Barnsbury, Islington

A pioneering gentrified locality consisting of a mix of older terraces and squares (plus some council blocks) in north-​​west Islington

College Cross - geograph-3295421-by-Oxfordian-Kissuth

The 13th-​​century Berners family gave their name to a large manor, of which present day Barnsbury covers just a small part. Legal obstacles prevented building on the land until the 1820s, signi­ficantly later than nearby districts such as Canonbury.

In the 1830s an eccentric Frenchman named Baume set up the short-​​lived Barnsbury Park Community, a co-​​operative project with a farm and a college, settled by radical tailors and shoemakers. Elsewhere, the rows of narrow-​​fronted terraces were destined to house a lower class of occupant than its developers intended, especially when the building of the railways prompted the better-​​off to flee to more distant suburbs. Many larger houses were subdivided for multiple occupancy, or even turned into factories.

Barnsbury Stores and Fig restaurant, on Hemingford Road

Barnsbury Stores, on Hemingford Road

From the early 1960s Islington began to regain its appeal to the middle classes and Barnsbury’s protracted decline was reversed. During the 1970s some of the most run-​​down sets of buildings were demolished and the council and Barnsbury Housing Association put up new homes. The latter also restored some older properties, which often retained their original archi­tectural features because specu­lators hadn’t hitherto deemed the area worthy of redevel­opment. Young profes­sionals flocked in and the district became known for its ‘liberal intel­li­gentsia’ – including numerous writers and journ­alists, as well as Tony Blair before he became prime minister.

Prices here subsequently escalated to the detriment of the sense of community fostered by the first wave of well-​​intentioned gentrifiers, with household incomes now typically in six figures.

Barnsbury is sometimes identified as the first London locality to have undergone gentri­fication. However, when the sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term in the context of urban renewal (in London: Aspects of Change, 1964), Barnsbury was still an overwhelmingly working-​​class area, while she pointed out that the upper-​​middle class takeover of the poorer enclaves of Hampstead and Chelsea had already been “consol­idated some time ago.” It’s truer to say that Barnsbury was a pioneer of post-​​war gentrification.

Postal districts: N1 and N7
Population: 12,201 (2011 census)
Station: London Overground (Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, zone 2)
Further reading: Mary Cash, An Historical Walk Through Barnsbury, Islington Archaeology and History Society, 1981
See also: Caledonian Road

 

* The picture of College Cross on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Oxfordian Kissuth, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-​​ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence. (The picture of Barnsbury Stores is by the author.)
† It is rumoured that Ruth Glass first used the term ‘gentrified’ in 1959, in an unpub­lished study of housing in North Kensington.
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