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Inventory Site Record

Highbury Fields (Islington)

Brief Description

Until the mid C19th the land now Highbury Fields was privately owned and used for farming. In 1885 Islington Vestry and the Metropolitan Board of Works jointly acquired c.10.3 hectares for a public park. An earlier proposal to create a much larger ‘Albert Park' in Islington had failed to raise the necessary money to purchase the land and by the end of the 1850s much of the area was built over. In 1891 additional land to the north was purchased and added to the park. Initially public meetings and the playing of music were not permitted but this restriction was lifted in 1896. The Boer War Memorial was erected in 1905 in the south-west corner of the Fields. Highbury Fields is scattered with fine oak, horse chestnut and lime trees, with London planes along the boundaries of the park and its principal walks.

Practical Information
Site location:
Highbury Crescent/Highbury Grove/Highbury Place/Highbury Terrace/Baalbec Road
Postcode:
N5
What 3 Words:
woes.wiring.guards
Type of site:
Public Park
Borough:
Islington
Open to public?
Yes
Opening times:
unrestricted [playground in south 8am - dusk]
Special conditions:
Facilities:
Children's playground, sandpit, water play feature, tennis courts, football pitch, netball pitch; Oasis Café (summer only), toilets. Highbury Pool and Fitness Centre
Events:
Numerous events
Public transport:
Tube: Highbury & Islington (Victoria). Rail: Highbury & Islington. Bus: 4, 19, 30, 43, 236, 271, 393
Research updated:
01/04/2012
Last minor changes:
19/07/2023

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

Highbury Fields is a triangular-shaped public park on sloping land. Until c.1781 the fields were the freehold of John Dawes (d.1788) who owned Highbury Place and the land was farmed until the 1850s, especially by dairy farmers for which Islington was famous. A map of 1735 shows a footpath across the 'Mother Field' from Highbury Corner to the former Manor House site; now designated Church Path, it was a public footpath in the early C19th. The fields remained private and divided into 7 large closes until 1885 when 10.3 hectares of land was acquired for a public park by the Metropolitan Board of Works at a cost of £60,000, one half of which was contributed by the Vestry of Islington, and laid out with walks.

It is the sole fragment of a larger 'Albert Park' proposed in 1850 with the support of prominent local residents and led by a Mr Lloyd. It was to stretch north and east of the Fields and cover approximately 121 hectares and including some 81 hectares covered by the villas of Highbury Grove and Highbury Vale. However, the campaign failed to raise the necessary £200,000 to purchase the land and by the end of the 1850s much of the area was built over with villas and terraced houses, with the mid C19th Highbury Crescent and the earlier Highbury Terrace, built 1789-1817, in the western boundary; by 1853 a line of trees had been planted along the east side opposite Highbury Place, built 1770s.

In 1891 a further plot of 0.9 hectares to the north of the fields was purchased and the first detailed published plan of the park dates from 1894-6. Initially the Act that authorised the original land purchase prohibited public meetings and the playing of music but this restriction was removed in 1896 and open air concerts were held in the former bandstand and the Territorial Army Corps held reviews here. Since then the Fields have been the site of numerous circuses, bonfires, rallies, religious crusades and sporting events. In 1905 the Boer War Memorial by Bertram McKennal, with flanking cannon, was unveiled at the south west corner of the Fields. In 1924 the Fields, apart from a shrubbery at the margin, were laid out in grass with gravelled walks with a dry playground at the northern end. From 1921-79 there was an open air swimming pool and in 1984 a new £1.5m swimming pool was opened. Air raid shelters were built here in WWII.

Highbury Fields is divided into two halves by Highbury Crescent. There are many notable plane, oak, horse chestnut and lime trees, with planes lining the perimeter of the park and its principal walks. In the north of the park are tennis, hockey and other sports facilities. To the north of the site is Christ Church Highbury (q.v.).

Following recommendations in the Vision for Highbury Fields, funding has been secured to improve the sports facilities on the northern boundary of the park. These are likely to include replacing the fencing, improving the floodlights, installing a 3G artificial turf pitch on one third of the space and resurfacing the remaining tarmac playing surface for netball, basketball, rounders and informal use. If planning consent is granted, it is hoped that work can start in spring 2012.

Sources consulted:

See Candidate for Register Listing. Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950); Keith Sugden, History of Highbury, (London,1984); Charles Harris, 'Islington', (Hamish Hamilton, 1974); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Andrew Duncan, 'Walking London' (New Holland, London, 1999 ed); John Wittich, 'London Villages', (Shire, 3rd ed. 1987); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ315849 (531730,185120)
Size in hectares:
11.75
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
Greenspace; Highbury Fields Management Group
Date(s):
1885; C20th
Designer(s):
Listed structures:
LBII: Boer War Memorial; Nos. 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 23, 24 Highbury Cres.; Nos. 5, 56 Highbury Grove; Nos. 1039 Highbury Pl.; 1-22 Highbury Terrace; 7 - 47 (odd) Baalbec Road
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

No
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

No
Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

No

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:
No
In Conservation Area:
Yes
Conservation Area name:
Highbury Fields
Tree Preservation Order:
No
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
No
Metropolitan Open Land:
Yes
Special Policy Area:
No
Other LA designation:
None

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.