Inventory Site Record

Thornhill Square Gardens (Islington)

Brief Description

Thornhill Estate was laid out by Joseph Kay, surveyor for the Thornhill family from Yorkshire. By the early C19th they owned large tracts of land, including 86 acres in Islington, largely let for dairy farming. Thornhill Square was begun in c.1847. The central gardens were railed from c.1852 and were only open to keyholders until 1946, when Captain Thornhill donated them to the public. They were opened by the Mayor of Islington in 1947, and newly laid out in 1953 as part of Coronation Year improvements. Fine trees in the garden include a native black poplar and mature London plane trees.

Practical Information
Site location:
Thornhill Square, Liverpool Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk
Special conditions:
Children's playground
Public transport:
London Overground: Caledonian Road & Barnsbury. Rail/Tube (Northern, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City; Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly): King's Cross. Bus: 17, 91, 259, 274, 153
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 Thornhill Estate was laid out by Joseph Kay, estate surveyor from 1813-1849 who had a liking for Neo-classical style. The Thornhill family from Yorkshire owned large tracts of land by the early C19th in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire as well as 86 acres in Islington, largely let for dairy farming. The estate gained in value when the Regent's Canal was planned in 1812, although a road across the estate to bridge the canal was not realised. George Thornhill had initially planned to develop his Islington estate in 1808 but after a false start he appointed Joseph Kay as surveyor in 1813. Kay was also surveyor of the Foundling Hospital at Coram's Fields and Meckleburgh Square (q.q.v). Thornhill died in 1827 and his son inherited his father's bequest for improving land in Islington. Street names in the estate recall family connections.

Thornhill Square was begun in c.1847 with George Sidney Smith Williams building 33 houses on the west. The central gardens have railings dating from c.1852. Thornhill Crescent (q.v.) was begun in c.1849 with St Andrew's church to the north of the Square. Early residents of the square were well-to-do professional classes, including George SS Williams, who lived in No. 32, which was also his company headquarters, building it in such a way that his clients and employees could turn right into the office (now 32a) and the family could turn left into their home. In 1906 two of the houses in the north-west were demolished for the new Islington West Library designed in Art and Craft style by E Beresford Pite. As the C20th progressed the area became run-down like much of Islington and in 1955 the family interest died out with Captain Noel Thornhill. The central garden was initially only open to keyholders but in 1946 Captain Thornhill donated the gardens to the public and they were opened by the Mayor of Islington in 1947. They were newly laid out in 1953 under the Council's Open Spaces Scheme as part of Coronation Year improvements. In 1960 John D Wood & Co. purchased leaseholds to part of the estate although the Thornhill Estate Trustees owned 99% of the land until 1970 after which freeholds were gradually purchased. Near Thornhill Square is Barnsbury Wood (q.v.), left as open space when the estate built. Thornhill Square is a large ovoid ellipse square surrounded by railings and great curiosity in plan. Planting includes shrub borders, ornamental displays and rose beds, with paths, lawns and seating, and a mound to the north. Surrounding buildings are largely intact.

Sources consulted:

Mary Cosh, Barnsbury, London 1981

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ307840 (530807,184050)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
Greenspace; Friends of Thornhill Square/Thornhill Square Association
1847-49; 1953
Joseph Kay, surveyor to Thornhill Estate
Listed structures:
LBII: Islington West Library, St Andrew's Church, Nos. 1 - 70 Thornhill Square
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:
Barnsbury Square
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Local/strategic view corridor (part)

Thornhill Square Gardens

Thornhill Square - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 01/11/10 15:03

Click a photo to enlarge.

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