Inventory Site Record

Barnsbury Square (Islington)

Brief Description

Barnsbury takes its name from Ralph de Berners, who owned land here in the C13th that remained in his family until the early C16th. The manorial estate was eventually broken up when the area was developed for housing from the 1820s. Barnsbury Square was once the site of a medieval moated farm belonging to Barnsbury Manor, and the central garden was built as 'ornamental pleasure grounds' for the private use of residents of the Bishop Estate developed from 1834. The MPGA purchased the lease on the gardens in 1889 and laid them out before transferring them to Islington Vestry in 1891 when they were opened to the public. However, there were disputes over the freehold interest and attempts to purchase the gardens for the public failed in 1911. They became neglected, although there was some use by tennis clubs, but were eventually conveyed to Islington Council in 1933, re-planted and opened to the public once more in 1934. Further re-landscaping was carried out in the 1960s including a new pavilion, new railings, paths and raised beds.

Practical Information
Site location:
Barnsbury Square
N1 1JL
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Garden Square;, Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 8 times, most recently in 2018.
Special conditions:
Public transport:
London Overground: Caledonian Road & Barnsbury. Rail/London Overground/Tube (Victoria): Highbury & Islington. Bus: 17, 91, 153, 259, 274
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.islington.gov.uk/services/parks-environment/parks/your_parks/greenspace_az

Full Site Description

Barnsbury was a medieval manor owned by the Canons of St Paul's and had a moated farm on the site of the current square. In the late C13th the owner was Ralph de Berners, from where the name Barnsbury comes, the family owning the manor until 1532 after which it passed through various families. In 1754 the owner was William Tufnell Joliffe, whose descendent William Tufnell was enabled by an Act of 1822 to lease land here for building and the estate was broken up from the 1820s. It had previously been used for brick clay and gravel extraction as the area was developed. The area where the square now is was called Pond Field/Reed Moat Field. By 1805/6 Pond Field was in the possession of Nathaniel Bishop who leased it for building purposes to Robert Clarke as well as other lands to the east. The lease then went in 1832 to John Huskisson who granted land for building to Thomas Bilham.

Barnsbury Square was the centre of the Bishop Estate built from 1834; 'Few spots in Islington can have been looked on as more historic than the moated enclosure on the site of Barnsbury Square'. The chief developer was Thomas Whowell who acquired part of Pond Field to the west of 'a newly intended Square called or then intended to be called Barnesbury Square', including the site where he built Mountfort House, actually a pair of houses. He let this to two clergymen and lived himself in Mountfort Crescent (q.v.) off Barnsbury Square to the north, one of two closes, Mountfort Terrace (q.v.) being to the south. Barnsbury Square was unique in consisting of single and paired villas bordering on the central garden, which residents of the 29 surrounding houses had the right to use, with covenants in place for its maintenance as 'ornamental pleasure grounds'. In 1889 the MPGA purchased the lease, which was due to run until 1909, and laid it out as public gardens, transferring it in 1891 to Islington Vestry. The garden was formally opened by the Duke and Duchess of Westminster.

After expiry of the lease there were disputes over the freehold interest and attempts to purchase it for the public failed in 1911. The gardens were levelled for use as tennis courts and became abandoned, railings were broken and trees were damaged. The gardens were eventually conveyed to Islington Council by deed poll in June 1933, and the MPGA provided funds for the gardens to be restored and replanted. They were opened by the Mayor of Islington on 11 January 1934 with 'neat lawns and paths, a rockery running the length of the upper lawn, a fountain, newly repaired, and teak seats'. It was redesigned in c.1960-70 with raised beds, regular paths and a small pavilion and new railings were provided. The gardens have notable sycamore, lime and horse chestnut trees.

Sources consulted:

Mary Cosh, The Squares of Islington Part II: Islington Parish, London, 1993; Mary Cosh, Barnsbury, London 1981; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Whitaker lecture; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Islington Gazette, 1934.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ310841 (531117,184241)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
1835-44; 1889-91; 1930s; 1960-70
Listed structures:
LB: Mountford House; Nos. 15, 27 & 28 Barnsbury Square
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Strategic/local view corridor. Shopping Policy Area

Barnsbury Square

Barnsbury Square - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 31/07/10 13:18

Click a photo to enlarge.

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