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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'Islington: Growth, Highbury', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, (London, 1985) pp. 37-41. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol8/pp37-41 [accessed 29 February 2024]
received its name from the situation of the manor house of Newington Barrow, on a hill surrounded by the demesne. The name came to be used for the district extending roughly southward from the parish boundary to Highbury Corner and westward from the New River to Drayton Park, but before the 18th century the only settlement was at the Hospitallers' manor house and grange, recorded in 1338. After the house had been destroyed in 1381, the grange and barn remained on the east side of the track that ran south to Hopping Lane roughly on the later line of Highbury Park and Highbury Grove. The moated site of the house, known as Jack Straw's castle, remained empty west of the track until 1781. In 1611 only the grange and barn were mentioned but in 1692 Highbury house and farm adjoined the barn. (fn. 97) A farmhouse, called Cream Hall by 1745, (fn. 98) was built at the south-east corner of Highbury wood between 1692 and 1718, and may have replaced an earlier house near Stroud Green which was called Cream Hall in 1718. (fn. 99)
Residential growth began in the 1770s when John Dawes, who had bought much of the demesne and former woods, (fn. 1) granted leases in 1774-9 for the 39 houses of Highbury Place, built by John Spiller, a speculative builder of Southwark, under an agreement of 1773. (fn. 2) The originality of the design of the houses has been attributed to the architect James Spiller. (fn. 3) In 1781 Dawes built Highbury House on the moated site. (fn. 4) The central portion of Highbury Terrace was dated 1789; (fn. 5) nos. 1-16 had been built by 1794, with land reserved for extension at the north end, (fn. 6) where by 1829 there were 22 houses of different sizes by several builders. (fn. 7) North-east of the terrace stood Highbury Hill House, designed for the physician William Saunders by Daniel Asher Alexander c. 1790 and later occupied by Joseph Wilson. (fn. 8) By 1805 Highbury Lodge had been built on Dawes's land at the north end of Highbury Terrace and adjoining Saunders's grounds. (fn. 9)
In 1794 the hamlet consisted of Highbury House and Highbury Hill House, Highbury Barn, a resort and tea-gardens, and the two terraces of Highbury Terrace and Place. The land behind Highbury Place was divided into leasehold meadows and gardens of c. 2 a. each, with outbuildings and a nursery; the land facing it and behind Highbury Terrace was similarly leased, mainly to the residents. South of Highbury Place and along Holloway Road was a nursery, while the larger meadows on the west side of Dawes's estate were let together for graing. On the east side of Highbury Grove, not part of Dawes's estate, stood a nonconformist chapel. (fn. 10) Residents in the 1820s were merchants and other prosperous City men, (fn. 11) who saw Highbury as separate from the rest of Islington, with gates closing off the private road past Highbury Place from Holloway Road. In 1820 the inhabitants tried in vain to obtain their own lighting and watching Act, instead of contributing to the parish rate. (fn. 12)
By c. 1817 further substantial detached houses stood on the east side of Highbury Grove between Highbury Barn and the chapel, (fn. 13) which itself became a dwelling house after the congregation had moved to Union chapel in 1806. (fn. 14) North of the Barn, Highbury Park House and a smaller house almost opposite had been built by 1814. (fn. 15) In 1820 Thomas Cubitt took c. 12 a. between Highbury Barn and the footpath to Stoke Newington, on which he built moderate sized but elegant villas. Ten houses, mostly by Cubitt, faced west to Highbury Park and eight had been leased by 1825. Behind them, plots were laid along Highbury Grange; those on the north side were subcontracted to Samuel and Charles Cleaver and two were ready for leasing in 1821. At least one on the south side, no. 4, was built by John Bentley to whom it was leased in 1825. The remaining plots went quickly and the houses were finished by 1832. (fn. 16) Highbury Park led northward past Cream Hall into Highbury Vale, where building was also under way in 1824 in the later Hurlock and Elwood streets, which had been part of the Cream Hall or Highbury woods estate and sold to William Bennett, a London silversmith, in 1819. (fn. 17) Trustees acquired another parcel of the estate, on the north side of a private road later called Aubert Park, for the dissenters' Highbury College, designed by John Davies in Ionic style and built in 1825-6. The grounds of c. 5 a. extended north-west behind the college; 1 1/2 a. on the east side was added in 1835 and a smaller plot on the west side in 1854 when the college had become a training school for schoolmasters. The buildings and grounds covered 7 a. in 1866, when it became an Anglican theological college. (fn. 18)
By 1829 some building fronted Holloway Road west of Highbury Place, although the land behind was still fields. Highbury Park had been extended northward with more villas between the Newington footpath (later site of Kelross Road) and Highbury Park House. Opposite Cubitt's villas Park Terrace of 20 uniform houses had been started by 1829 (fn. 19) and completed by 1841. The private road past Highbury College was continued south as Highbury Park West (later Hamilton Park West) and a few semi-detached stuccoed villas had been built on the west side by 1841, while farther north Highbury Vale was filling on the west side and building had started in Park Place (later Conewood Street). (fn. 20) In 1844 land south of Highbury Terrace was laid out for Highbury Crescent by James Wagstaff and James Goodbody; nos. 19-25 were let to Goodbody in 1846. The houses were pairs of large Italianate villas, with rich and varied decorations in stucco. (fn. 21) By 1848 villas on the south side of Highbury Crescent West (later Fieldway Crescent) ran down to Holloway Road, and Christ Church was opened in 1848 at the top of Highbury Grove to serve the rapidly growing suburb. (fn. 22)
Highbury New Park was one of two estates laid out in the 1850s, being developed from 1851 by Henry Rydon on former land of Francis Maseres, which had passed to Robert and William Fellowes. (fn. 23) Three houses fronting Highbury Grove south of Aberdeen Park were leased in 1851 and Park Road (later Highbury New Park), Grosvenor Road (later Avenue), Highbury Quadrant, Paradise Road (later Collins Road on the line of the Stoke Newington footpath), and Beresford Terrace were laid out. A road later called Petherton Road was planned for the east side of the New River along a footpath from St. Paul's Road to Green Lanes. (fn. 24) Land at the junction of Highbury Grove and Park Road was sold to the Church Missionary Society, which opened its children's home there in 1853. (fn. 25) By 1852 six houses had been built at the west end of Grosvenor Road, 7 in Highbury Grove, Rydon's home Pyrland House in Park Road, and about 6 at the extreme northern end of the estate near Green Lanes. By the mid 1850s about 20 houses had been built at the southern end of Park Road and by 1860 43 houses stood at that end and 33 at the northern, leaving a large central stretch unbuilt, and 12 in Grosvenor Road. Eight houses in Beresford Terrace were completed in 1859. Fourteen large houses were built fronting Green Lanes between 1854 and 1864 in addition to the house at the corner of Paradise Road, which had been built between 1829 and 1841. (fn. 26) The imposing detached and semi-detached houses on the estate, built by various sublessees, were designed by Charles Hambridge in mixed Italo-Romanesque styles. In wide streets with spacious gardens, they were apparently in great demand in the 1850s.
Aberdeen Park was also laid out at that time. Owned in 1848 by George Morrice, it was a compact block on the east side of Highbury Grove just south of Highbury Barn. Large detached and semi-detached villas in Italian style were built by the mid 1850s facing Highbury Grove and on the south side of Aberdeen Park, a private road running eastward, which was later extended roughly in a square to fill the shape of Morrice's estate. (fn. 27) St. Saviour's church was built fronting the eastern side of the extension in 1866, at the expense of the Revd. W. D. Morrice, (fn. 28) but many plots on that part of the estate remained vacant in the 1890s. (fn. 29)
By the mid 1850s building was in progress elsewhere in Highbury. Land belonging to Highbury House and to Highbury Hill House was being laid out: the road later known as Highbury Hill was made from Christ Church, running north of Highbury Hill House, and some substantial villas were built on the north side near the church and on the south side west of Highbury Hill House. Leigh Road was laid west and south of Highbury House and some building began at the east end, while a terrace was built fronting east to Highbury Park. Hamilton Park on the north side of the House was also laid out and two terraces were built on the central portion. A row of semi-detached villas was built at the south end of Highbury Grove facing the Highbury New Park estate. (fn. 30) At the same time building was starting north of Highbury, along Blackstock Lane. Ambler Road and the north-eastern end of Monsell Road, then called King's Road, were laid out in the 1840s, but although a couple of older cottages stood near the junction with Seven Sisters Road in 1848, only one building stood in Ambler Road and none in King's Road. (fn. 31) By the mid 1850s there were a few terraced houses and cottages on the west side of Blackstock Road and north side of King's Road, (fn. 32) to which some terraces fronting Seven Sisters Road and the newly formed St. Thomas's Road were added in the 1860s. (fn. 33) Land between the N.L.R. and St. Paul's Road was also being filled with terraces in the 1850s, and Alma Terrace at the corner of St. Paul's Road and Highbury Grove (later nos. 214-22 even, St. Paul's Road) was built in 1854-5 with houses and shops. (fn. 34)
Highbury Hill Park, later Drayton Park, was offered for building leases between 1855 and 1865. One of the last unbuilt estates, it formed the western boundary of Highbury from Hackney brook almost to Holloway Road. The road, later called Drayton Park, running the length of the estate and joining Holloway Road, was constructed in the early 1850s and a link with Hornsey Road called Benwell Road was built with terraces. (fn. 35) The estate was intended to have detached and semi-detached villas, but the few houses of the 1860s at the Holloway Road end were more modest terraced houses than elsewhere in Highbury, probably because of the proximity to Ring Cross. A new road later called Bryantwood Road, between Drayton Park and Benwell Road, also had a few terraced houses of that period, twelve of which on the north side were let to Charles Bryantwood in 1868. (fn. 36) The G.N.R.'s Canonbury spur line, opened in 1874 (fn. 37) close to the west side of Drayton Park, prevented building on that side of the road and led to the opposite side being filled with terraces.
The type of house built elsewhere in Highbury also changed. In the 1860s building had continued in the roads already laid down: the two arms of Highbury Quadrant were almost filled with c. 45 detached and semi-detached villas similar to the rest of the estate, and Highbury Hill and the roads around Highbury House were also filling rapidly with large houses. (fn. 38) In the 1870s, however, the building of such villas ended, probably because demand ceased but possibly because of a greater financial return from closely packed houses. In the central part of Highbury New Park, land intended for a crescent opposite St. Augustine's church was built over in 1873-7 with terraces fronting Highbury New Park and lining Balfour and Stradbroke roads behind, which joined Highbury Grange. More terraces by 1877 linked Highbury Quadrant with Riversdale Road. (fn. 39) Land on either side of Highbury Hill north of Aubert Park was let for building in 1878 and terraced houses were put up, (fn. 40) and in the late 1870s and the 1880s more building was carried out in St. Thomas's Road and adjoining streets. (fn. 41)
By the mid 1890s there was little land left, apart from the 25 1/2-a. Highbury Fields bought for a public park in 1885, (fn. 42) and the spaces that had been left in earlier periods had been filled with small streets of terraces. Such areas comprised the remaining land north of Gillespie Road, between Riversdale and Mountgrove roads, between the Quadrant and Highbury Grange, the area west of the spur railway line, and east of Highbury Place. (fn. 43) Few of the important houses remained in their former state. Highbury House had lost almost all its grounds; Highbury Hill House and its grounds became a school in 1894; (fn. 44) Cream Hall made way for Legard Road and St. John's church in the early 1880s. (fn. 45) South of St. John's the detached Loxford House, built in the 1850s, still had large grounds; Highbury College, renamed St. John's Hall, also retained its grounds, and much of the Aberdeen Park estate was still open. (fn. 46)
The 20th century saw no major changes in Highbury's appearance until after the Second World War, although there were minor changes, often connected with the area's social character. Before 1914 Highbury still contained well-to-do residents (fn. 47) and houses in streets such as Highbury New Park and Highbury Hill were normally occupied by single families, but by 1930 most had been subdivided or taken for schools or institutions, (fn. 48) and the Highbury Athenaeum became a film studio in the late 1930s. (fn. 49) An example was no. 150 Highbury New Park, which in 1936 had two flats on the ground floor with a shared bathroom, one flat and two bed-sitting rooms on the first floor, and one flat with a balcony on the second floor; its detached stable block, which had been converted into a caretaker's cottage in 1914, was a garage with a flat over it, let separately and with its own garden. (fn. 50) Despite multi-occupation, overcrowding was not a problem in Highbury as a whole, which had few of the very poor. Almost all the area was in the lowest category of occupancy in 1929, with under one person to a room, except the Monsell, Gillespie, and Conewood area, with between 1 and 1.25 persons to a room, and a strip along Drayton Park, with the second highest category at 1.50 to 1.75 persons. (fn. 51)
Change in use affected the larger and older buildings, and encouraged infilling. The most significant change took place in 1913, when part of the grounds of St. John's Hall was leased to Woolwich Arsenal football club. (fn. 52) The subsequent success of Arsenal made Highbury nationally known, although it drew crowds which had a depressing effect on nearby housing. The remaining older houses also disappeared in the period between the World Wars. Highbury Hill House was demolished c. 1928 and school buildings were put up in the grounds. (fn. 53) Highbury House followed in 1938 and formed the site of Eton House flats, built by the Old Etonian Housing Association in 1939. (fn. 54) Loxford House was sold to the National Children's Home, whose chief offices moved there in 1925 from the Leysian Mission, City Road; additions, including a family centre, were built behind the house. (fn. 55) In Highbury New Park the grounds of Pyrland House became the site of Holmcote Gardens in 1926. (fn. 56) Several villas in Highbury Park and on the south side of Highbury Grange were replaced by the four-storeyed blocks of Addington Mansions in 1922. (fn. 57) Avenell Road Mansions was built in 1930. (fn. 58) Many small works and businesses appeared in major roads such as Highbury Grove and Gillespie Road, and also in quieter ones such as Highbury Terrace and Place, which, like other once select streets, had few private residents left. (fn. 59)
After the Second World War large-scale rebuilding in parts of Highbury replaced bombed buildings and provided new municipal housing. The Blackstock estate in Hurlock Street was planned in 1936 and 3 five-storeyed blocks were completed before or after the Second World War, with a fourth added later. Eight four- and five-storeyed blocks of flats and maisonnettes had been built by 1967 on the north side of Grosvenor Avenue stretching to Highbury New Park, which also contained several other blocks, both municipal and private. The largest area to be rebuilt was where the Quadrant estate, 611 dwellings in 40 four- and five-storeyed blocks, was built by the L.C.C. between Collins Road and Green Lanes and between the two arms of Highbury Quadrant. Opened in 1954, the estate developed the use of low-rise blocks in conjunction with terraced housing. St. John's Hall was badly bombed and the college did not return after the war, the buildings being replaced by Aubert Court with 100 dwellings. Most municipal estates were smaller, with c. 50 dwellings or less. (fn. 60)
In the early 1980s Highbury still appeared an attractive suburb, where new buildings matched the scale of their neighbours and many stood in wide tree-lined streets. On the east side Highbury New Park, the south side of Grosvenor Avenue, and Aberdeen Park have many of their original villas, interspersed with small blocks of flats. Highbury Grove and its continuation as Highbury Park suffer from traffic and the latter has also become a shopping street. Two of Cubitt's Highbury Park villas, nos. 54 and 56, still stand, as does Park Terrace opposite, while Addington Mansions was renovated by the borough council and renamed Taverner Square and Peckitt Square in 1982. (fn. 61) On the west side Highbury Place, Highbury Terrace, and Highbury Crescent survive around the trees of Highbury Fields. No. 1 Highbury Place was the studio of Walter Sickert from 1927 to 1934 (fn. 62) and no. 25 was the boyhood home of Joseph Chamberlain from 1845 to 1854. (fn. 63) A few large villas also remain in Highbury Hill, mostly divided into flats as elsewhere in Highbury. Farther west near Drayton Park many two- and three-storeyed terraced houses remain but others have been demolished or converted into business premises or shops, while the North London polytechnic has rebuilt part of the south side of Benwell Road. The northern part of the area is the most changed and resembles the neighbouring parts of Upper Holloway, with large council estates, modest terraced houses, and many commercial premises, especially in Gillespie and Blackstock roads.