When I first became involved with the Trust and its walks, I led a few trips through the small open spaces of Islington. My inspiration was the sight of Percy Circus from the top of a bus. There must be more, I thought, and, exploring and leading walks, eventually got to the Angel. So, on one cold Sunday in January, I went to see what had happened over the past five years.
I started at Angel Station in the heart of Islington, with its fine buildings, interesting shops and restaurants. But this is a garden walk, so Islington Green is our first stop. It has gained a spectacular new war memorial, with a great circle of carved stone. It also has new seats and new planting in the modern style. St Mary's churchyard is still a quiet haven off the main road with a few remaining graves amongst the gardens. The Susan Daniel Rose Bed, behind the church, is planted with bushes of this rose named after an Islington resident. It is special as a donation is made to charity for each plant sold.
Almeida Street takes us to Battishill Gardens, a small garden that contains a frieze by Musgrove Watson, rescued from the Hall of Commerce in Threadneedle Street. We then go through the tunnel to Milner Square, which is given over to games. Nearby Gibson Square is well planted and is given over to quiet pastimes. There are other examples in London where two nearby squares are treated in this way. Gibson Square has a classical pavilion which is a vent for the Victoria Line.
Thornhill Gardens has a war memorial in the form of a Celtic cross. Lonsdale Square is well planted and compares favourably with many of the private squares open for Open Garden Squares Weekend. There is a new play area near Moreland Mews with an all-weather pitch, play equipment and a space for teenagers to hang out and older people to sit. Barnsbury Square has a mixture of planting and lawn. There are two areas of planting just off the corners on the west side of this square. Thornhill Square still has its original railings of 1852. It was handed over to the council after the last war and laid out in 1953 as part of the Coronation celebrations. The rocking horse from that period still remains in working order, but most of the play equipment is new.
To the north is St Andrew's Church, also from 1852, with good planting in the church grounds. The library is worth noting for its alphabet in tiles. The Bemerton Estate has green areas among blocks of flats. One of them has some abstract wooden sculptures.
Our next open space is Bingfield Park. It is mainly playing fields but the adventure playground has flourished. Crumble Castle, built of salvaged materials, is a magnificent folly that serves the useful purpose of being a youth centre. Also based in the park is the Sparkplug Project, which teaches young people motor engineering. It is aimed particularly at people for whom school has little interest.
Proceeding southwards between the social housing, we come to Edward Square. Originally a typical town square, the space was kept for expansion of the school. It remained vacant until the millennium, when it was converted into a new park. There is a mural commemorating a Tolpuddle Martyrs protest meeting held in the area. There is also art work on the gates by local schoolchildren. A low Wall round a grassed area is inscribed with a poem by Andrew Motion, a local resident, that links the long history of the area from Boadicea, through to the railway era, the war and on to the future.
From here it is a short walk across Thornhill Bridge, with its history-based art in open metalwork. It is surrounded by the Thornhill Bridge Community Garden, going down onto the canal, with the animal park mosaics by local children in the garden on the right of the bridge. Like Motion's poem, our walk has taken us through open spaces with a range of histories and uses and seen what people have made and are still making of their parks. A short walk gets us to King's Cross and the train home.
For a longer walk visit the Trust's web site and download Sarah Jackson's walk round the area. And go exploring - there are plenty of open spaces in the area that neither this walk nor Sarah's visits.