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Islington is the central district of the London Borough of Islingtonmarker. It is an inner-city district in London, spanning from Islington High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy Upper Street. The name is now also often applied to the areas of the borough close to Upper Street such as Barnsburymarker and Canonburymarker, developed in the Georgian era.

Modern definition

Islington grew as a sprawling village along the line of the Great North Road and has provided the name of the modern borough. This gave rise to some confusion, as neighbouring districts may also be said to be in Islington. This district is bounded by Liverpool Roadmarker to the west and New North Road to the south-east. Its northernmost point is in the area of Highburymarker. The main north-south high street, Upper Street splits at Highbury Corner to Holloway Road to the west and St. Paul's Road to the east.

The area round Angel tube stationmarker is sometimes considered a district in its own right, The Angel, Islingtonmarker. The northern part of this area (from the Liverpool Roadmarker junction northwards) is within the district of Islington, while the southern half is in neighbouring Finsburymarker. The area below Penton Steet and east of Pentonville Road is the adjoining district of Pentonvillemarker.



Islington was originally named by the Saxons Giseldone (1005), then Gislandune (1062). The name means 'Gīsla's hill' from the Old English personal name Gīsla and dun 'hill', 'down'. The name then later mutated to Isledon, which remained in use well into the 17th century when the modern form arose. 'Islington: Growth', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes (1985), pp. 9-19 accessed: 13 March 2007 In medieval times, Islington was just one of many small manors hereabouts, along with Bernersbury, Neweton Berewe or Hey-bury and Canonesbury (Barnsbury, Highbury and Canonbury - names first recorded in the 13th and 14th centuries).


1861 Cattle show at the Royal Agricultural Hall
Some roads on the edge of the area, including Essex Road were known as streets by the medieval period, possibly indicating a Roman origin, but little physical evidence remains. What is known is that the Great North Roadmarker, from Aldersgatemarker came into use in the 14th century, connecting with a new turnpike (toll road) up Highgate Hillmarker. This was along the line of modern Upper Street, with a toll gate at The Angelmarker, defining the extent of the village. The Back Road, the modern Liverpool Roadmarker, was primarily a drovers' road where cattle would be rested before the final leg of their journey to Smithfieldmarker. Pens and sheds were erected along this road to accommodate the animals. 'Islington: Communications', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes (1985), pp. 3-8 accessed: 9 March 2007

Islington lay on the estates of the Bishop of London, and the Dean and Chapter of St Paulsmarker. There were substantial medieval moated manor houses in the area, principally at Canonbury and Highbury. In 1548, there were 440 communicants listed, and the rural atmosphere, with access to the City and Westminster, made it a popular residence for the rich and eminent. The local inns, however, harboured many fugitives and recursants.

The Royal Agricultural Hall was built in 1862, on the Liverpool Roadmarker site of William Dixon's Cattle Layers. The hall was 75 ft high, and the arched glass roof spanned 125 ft. It was built for the annual Smithfield Show in December, but was popular for other purposes, including recitals and the Royal Tournament. It was the primary exhibition site for London until the 20th century, and the largest building of its kind, holding up to 50,000 people. It was requisitioned for use by the Mount Pleasant sorting officemarker during World War II and never re-opened. The main hall has now been incorporated into the Business Design Centre.
'Islington: Social and cultural activities', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes (1985), pp. 45-51 accessed: 8 March 2007

Water sources

The hill on which Islington stands has long supplied the City of Londonmarker with water, the first projects drawing water through wooden pipes from the many springs that lay at its foot, in Finsburymarker. These included Sadler's Wellsmarker, London Spa and Clerkenwellmarker.

By the 17th century these traditional sources were inadequate to supply the growing population and plans were laid to construct a waterway, the New Rivermarker, to bring fresh water from the source of the River Lee, in Hertfordshiremarker to New River Head, below Islington in Finsburymarker. The river was opened on September 29, 1613 by Sir Hugh Myddleton, the constructor of the project. His statue still stands where Upper Street meets Essex Road. The course of the river ran to the east of Upper Street, and much of its course is now covered and forms a linear park through the area.

The Regents Canal passes through Islington. For much of its length, it travels through an tunnel that runs from Colebrook Row, just east of the Angel, to emerge at Muriel Street, not far from Caledonian Road. The subterranean stretch is marked with a series of pavement plaques, so that canal walkers may find their way from one entrance to the other above ground. The area of the canal east of the tunnel and north of the City Road was once dominated by much warehousing and industry surrounding the large City Road Basin and Wenlock Basin. Those old buildings that survive here are now largely residential or small work units. This stretch boasts one of the few old canal pubs with an entrance actually on the tow-path, The Narrowboat.

The canal was constructed in 1820, to carry cargo from Limehousemarker into the canal system. There is no tow-path in the tunnel, and bargees had to walk their barges through, braced against the roof.Alan Faulkner "The Regent's Canal: London's Hidden Waterway" (2005) ISBN 1-870002-59-8 Commercial use of the canal has declined since the 1960s.

Market gardens and entertainments

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the availability of water made Islington a place for growing vegetables to feed London. The manor became a popular resort for Londoners, due to this rural aspect, and many public houses were founded to serve the needs of both visitors and travellers on the turnpike. By 1716, there were 56 ale-house keepers in Upper Street, also offering pleasure and tea gardens, and activities such as archery, skittle alleys and bowling. By the 18th century music and dancing were offered, together with billiards, firework displays and balloon ascents. The King's Head Tavernmarker, now a Victorian building, with a theatre, has remained on the same site, opposite the parish church, since 1543. The founder of the theatre,Dan Crawford, who died in 2005, disagreed with the introduction of decimal coinage. For twenty-plus years after decimalisation (on 15 February 1971), the bar continued to show prices and charge for drinks in pre-decimalisation currency.

By the 19th century, many music halls and theatres were established around Islington Greenmarker. One such was Collins' Music Hall, the remains of which are now incorporated into a bookshop. It stood on the site of the Landsdowne Tavern, where the landlord had built an entertainment room for customers who wanted to sing (and later for professional entertainers). It was founded in 1862 by Samuel Thomas Collins Vagg, by 1897 this had become a 1,800 seat theatre with 10 bars. This theatre suffered damage in a fire in 1958, and has not reopened. Between 92 and 162 acts were put on each evening and performers who started there included Marie Lloyd, George Robey, Harry Lauder, Harry Tate, George Formby, Vesta Tilley, Tommy Trinder, Gracie Fields, Tommy Handley and Norman Wisdom.
An 1805 map of Islington

The Islington Literary and Scientific Society was established in 1833 and first met in Mr. Edgeworth's academy, on Upper Street. Its object was to spread knowledge through lectures, discussions, and experiments, politics and theology being forbidden. A building - the Literary and Scientific Institution - was erected in 1837 in Wellington (later Almeida) Street, designed by Roumieu and Gough in a stuccoed Grecian style. It included a library, with 3,300 volumes in 1839, reading room, museum, laboratory, and lecture theatre seating 500. The subscription was two guineas a year. The library was sold off in 1872 and the building sold or leased in 1874 to the Wellington Club, which occupied it until 1886. In 1885 the hall was used for concerts, balls, and public meetings. The Salvation Army bought the building in 1890, renamed it the Wellington Castle barracks, and remained there until 1955. The building became a factory and showroom for Beck's British Carnival Novelties for a few years from 1956, then remained empty until in 1978 a campaign began to turn it into a theatre. A public appeal was launched in 1981 and a festival of avant-garde theatre and music was held there and at other Islington venues in 1982, and the successful Almeida Theatremarker founded.


Some development took place to accommodate the popularity of nearby Sadler's Wells , which became a resort in the 16th century, but the 19th century saw the greatest expansion in housing, soon to cover the whole parish. In 1801, the population was 10,212; by 1891 there were 319,143 inhabitants in the borough. This rapid expansion was partly due to the introduction of horse-drawn omnibuses in 1830. With large well-built houses and fashionable squares, clerks, artisans and professionals were drawn to the district. However, from the middle of the 1800s, the poor were being displaced by clearances in inner London to build the new railway stations and goods yards. They settled in Islington, with the houses becoming occupied by many families. This, combined with the railways pushing into outer Middlesex, reduced Islington's attraction for the better off as it became "unfashionable". The area fell into a long decline; and by the mid-20th century, the area was largely run down and a byword for urban poverty.

World War II caused much damage to Islington's housing stock, with 3,200 dwellings destroyed. While before the war, municipal housing had not had much impact, after the war many bomb sites were redeveloped, both by the Metropolitan Borough of Islingtonmarker and the London County Council. Clearance of the worst terraced housing was still undertaken, but Islington continued to be both the most dense (least open space), and the borough with the highest level of overcrowding.

From the 1960s, the Georgian terraces were rediscovered by middle class families, and many of the houses were rehabilitated, with the area becoming newly fashionable. This displacement of the poor by the aspirational has become known as gentrification. Among these new residents were a number of the central figures in the New Labour movement, including Tony Blair before his victory in the 1997 general election. "Islington is widely regarded as the spiritual home of Britain's left-wing intelligentsia" (The Guardian). David Clark - "Accusations of anti-Semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery"; Monday March 6, 2006. The Guardian accessed: 9 March 2007 The Granita Pact, between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, is said to have been made at a, now defunct, restaurant on Upper Street.

The completion of the Victoria line and redevelopment of Angel tube stationmarker has created the conditions for developers to build blocks of small flats, popular with young professionals, intensifying use of the area. The inns of the 17th century are now replaced with busy public houses and trendy wine bars. Small shops selling bijou items are increasingly priced out of the area, and replaced by national (and international) chains. Islington remains a place in constant flux.

Monopoly fame

The area is also well-known due to its inclusion in the British version of Monopoly which features The Angel, Islingtonmarker. However, in the game the Angel is the third cheapest property on the board. 'The Angel, Islington' was included as the licensees considered the names of places they were to use over tea in the Lyon's Corner House, built on the site of the original Angel Inn.

Nearby Monopoly locations are Pentonville Road (mostly in Islington) which runs from King's Cross stationmarker to The Angel.

The final insult

Excerpt from The Royal Tribes of Wales, p.74-5 by Philip Yorke Esq (1799)

Islington may have played its own small part in the destruction and conquest by England of north Wales. In December 1277 the last native prince of Wales, Llywelyn the Last, while staying in Islington in preparation of his ritual act of homage to the English king, was so heinously offended by the display put on by the locals that he and his lords resolved never to return and thenceforth to fight England to the death.

In literature

Islington features extensively in modern English literature and culture:

Notable residents, past and present

This section is solely for residents with a direct link to the area around Upper Street (the centre of Islington); for residents of the London Borough of Islingtonmarker, or other districts, please see the relevant article. If adding to this list please add a citation explicitly showing the local connection


The area is well served with bus routes, with a major bus interchange located near Angel tube station. Red route and residents' parking restrictions apply throughout the area.

Nearby places

Nearby stations


For education in the area, see the London Borough of Islingtonmarker article.

Listed buildings

The Egyptianate former Carlton cinema on Essex Road is Grade II listed, and has now closed.
(November 2005)
Grade II*

English Heritage Images of England accessed: 10 March 2007 lists three Grade II* listed buildings within Central Islington (and many more in surrounding districts):

Grade II (selected):

The area is perhaps most notable for its houses, shops and pubs. Many whole terraces are listed including much of Liverpool Roadmarker (one side of which is in Barnsburymarker) and Islington High Street/Upper Street. Other multiply listed streets include Camden Passagemarker, Compton Terrace, Colebrooke Row, Cross Street, Duncan Terrace, Essex Roadmarker, Gibson Square and Milner Square).

Other Grade II listed structures include:

  • The Almeida Theatremarker.
  • The Angel Baptist Church, Cross Street.
  • The Angel public house (the original one, now a Co-op bank - not the newer Wetherspoon's), Islington High Street.
  • The Business Design Centremarker (part of which is the former Royal Agricultural Hall), Upper Street.
  • The Camden Head public house, Camden Passage.
  • The Hope and Anchormarker public house, Upper Street.
  • Ironmonger Row Bathsmarker.
  • Islington Town Hall.
  • M Manze's Pie and Eel Shop, Chapel Market.
  • Mecca Bingo Hall (now closed), Essex Road (once the Carlton Cinema). This is due to become a church in the near future.
  • The Old Queen's Head public house, Essex Road.
  • St John's Church, Duncan Terrace.
  • St Mary's Church, Upper Street (rebuilt after World War 2 - only the spire remains from the original).
  • South Library, Essex Road.
  • The York public house.

See also


  1. A Vision of Britain - Islington accessed 26 April 2007
  2. The Story of the New River (Thames Water) accessed 12 December 2007
  3. Happold, Tom and Maguire, Kevin. "Revealed: Brown and Blair's pact" - The Guardian, 6 June 2003. Accessed 25 December 2005.

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