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Islington, Middlesex

Historical Description

Islington, a metropolitan suburb and a parish in Middlesex. The suburb stands on the underground rivers Fleet and Walbrook, on the New river, on the Regent's Canal, and on the North London and G.N. railways, 2 miles NNW of St Paul's. It was originally and long a rural village, and was known at Domesday as Isendune, afterwards as Iseldon, Yseldon, Eyseldon, and Hysslton. It possessed some importance in the time of the Saxons, yet remained strictly rural so late as about 1793. It is mentioned in Percy's "Reliques" as a "merry country village;" it occupies a high site as compared with that of the city and of Westminster; it enjoyed from early times, and continues to enjoy, reputation for salubrity, and it was for many ages a favourite retreat of the citizens for custards, cakes, duck-ponds, and rural sports. So early as the time of Henry II. it was noted for archery, quoiting, wrestling, and other athletic pastimes; and in 1514, when enclosures were formed on the common fields around it, curtailing the spaces for the pastimes, the citizens assembled in multitudes and levelled the enclosures. But the place is now all urban, forms a compact, though not dense, section of the metropolis; contains several squares and very numerous streets, generally well built and airy; and is in-habited for the most part by families of the middle classes, and by the better sort of artizans. The Welsh chiefs whoi followed Llewelyn to do homage to Edward I. were quartered at Islington, but felt so annoyed by inadequate supplies of milk, mead, and Welsh ale, that they threatened " never to visit it again but as conquerors." Henry VI. was taken prisoner here, in his wanderings after the battle of Hexham. Rough, the friend of Knox, was seized here in the time of Mary, and he and thirteen other Protestants were brought to. The stake. Ramparts and trenches were, at the commencement of the civil wars of Charles I., constructed here for the defence of the city.

The parish contains also Highbury, Holloway, Ballspondy Battlebridge, Kingsland Green, Barnsbury Park, and part of Newington Green. Acreage, 3109; population, 319, 143. In 1851 the parish only contained 95, 329 inhabitants. For parliamentary purposes Islington is divided into four boroughs, North, South, East, and West, each of which returns one-member. Much industry is carried on in most departments of handicraft, and a great trade, together with regular marketing, is connected with the metropolitan cattle market. That market is situated at Copenhagen Fields, in the NW of Islington towards Camden Town, was formed by the Corporation of London at a cost of above £300, 000, was opened in June 1855 by the late Prince Consort; occupies an area,. proximately rectangular, of upwards of 30 acres, has such. connection with the North London, the G.N., the North-Westem, the G.W., the G.E. railways, and others, as to receive deliveries of live stock in the best condition, and without intermediate driving through the streets. The stands for beasts are arranged on one side of the market, and the-sheep pens on the other. Some portions of the ground are roofed in and fitted for pigs and calves, but comparatively few of either are brought to the market. The market days. are Monday and Thursday, the former being the chief day for business. On Monday the number of beasts exhibited is about 3500, calves 250, and sheep 12, 000. On Thursday the number of beasts averages about 600, and of sheep about 5000. The market also includes slaughter-houses, a meat-market, water-posts, and other appliances; has, in the centre, a clock-tower 150 feet high, surrounded by banking houses, railway offices, telegraph station, and other business apartments. Both business and amusements are connected with the Agricultural Hall, in Liverpool Road. This was erected in 1863, principally for the annual show of the Smithfield Cattle Club; presents a frontage with great entrance arch, flanked by rather peculiar towers, each 95 feet high, measures 380 feet in length and 217 in width; has galleries 34 feet wide and iron-arched roofs; includes exhibition courts, an implement court and refreshment rooms, and is used also for horse shows, exhibitions, and, during the winter months, for an old-fashioned fair which is largely attended.

Two chief public buildings in the parish are the Model or Pentonville Prison in Caledonian Road, and the city prison in Holloway. The Pentonville Prison was built in 1842 at a cost of £85, 000; occupies an area of 6¾ acres; contains 520 cells, each 13 feet long, 17 wide, and 9 high: has five ranges of exercise yards; and was established for the double purpose of a prison and of a reformatory for convicts. The city prison, usually known as " Holloway Castle," was erected in. 1854 at a cost of £92, 650; occupies an area of about 10 acres, surrounded by a wall 18 feet high; has a castellated Gothic front, copied from Warwick Castle; comprises six wings, radiating from a central tower; contains accommodation for about 370 male and 65 female prisoners; is all wanned by hot water; and each cell measures 13 feet by 7, and receives a constant supply of fresh air 6y means of a ventilating shaft. Other public buildings are the Clerkenwell County Court, the Vestry Hall, and a Metropolitan police station. A statue of Sir Hugh Middleton, on Islington Green, the gift of Sir M. Peto, with drinking fountains by subscription, was inaugurated in 1862. The statue is of marble, 8½ feet high, from the chisel of the late Mr Thomas, and stands on a broad granite pedestal, on each of two sides of which is a marble figure of a boy pouring water from a vase.

Local historians relate that toward the latter part of the 17th century Islington appears to have become one great academy. Samuel Clarke, the learned orientalist, one of the editors of the Polyglot! Bible, was a schoolmaster here about the middle of that century, and several of the ministers ejected from the Church of England by the Act of 1662 opened schools here and sent forth distinguished pupils, among whom were Matthew Henry, Dr Edmund Calamy, and Sir Joseph Jekyll.

Islington was once noted for its springs. Certain spas, near the quondam village, but within Clerkenwell parish, were discovered in 1683 by one Sadler in a garden belonging to a house which he had opened as a music-room, and which afterwards became a theatre, and these waters gave that place the name of Sadler's Wells. Another spa, which came to be called Islington Spa or New Tunbridge Wells, was in repute at. The time of Sadler's discovery, and it is a very light chalybeate water, much resembling that of the springs of Tunbridge. Noted taverns and tea-gardens also were in Islington, and one, called White Conduit House, derived its name from a conduit belonging to London Charterhouse. Coins of the year 110, Roman weapons, and other Roman relics were found in 1845 near White Conduit House, and a stone with a Roman inscription was found in a field adjacent to Caledonian Road, Traces of a Roman camp, supposed to have been that of Suetonius Paulinus previous to his victory over Boadicea at Battlebridge, existed till recently in the vicinity of Barnsbury Park. A Roman station was at High-bury, and served as a summer camp for the garrison of London, and the Roman Ermine Street went through the parish, probably at or near the Highbury Station. A moated seat of the priors of St John stood near Highbury Barn, and was demolished by Jack Straw's mob. A mansion at Canonbnry, built about 1362, belonged to the priors of St Bartholomew, and had attached to it a structure of later date, called Canonbury Tower, which was a resort of Queen Elizabeth for hunting, and afterwards was partly occupied by Oliver Goldsmith and several other literati. A small chapel to a lepers' hospital at Ballspond, built in the 12th century, and belonging to St Bartholomew's Hospital, was taken down so late as 1847. Some noted old houses stood on Henry VIII.'s Walk, leading to Newington Green; an old mansion of the Fisher's, called Fisher House, stood in the Lower Road; an old seat of the Fowlers of Barnsbury stood in Cross Street; an old timbered house stood on the spot afterwards occupied by the " Queen's Head;" and the house of Raleigh stood on the spot afterwards occupied by the "Pied Bull." Very many notable persons figure in connection with the parish as incumbents, residents, or natives. The chief of these, in addition to some which have been already mentioned, are Bishop Stillingfleet, Dr William Cave, Bishop Wilson, G. Morland .the painter; Topham, known as the strong man; Pepys, author of the Diary; Defoe, author of "Robinson Crusoe;" Cruden, author of the Concordance; Dr Pit-cairn; Newland, the bank cashier; Browne, the founder of the Brownists; Mrs Robinson, the translator of the " Death of Abel;" John Henderson the tragedian; Mrs Cowley, author of the " Belle's Stratagem; " Colley Cibber; Thomas Paine, author of the " Rights of Man;" Bagford the antiquary; Edmund Halley, astronomer; Dr Price; Rev John Palmer; and the poets Collins, Lamb, and Rogers. See LONDON.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyMiddlesex 
Ecclesiastical parishIslington St. Mary 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Islington from the following:

Land and Property

A full transcript of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Middlesex is online.


Online maps of Islington are available from a number of sites:

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Battle Bridge
Crouch Hill
CountyGreater London
Postal districtN1
Post TownLondon