Islington Council

Places of Note

Islington has a rich and varied history, and this section aims to look at some of the most important and notorious places in the borough over the past 1000 years:

The City Pest House

Bath Street EC1

The Pest House was built in 1594, in the fields where Bath Street is now situated. It served to isolate those suffering from such incurable or infectious diseases as leprosy and the plague from the City of London. It was demolished in 1736 after having been in a ruinous condition for many years. From 1693 to 1718 the Pest House was used for sick French Protestant refugees until the French Hospital was built on an adjacent site.

The Clerk's Well

14-16 Farringdon Lane EC1

Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk's Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell. Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary's Nunnery. After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane). In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed.

The exact location of this important site was uncertain but was rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane. After renovation in 1984, the Clerk's Well now has an accompanying exhibition outlining the history of the well and its environment.

Collins' Music Hall

10-11 Islington Green N1

By day Sam Vagg plied his trade as chimney sweep; by night he toured the public houses and early music halls as Sam Collins, "Irish" singer and performer. Resplendent in his Irish costume he would sing "Limerick Races" or the "Rocky Road to Dublin", although as a Londoner it is unlikely that he ever visited these places. Collins ventured into management turning the Rose of Normandy public house in Marylebone into a music hall, and even renaming the Welsh Harp at Hendon, the Irish Harp during his tenancy.

In 1862 he took over the Lansdowne Arms on Islington Green and Collins' was born! It featured most of the great Music Hall celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, Harry Lauder, George Robey, Marie Lloyd, Gracie Fields, Norman Wisdom and Tommy Trinder.

Sam Collins died in 1865, aged 39, but his music hall survived until it was destroyed by fire in 1958. It is currently a Waterstone's Bookshop.

Copenhagen House

The Clocktower, Market Road N7

Tradition has it, that Copenhagen House and Copenhagen Fields were named in honour of a noble but otherwise unknown Dane who lived there in the 17th century. The following century saw it laid out as a pleasure garden with skittle alley and a superb view across the fields of London. The Fields were to have their share of stirring events: in 1780 the landlady of Copenhagen House was given troops to protect her property against Gordon Rioters on their way to burn Lord Mansfield's mansion at Ken Wood. Many political meetings took place in the fields including a huge demonstration in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834. The Metropolitan Cattle Market, built in 1855, covered the whole site. More famous for its weekly "Pedlars' Market" it closed in 1939. Today only its clocktower, railings and market pubs remain.

The Fortune Theatre

Fortune Street EC1

This street was originally known as Playhouse Yard and in the words on the plaque, "Good Master Edward Alleyne's Fortune Theatre stood on a site near here in 1600". Built in 1599 for Edward Alleyn (1566 - 1626) and Phillip Henslowe (d. 1616), it was situated between Whitecross Street and Golden Lane, in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate.

The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1621, rebuilt, but finally closed when an ordinance for the dismantling of playhouse was issued in 1647-48. The plays of Dekker and Marlowe were performed here. Also from this theatre Alleyn obtained the funds to found Dulwich College and local almshouses in Bath Street (originally Pest House Lane).

Highbury Barn

On present Highbury Barn Tavern N5

Highbury Barn had long served as a rural pleasure resort for Londoners but during 1861-71, it was more notorious than famous. As early as 1770 a Mr Willoughby had a 'cake and ale house' here and this was later enlarged by the addition of the old Highbury Farm. The old buildings were demolished in 1861 when the licence was taken over by Edward Giovanelli.

Under his management a lavish pleasure ground was laid out which included an open air theatre, and Leviathan dancing platform. Among the many performers who appeared there was Blondin, the tight rope walker. The residents of Highbury disliked the many petty criminals and pickpockets who came to mingle among the crowds and matters came to a head after a riot led by students of Bart's hospital in 1869.
Led by the Vicar of nearby Christ Church, the residents petitioned the magistrates; Giovanelli lost his licence and the pleasure gardens were eventually built over.

The Peacock Inn

11 Islington High Street

Four inns are known to have occupied this site, the earliest dating from 1564. The Peacock has been immortalised both in print and on canvas. In 1823 James Pollard painted his North Country Mails at the Peacock, Islington.

In Tom Brown's School Days, Tom spends a night at the Peacock before catching the "Tally Ho" coach to Rugby. Dickens also mentions the Peacock in his story "Boots at the Cherry Tree Inn." The importance of the Peacock declined with the demise of the four-in-hand; the travelling public now entrusted itself to the railway carriage. In 1857 the distinctive exterior of the Peacock was transformed with large plate shop windows and shop fittings but it continued as a public house until 1962.

Islington Green

Upper Street N1

A statue of Sir Hugh Myddleton, pioneer of London's water supply stands on the Green. In 1609, Myddleton promised to bring water from springs in Hertfordshire to Islington within four years - and succeeded in bringing an artificial stream to the borough in 1613.

New River Walk in Canonbury and nearby Duncan Terrace are modern reminders of its course. His statue was sculpted by John Thomas and was unveiled in 1862 by the Liberal statesman and prime minister William Gladstone.

Some of the information above was taken from People, Places and Plaques, published by Islington Libraries and compiled by Roy Hidson.
For information on how to find out more about the history of Islington click on Libraries - Local History from the related items box.


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