Inventory Site Record

Gillespie Park and Nature Reserve (Islington)

Brief Description

Gillespie Park is on former railway sidings that dated from the 1870s and ceased to be used by the 1960s. The unused land became overgrown but following pressure from local people was created as a public park in 1981. The land was initially leased to Islington Council by British Rail but later sold to the council after a campaign that saved the park from housing development. The park is Islington’s largest nature reserve and is home to Islington Ecology Centre, an award-winning environmentally-friendly building constructed in 1992.

Practical Information
Site location:
Drayton Park, Gillespie Road, Quill Street, Seven Sisters Road
N5 1LP
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk. Islington Ecology Centre: Mon-Fri 10am - 4pm, check website for weekend opening times. Closed when Arsenal Stadium in use for matches
Special conditions:
Most areas are dog-free, with a small area near St Thomas Road entrance.
Islington Ecology Centre
Annual Gillespie Festival; educational activities. For Islington Ecology Centre events check 020 7527 4374; ecologycentre@islington.gov.uk
Public transport:
Rail: Drayton Park, Finsbury Park. Tube: Arsenal (Piccadilly), Finsbury Park (Victoria, Piccadilly). Bus: 4, 19, 29, 236
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. http://www.friendsofgillespiepark.co.ukhttps://www.islington.gov.uk/sports-parks-and-trees/nature-reserves/gillespie-park-and-ecology-centre

Full Site Description

This area of Highbury was formerly owned by the Great Northern Railways, who had built its track from Kings Cross to York in 1850. The site of Gillespie Park was laid out for coal depot sidings in 1878, to the east of which an ink factory was established by H. C. 'Inky' Stevens in 1892 that remained up until the 1960s, at which point the sidings also closed. A housing estate was built here in 1972 and in 1980, the idea for a park on the former sidings was put forward by interested local groups. Although some wished the area to be left to grow wild, Islington Council and others, mainly Gillespie Road residents, regarded this as a security risk. In 1981 the council secured a ten year lease from British Rail and the c.3-acre site was landscaped with some mounding and construction of a pond, although much of the original vegetation was undisturbed, and trees, shrubs and wildflower seeds were planted. An area to the north was supplied with topsoil (the whole area was covered with coal dust, fire ash and broken brick) and given over to local people as allotments.

Before the expiry of the lease, the future of the park was in jeopardy when, as a result of the government's drive for house-building, British Rail was pressurised to sell the land for housing, which the Leader of Islington Council also supported. A pressure group to keep the park open was set up and their successful campaign received national and local publicity. British Rail agreed the sale of the freehold to Islington Council for use as parkland on condition that agreement was reached on the siting of a building development providing homes on behalf of New Islington and Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch and Ujima Housing Associations. In return, half an acre was retained for allotment use and the park gained a two acre extension between the park and the railway line. The builders were also required to fund an extension of the Parkland Walk (q.v.), to run from Highgate to Finsbury Park to Gillespie Park. The extra area of the park supports a rich grassland habitat including Islington's only orchid, a common spotted orchid, which was discovered in 1991. A further area of the original coal depot was acquired by Arsenal Football Club in 1994 for a development and parking area, although this also supported rare species of grass and was a valuable wildlife habitat and corridor for birds, hedgehogs, butterflies and foxes who visit or live in Gillespie Park. 

One of the conditions of granting permission for the development of the park was the building of an Ecology Centre and in 1992 Urban Programme Funding was secured to enable this. The award-winning Ecology Centre was constructed to be as environmentally-friendly as possible and provides a teaching centre for schools and information centre for the general public and can be booked for events.

In c.2010 (to check) Friends of Gillespie Park was formed, its aims to protect and promote the park for the benefit of the local community, holding an annual Gillespie Festival featuring many multi-cultural events. By 2019 244 plant species, 94 bird species and 24 types of butterfly have been recorded here. Grasslands on the nearby sidings have been declared a Site of Metropolitan Importance by the London Ecology Unit. 

Since 2011 Gillespie Park has been protected with Fields in Trust as a Queen Elizabeth II Field. It won the London Conservation Area of the Year award in London in Bloom 2015 and the Green Flag Award in 2019.

Sources consulted:

History of Gillespie Park on http://www.friendsofgillespiepark.co.uk/code/about.html; Article on Fields in Trust website: https://www.fieldsintrust.org/News/green-spaces-on-former-industrial-land-providing-a-platform-for-nature?utm_campaign=581403_October%202021%20COP26&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Fields%20in%20Trust&dm_i=6LZN,CGM3,1770MD,1I3QO,1

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ313861 (531365,186160)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
Greenspace; Friends of Gillespie Park
Listed structures:
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:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - adjacent sidings: Metropolitan Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy 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.