Inventory Site Record

Duncan Terrace Garden and Colebrooke Row Gardens (Islington)

Brief Description

Duncan Terrace Gardens comprise a series of linear gardens between Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row, which were built either side of the New River, the man-made water conduit constructed in 1609-13 to supply London's growing population. The New River here was enclosed in underground pipes in 1861 as the area was developed. The southernmost garden opened in 1893, laid out by the MPGA for Islington Borough Council who had acquired the land in 1892. The garden areas to the north remained in the ownership of the Metropolitan Water Board, although part were let for public gardens. When the New River ceased to flow below Stoke Newington in c.1946, the pipes were dug up and ownership of the gardens transferred to Islington Council in 1951. They were then re-landscaped and now form an important link in the series of green spaces along the former course of the New River.

Practical Information
Site location:
Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
part unrestricted. Part: 8am - dusk
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Angel (Northern). Bus: 4, 19, 30, 43, 205, 214, 73, 38, 56, 341, 476
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

The houses that now comprise Colebrooke Row and Duncan Terraces were built for the most part between c.1717 and 1842. The gardens between them form a long site divided into a number of discrete segments, the most southerly section first opening as public gardens in 1893. Building evolved in the C18th as piecemeal unplanned development around the man-made New River; in the C19th it was transformed into regular terraces surrounding a park-like, or square-like central garden. When the New River was completed in 1613 the land here was owned by the Miller family, sold in 1717 to a glazier who built a brewhouse, brick kilns and other buildings and in 1727 it was acquired by James Colebrooke, Lord of Highbury Manor. Colebrooke Row was mostly developed in the 1760s by Sir George Colebrooke, James Colebrooke's youngest son who inherited the estate in 1761 until he went bankrupt in 1773. The oldest houses are early C18th near the north end of the terrace. By 1770 William and John Watson had leased 6 acres from Sir George and established a nursery garden along the New River, specialising in exotic plants, making exchanges with Chelsea Physic Garden in 1771. A third brother, Thomas, was the first person to get Pontic Azalea from Crimea to flower in England and he extended the nursery further. The nursery existed along the New River in the early C19th but it closed in 1824 and in 1827 Thomas Cubitt bought the land, building houses on part and selling part to James Rhodes, a farmer whose family at one time owned some 400 acres in the area, and had a farm on the site of Duncan Street in 1800. Gerard Noel owned a large field south of the New River and purchased 3 acres in 1810 between the New River and High Street, his name recalled in Noel Road and Gerard Road. The nursery gardens were dug up for brick fields for house building.

Duncan Terrace was developed on the other side of the New River and was called after Admiral Duncan who commanded the Fleet at the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch in 1797. The two terraces flanking St John the Evangelist Church date from 1840s with some earlier houses to the south including a development by James Taylor who lived in the area in the 1790s; the church was built 1841-43 by J.J. Scoles. To the north Colebrooke Cottage, now No. 64 Duncan Terrace, was possibly built in the 1760s and was once the home of Charles Lamb who came to the area in 1823 to be close to his sister who was in Islington Asylum. Lamb lived here until c.1827 and it is where he wrote his 'Essays of Elia'. Walter Sickert (born 1860) lived in Duncan Terrace as a child and was associated with Islington much of his life, the subject of much of his painting.

In 1861 the New River was enclosed from this point in an underground pipe and the river bed was covered up and planted as gardens as early as 1871 (OS 1871). The southernmost enclosure of Duncan Terrace Gardens was laid out as public gardens by the MPGA in 1892/3, the land having been acquired by Islington Borough Council in 1892. The design was undertaken by the MPGA's landscape gardener Fanny Wilkinson whose planting scheme included weeping willows over a winding path, evocative of the New River that was once above the ground. Blocks of tufa stone, a type of limestone, that are set into the banks in places by the path were probably Wilkinson's design, and are found in other MPGA gardens and also Vauxhall Park (q.v.), which Wilkinson designed for the Kyrle Society. The remaining enclosures and strips to the north of this remained in the ownership of the Metropolitan Water Board, although part was let to the Council as an ornamental public garden. The pipes were later dug out, after the river was terminated at Stoke Newington in c.1946.

Ownership transferred to Islington Borough Council in 1951 who re-landscaped the garden, widening it at City Road End. Part of the garden was dug up in 1971 for the Angel road-widening scheme but the construction of a slip road here was prevented by local protests. Duncan Terrace Gardens are enclosed with reproduction railings, with some notable planes and shrub planting; Colebrooke Row Garden has rockwork outcrops common to several Islington public gardens (q.v. New River Walk in particular). The northernmost end of Colebrooke Row Garden is an unrailed strip of grass with medium-sized trees and some rockwork.

In 2007, following public consultation, the Council undertook improvement works in Duncan Terrace Gardens to enhance their beauty and environmental value, adding colour and maximising the ecological assets, and also improving footpaths, seating and accessibility. Overgrown and self-seeded areas were thinned to allow more light into the garden and in autumn 2008 over 1000 flowering shrubs, herbaceous perennials, ferns and bulbs, as well as trees, were planted.

Sources consulted:

Mary Cosh, 'The Squares of Islington Part II: Islington Parish', London, 1993; MPGA Annual Reports; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Andrew Duncan 'Walking London' (New Holland, 1999); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan revised ed. 1993); Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928; Mary Cosh, 'An historical walk along The New River', 3rd ed revised 2001 (Islington Archaeology & History Society); Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ316832 (531632,183260)
Size in hectares:
0.77 (0.47+0.3)
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
Greenspace; Friends of Duncan Terrace
1892/3; 1950s
1892: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)
Listed structures:
LBII: houses and attached railings of Nos. 1-5; 13-28, 34-36, 41-65 Colebrooke Row; 2 - 64 Duncan Terrace; Church of St John; St John's Convent; St John's House Hostel
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:
Duncan Terrace, Colebrooke Row
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes Archaeological Priority Area (part)
Other LA designation:
St John's Church: local landmark. Local/Strategic View corridor (part)

Duncan Terrace Garden and Colebrooke Row Gardens

Duncan Terrace Garden - Photo: London Gardens Trust
Date taken: 14/10/21 11:57

Click a photo to enlarge.

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