Inventory Site Record

Caledonian Park (Islington)

Brief Description

Caledonian Park was formed upon part of the former Copenhagen Fields that between 1852 and 1939 were the site of the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Prior to this they were open fields and a popular rural resort until the early C19th where sports such as cricket were played. The market closed at the outbreak of WWII and never re-opened. The area was eventually cleared, and the public park was laid out and opened in 1958. In the 1960s the park was planted with ornamental gardens and the early 1980s saw many trees planted.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Copenhagen Fields
Site location:
Market Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 8 times, most recently in 2023.
Special conditions:
Children's play area, tarmac ball court with football goals/basketball hoops; Darwin Trail
Opened for Open Garden Squares Weekend 2011
Public transport:
Tube: Caledonian Road (Piccadilly). London Overground: Caledonian Road & Barnsbury. Bus: 17, 91, 259, 274, 390
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

Caledonian Park was formed upon part of the former Copenhagen Fields that between 1852 and 1939 was the site of the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Copenhagen Fields were probably so-called after Copenhagen House, a C17th mansion formerly on the site of the current clock tower, which was possibly built for Danes coming to the English court when the King of Denmark visited James I in 1606. In the C18th Copenhagen House became a popular tea garden, providing fine views over London and recreational activities that included dog-fighting and bull-baiting. However by 1816 the activities and behaviour of its customers had degenerated to the extent that the publican's license was suspended, although in the 1840s it became respectable once more and was popular as a middle-class rural resort. In the C18th Copenhagen House also had strong connections with radicalism and until 1740 it was the meeting place for the Highbury Society, a group of City non-conformists. Later, in 1795, it was owned by Robert Orchard, a member of the London Corresponding Society whose meetings were held here to discuss such issues as universal suffrage and annual parliaments. In 1795 Copenhagen Fields was the site of a mass meeting of some 40,000 people protesting at the arrest for high treason of the London Corresponding Society's founder Thomas Hardy and 8 of his colleagues in 1794.

Copenhagen Fields remained open fields and a popular rural resort until the early C19th and sports such as cricket were played here by clubs that included the Albion Cricket Club. A picture in tiles dating from c.1900 by W B Simpson showing 'Playing Bowls in Copenhagen Fields in the reign of George III', which was formerly in the Star and Garter Pub in Caledonian Road, was saved and re-installed in the reception of the 1996 Health Centre in All Saints Street, designed by Jackfield Conservation Studio. In the C19th Copenhagen Fields was again the site of mass meetings, such as the 1834 Trade Unionist rally against the treatment of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; a petition was handed to Parliament and the sentences were eventually repealed.

Housing development of the area began in the C19th, and from 1826 the eastern part of Copenhagen Fields was used for clay extraction by developer Thomas Cubitt. In 1828 the Royal Caledonian Asylum was built in the fields north of Caledonian House to house children of Scottish soldiers and sailors killed or disabled serving their country. In 1839 part of the land was used as the site for Pentonville Prison. The North London Railway cut through the area in 1850 and soon after this the City of London Corporation purchased some 75 acres for a new Cattle Market to replace Smithfield as the live meat market. The aim was to provide better facilities for animals, Smithfield having become unsanitary and unhealthy. As a result Smithfield closed as a live cattle market in 1853, opening as a 'dead meat market' in 1867, which it remains today.

The new Metropolitan Cattle Market was laid out by 1855, the buildings designed by City Corporation architect J B Bunning included the Italianate Clock Tower completed in 1855, and fine cast-iron railings and gate piers of 1854, 250m of which survive along Market Road and Shearling Way. Also built were 4 Italianate-style public houses, one at each corner of the market, three of which remain of the original composition. The new market opened in 1855 and was capable of accommodating 42,000 sheep, 7,000 cattle as well as pigs and calves. The Cattle Market was held on Mondays and Thursdays, with a flea market on Fridays. The cattle market declined by the early C20th but the Flea Market became famous for its antique stalls and one Friday in 1930 there were 2,100 stalls recorded.

After the market closed in 1939 due to the war, it never re-opened and the area was eventually cleared; by 1965 the housing estates were built and the park was laid out, which had opened to the public in 1958. In the 1960s the park was planted with ornamental gardens and the clock tower was floodlit. In the early 1980s numerous trees were planted, and the park is now largely managed as a wildlife site, with dense shrubberies and wooded areas, and large areas of grass. More recent developments have included an orchard and a new children's play area.

In 2010 the Darwin Trail was set out in the park, 10 slate markers each with information designed to show how the work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) remains with us today, helping an understanding of the importance of urban ecology, wildlife habitats and biodiversity. The trail, the first of its kind in London, was created through the partnership between The Garden Classroom and The Charles Darwin Trust with support and funding from Islington Council, and the participation of Caledonian Park Users Group. An example of one of the slate markers inscribed with Darwin's words: "Soil has passed, and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms".

Sources consulted:

(Jones & Woodward?); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Michael Waite, John Archer, 'Nature Conservation in Islington', Ecology Handbook 19 (London Ecology Unit), 1992; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Mary Cosh 'Barnsbury' (London 1981); Mary Cosh, 'A Historical Walk through Clerkenwell', 1987; Charles Harris, 'Islington' (Hamish Hamilton), 1974.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ302847 (530218,184757)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
Greenspace; Cally Park Users Group
1855; 1965
Listed structures:
LBII*: Clock tower. LBII: railings/gate piers on north & south of Market Road, 3 pubs
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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Borough Importance I
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Strategic/local view corridor. Recreation Scheme site. Clock Tower: Local Landmark.

Caledonian Park

Caledonian Park - Clocktower - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 09/04/11 14:58

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

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