75 persons; the rest of the area west of Caledonian Road, between Liverpool and Hemingford roads south of Richmond Avenue had 1.25 to 1.50 persons, and other parts of the district had 1 to 1.25, except Ripplevale Grove and Richmond Crescent and some mainly commercial parts, which had under I person to a room. By contrast in Tufnell Park and Highbury the density was almost everywhere under 1 person to a room. (fn. 49)
Bombing during the Second World War destroyed many houses, particularly north of Copenhagen Street and west of Caledonian Road, and the borough council began large-scale rebuilding. (fn. 50) York Way Court on the north side of the canal between York Way and Boadicea Street was completed in 1947, with 293 flats and maisonettes in 14 four-storeyed blocks, followed by Naish Court on the opposite side of Copenhagen Street with 212 flats and maisonettes. The rest of the area west of Caledonian Road was nearly all rebuilt over the next 30 years, as the L.C.C.'s (later G.L.C.'s) Bemerton estate. Caithness House and Orkney House were built in the early 1960s, followed by blocks at the north and south ends of the estate, the latter including a fire station and cinema. The estate was completed with blocks near Stanmore Street behind the Caledonian Road baths, which were also rebuilt. Beaconsfield Buildings was acquired by the G.L.C. in 1966; the 383 flats, known as one of the worst slums in the area and nicknamed the Crumbles, were cleared over seven years from 1967. The site became Bingfield park and an adventure playground, with the Crumbles play castle put up in 1975 by children and architectural students and described as an adventurous example of local self-help. (fn. 51) The Barnsbury estate was also extended in several phases to fill the area between Barnsbury and Caledonian roads south of Copenhagen Street, while to the north the streets between Barnsbury Road and Matilda Street were cleared to form much needed open space.
From the 1960s further changes were effected when young professional people began to renovate the run-down 'late Georgian' houses. (fn. 52) The Barnsbury Association was formed in 1964 by new middle-class residents and produced a scheme for closing much of the area to through traffic. When the Barnsbury conservation area was created in 1965 such a scheme was introduced at considerable expense and was bitterly criticized for putting all through traffic along streets that remained working-class. At the same time house prices in Barnsbury rose more sharply than elsewhere: in 1972 the average price was more than three times the average in 1966, and following the designation of Barnsbury as a General Improvement Area in 1972 it immediately rose to four times. The result was that property speculators and estate agents put pressure on unprotected tenants, mostly coloured immigrants in furnished rooms, to move out; sitting tenants were offered money or alternative accommodation, or threatened with court action. Many went into temporary accommodation until rehoused by the council, or into run-down areas such as Westbourne Road and Upper Holloway, (fn. 53) and many families had long-standing connexions with the area broken. The G.L.C. was involved in renovating houses in Cloudesley Place that were intended for working-class tenants, but the costs made the rents too high, and the G.L.C. withdrew for the same reason from a similar joint venture with an offshoot of the Barnsbury Association. By the early 1970s the remaining tenants had begun to resist eviction, and property companies found it less profitable to undertake protracted struggles to clear them. One company sold its holdings to Islington council in 1973, which over the next four years bought and renovated many houses for existing tenants wherever possible. The traffic scheme was modified. The gentrification of Barnsbury achieved fame as the subject of articles in national journals, and affected local politics in the 1980s, when new middle-class residents radicalized the local Labour party and contributed to the formation of a local S.D.P. branch. (fn. 54)
In 1983 Barnsbury retained many buildings of the earlier 19th century in unified squares and terraces, making it attractive to current taste. The part between Milner Square and Thornhill Square was almost all filled with the original houses, or with open space where they had been cleared, and became a Conservation Area. Apart from the few surviving villas around Barnsbury Square, most of the houses are stuccoed and in the restrained classical style once common throughout London, but two of the squares stand out architecturally. Milner Square, attributed to Roumieu & Gough but probably more by Roumieu, has been seen as a negation of harmonious classical proportions, with strong vertical lines on the four-storeyed facades emphasized by tall narrow windows. (fn. 55) Described as architecture 'of the most sinister description', which 'it is possible to visit. . . many times and still not be absolutely certain that you have seen it anywhere but in an unhappy dream', (fn. 56) the square's grim aspect has been somewhat relieved by renovation. Lonsdale Square, by R. C. Carpenter, is radically different from surrounding houses, and described as 'Stucco Tudor'. (fn. 57) The asymmetrical three-storeyed houses, with basements and sharply gabled attics, have Tudorstyle doorways and window dressings. South of Copenhagen Street and west of Caledonian Road almost all the older houses have been replaced by large council estates, with some industry near the canal. North of Lofting Road the buildings are more mixed, with new blocks of flats, maisonettes, and town houses keeping the same scale as older houses, and several shops and small businesses, especially around Liverpool and Thornhill roads.