Inventory Site Record

Joseph Grimaldi Park (Islington)

Brief Description

The site used to be the burial ground of Pentonville Chapel, later known as St James's Episcopal Chapel, an additional burial ground for Clerkenwell parish church of St James. In the late C19th the burial ground was transformed into a public garden and later extended. Many of the headstones remain stacked against the north boundary wall of the old burial ground. It takes its name from the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi buried here in 1837 and whose railed grave remains in the park.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Burial ground of the Church of St James's
Site location:
Pentonville Road/Rodney Street/Collier Street/Cumming Street
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk
Special conditions:
Children's play area with climbing structure, swings, slide and toddlers equipment; tarmac ball court with football goals and basketball hoops
Public transport:
Tube: King's Cross (Northern, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City; Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly). Bus: 30, 73, 205, 214, 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 late C18th burial ground retains much of its original layout, although extended in the C20th to include the site of a former school, once terraced houses, and now a playground. Headstones are stacked against the north boundary wall of the former burial ground. The park is named after the famous clown, Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) who was buried here, his grave enclosed with railings and planted with roses. He had lived in a number of places in the area and had first appeared as a child dancer in 1781. Between 1788 and 1828 he regularly performed at Thomas Rosoman's music house at Sadler's Wells, which he and Rosoman had rebuilt in 1765 on Thomas Sadler's music house. It became one of London's most popular venues for light opera, melodrama, burlesque, concerts, acrobatics as well as performing animals and aquatic spectacles.

Pentonville Chapel (later known as St James's Episcopal Chapel) was built in 1787/8 as a chapel of ease for Clerkenwell and had become redundant in the C20th. It had been remodelled in 1933 but unable to find another use for the building it was demolished in 1980s. The building that replaced it in 1988-1990 and designed by Allies and Morrison was called Grimaldi Park House, a poor pastiche of the chapel, and it became offices of Courtaulds Textiles.

Others buried in the graveyard include Aaron Hurst (d.1799) architect of the chapel, and Henry Penton (d.1812) after whom Pentonville is named, who owned a rural estate here comprising 3 fields of some 66 acres. The suburb that became known as Pentonville was laid out from 1773 with a grid system of roads, and when it was eventually completed in the 1840s it covered 134 acres. An Act of Parliament of 1777 had enabled Henry Penton to build the chapel, the land for which was granted to three prominent residents, one of whom, Alexander Cumming, was also buried in the graveyard. Pentonville Road was called New Road until 1857 and marked the boundary between the Pentonville Estate and the land of the New River Company.

The park has a garden area either side of No.154 Pentonville Road chapel, beyond which are sports facilities. There are notable trees including lime, horse chestnut and plane, with ornamental areas, shrubberies, tarmac paths and sports facilities. Following public consultation, improvements were carried out in the park by Latz & Partners, completed in 2010, and included a new play area, refurbished sports court, new entrances, paths, planting and seating. An interactive musical artwork by Henry Krokatsis was also commissioned and is installed near Grimaldi's restored monument, which recalls songs made famous by Grimaldi at Sadler's Wells. It consists of two coffin-shaped caskets set into the ground, one on Grimaldi’s grave, the other, alongside it, on the adjacent grave of Charles Dibdin the Younger (1768-1833), illegitimate son of the dramatist Charles Dibdin and actress Harriet Pitt, who was proprietor of Sadler's Wells Theatre and composer of many songs and farces. The surface of the caskets are phosphor bronze tiles that respond to pressure by playing musical notes. Those on Grimaldi’s casket are tuned so that his popular song 'Hot Codlins' can be played.

Sources consulted:

Mary Cosh, 'Barnsbury', 1981; Mary Cosh, An historical walk through Clerkenwell, (London,1987); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Mervyn Blatch, 'A Guide to London's Churches' (Constable, London, 2nd ed. 1995)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ308831 (530840,183130)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
1788; late C19th
to check - MPGA
Listed structures:
LBII: Joseph Grimaldi grave and monument; 154 Pentonville Road
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:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Railway Safeguarding Area

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.