History of Islington
Islington's history is one of the oldest in
London. A dormitory village on the fringe of the City from
medieval times, it had one specific function - to be an overnight
stop for cattle on their way to Smithfield.
The fields between Upper Street and Liverpool Road not only
housed one of the largest farms in the neighbourhood but provided
forage and shelter for these passing herds. Humans were looked
after by the numerous pubs along the High Street and Upper
Street - in fact, there were nine clustered in the area by
The proper development of Islington began at the end of the
eighteenth century, by which time the High Street and some
terraces were built. But the main building period began in
the 1820s as progressively the squares and terraces of Barnsbury
However, from such promising beginnings Islington was to slump,
as did many of the inner London suburbs, into slum conditions.
People who could afford to moved out of central Islington
to better-class suburbs or well out of town altogether, leaving
the old houses to short-let tenancies. Even by 1967 nearly
60% of Islington's housing stock was in multi-occupation -
the highest figure in London - with many of the houses having
outside WCs but no baths.
Transformation in recent years has been rapid even if fraught
with controversy. It is now common for central Islington houses
to be priced at £1 million. Upper Street and the High Street
are thronged with restaurants, bars and entertainment. So
many are central Islingtons attractions that on mild evenings
there is an air of a boulevard, with people walking up and
down just to take in the atmosphere. Those who remember the
streets in the 1980s are amazed at the metamorphosis.
Islington has also been at the heart
of political change. Oft recounted has been the historical
meeting of Tony Blair - then living in Richmond Crescent,
Islington - and Gordon Brown at the Granita restaurant in
Upper Street at which, after the death of John Smith, it was
decided who should be prime minister in the event of a Labour
victory at the next election, and who Chancellor.
Numerous other famous names have lived in Islington. Canonbury
Square and other streets nearby have been homes to various
artists. The tragedian, Samuel Phelps (1804-78), who so successfully
transformed Islington's Sadler's Wells theatre into a reputable
drama venue, lived from 1844 to 1867 at 8 Canonbury Square.
Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) occupied 17a Canonbury Square 1928-30
and later let it out to fellow writer Nancy Mitford. The composer
Benjamin Britten (1913-76) shared a studio with his partner,
the singer Peter Pears, at 8 Halliford Street from 1970 to
The playwright Joe Orton (1933-67) lived at 25 Noel Road from
1960 where he had a stormy relationship with his lover, Kenneth
Halliwell. Orton was celebrated for anarchic plays such as
Loot and What the Butler Saw, but his personal
life was fraught with the jealousy of Halliwell at his success
and of Orton's promiscuous relations elsewhere. In August
1967 Halliwell battered Orton to death and then took his own
Source: Islington Past. Written by John Richardson. Published
by Historical Publications.