Inventory Site Record

Canonbury Tower, Canonbury Estate (Islington)

Brief Description

The Manor of Canonbury is so-called for its one-time ownership by the Priory of St Bartholomew, dating back to Henry III's reign. The manor was purchased in 1570 by Sir John Spencer and inherited by his daughter whose husband became Earl of Northampton in 1618, and whose family continues to own the property. Canonbury Tower adjoins the main Canonbury House, and was leased separately from the 1650s and both had a number of illustrious tenants. The Tower was used as the Tower Theatre from the 1960s to 2003, and is now managed by Canonbury Tower Charitable Trust. In the small garden is a mulberry tree said to be planted in the early C17th when Sir Francis Bacon was tenant.

Practical Information
Site location:
Canonbury Place
N1 2NQ
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Private Garden
Open to public?
Opening times:
Guided tours of Canonbury Tower by Islington Guides (contact via e-mail on info@ciga.org.uk)
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Essex Road, Highbury & Islington then bus. Tube: Highbury & Islington (Victoria) then bus. Bus: 271, 4, 19, 30, 277, 43, 38, 56, 73, 341.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.canonburytower.org.uk

Full Site Description

The Manor was in the ownership by the Priory of St Bartholomew, and Prior Bolton had a residence here dating back to Henry III's reign. When the Priory was dissolved in 1539 the Manor of Canonbury, together with that of Highbury, was granted by the King to Thomas Cromwell, although after his execution in 1540 it reverted to the Crown, remaining so until it was granted to the Duke of Northumberland by Edward VI. In 1570 it was sold to John (later Sir John) Spencer, Clothworker and Lord Mayor of London, who made various improvements to the house. After his death in 1609/10 the manor was inherited by his daughter Elizabeth who in 1599 had married William, second Lord Compton. He became Earl of Northampton in 1618 and Canonbury remains in the family's ownership today. Illustrious tenants of Canonbury House included Sir Francis Bacon from1616-25, and Sir Thomas Coventry in 1625, who like Bacon was Attorney General. During the Commonwealth the third Earl of Northampton lived mainly at Canonbury although from the 1650s the family was forced to mortgage Canonbury to pay debts, at which time Canonbury Tower was separately leased to the main House.

The present Canonbury House with the adjacent Tower in the garden was built in 1795 and from the C18th onwards both Canonbury House and Canonbury Tower were tenanted by a succession of important figures in the world of literature, politics and the press, including Henry Woodfall of the 'Public Advertiser' and dramatist Oliver Goldsmith from 1762-64. Between 1770 - 80 the southern range was demolished and replaced by fine villas that are now Nos.1 - 5 Canonbury Place. A community hall was built in the garden in 1907. In the 1960s Canonbury Tower was leased to the Tower Theatre, which was established by the Tavistock Repertory Company, but after the lease expired in 2003 the company moved to Hornsey Road Baths.

The small garden of the Tower has an old mulberry tree, said to be planted in Francis Bacon's tenure, and it abuts the larger private garden of Canonbury House. The Canonbury Tower Charitable Trust was established in 1985 with the objectives of refurbishing and promoting Canonbury Tower and 6/9 Canonbury Place. The Tower recently underwent a complete refurbishment, both internally and externally.

Sources consulted:

Charles Harris, 'Islington' (Hamish Hamilton, 1974); Arabella Lennox-Boyd, 'Private Gardens of London', London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998) p688; Andrew Duncan, 'Walking London' (New Holland, London, 1999 ed) p94; Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd 1972), p 280; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed.1993) p123.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ320845 (531950,184520)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Marquess of Northampton
Site management:
Canonbury Tower Charitable Trust
Listed structures:
LB: Canonbury Tower, Canonbury House
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:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Area
Other LA designation:

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.