Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park, Islington/Hackney/Haringey

A 115-acre public park and the vibrant, multi-ethnic neighbourhood on its southern flanks, situated north of Highbury

Park Theatre bar at night

The recre­ation ground and plea­sure gar­dens called Fins­bury Park were cre­at­ed from a sur­viv­ing cor­ner of Hornsey Wood in the 1860s for the wel­fare of the res­i­dents of the par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cy of Fins­bury, an over­crowd­ed inner city area that had no size­able green spaces of its own. The con­stituen­cy and the park lay at oppo­site ends of Isling­ton parish and the parochial trustees were instru­men­tal in per­suad­ing the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Board of Works to finance the project.

The open­ing of the park came at a time when the neigh­bour­ing area was fill­ing with two- and three-storey ter­raced hous­ing for the mid­dle class­es. Many hous­es failed to find buy­ers of the intend­ed means and were soon sub­di­vid­ed into sin­gle-floor flats. In some cas­es, each bed­room was occu­pied by a dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly.

New trans­port links improved Fins­bury Park’s appeal to com­muters in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The Great North­ern and City Rail­way arrived from Moor­gate in 1904, and two years lat­er Fins­bury Park became the north­ern ter­mi­nus of the Great North­ern, Pic­cadil­ly and Bromp­ton Rail­way (now the Pic­cadil­ly line).

Edward A Stone’s art deco Asto­ria cin­e­ma opened in 1930, with an ornate inte­ri­or that cre­ates the impres­sion of a Moor­ish set­tle­ment at night. The Asto­ria sub­se­quent­ly became a not­ed live music venue, host­ing the Bea­t­les’ Christ­mas shows in 1963 and stag­ing a pro­fu­sion of sig­nif­i­cant rock gigs in the 1970s, when it was called the Rain­bow The­atre. It is now the Lon­don head­quar­ters (and ‘help cen­tre’) of the Uni­ver­sal Church of the King­dom of God, a Pen­te­costal mis­sion of Brazil­ian ori­gin.

The district’s most over­crowd­ed hous­ing was cleared and replaced by coun­cil flats in the mid­dle decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Else­where, mul­ti­ple occu­pa­tion remains wide­spread, although par­tial gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has tak­en place. Fonthill Road devel­oped a rag-trade spe­cial­i­ty in the 1960s and now has a Sat­ur­day mar­ket and dai­ly shops spe­cial­is­ing in cut-price design­er cloth­ing.

It has been sug­gest­ed that Fins­bury Park’s loca­tion “in the armpit of three bor­oughs” has been at the root of some munic­i­pal neglect. How­ev­er, a regen­er­a­tion pro­gramme deliv­ered some ben­e­fits in the ear­ly years of the 21st cen­tu­ry, includ­ing enhance­ments to the very busy bus and rail inter­change.

This was fol­lowed by City North, a mixed-use scheme bring­ing new employ­ers, res­i­den­tial tow­ers and fur­ther improve­ments to the sta­tion. (In Fins­bury Park there can nev­er be enough improve­ments to the sta­tion, which should ide­al­ly be razed to the ground, or below, and rebuilt from scratch.) A mul­ti-screen cin­e­ma, fit­ness cen­tre, super­mar­ket, bou­tique shops and trendy bars, cafés and restau­rants were all promised in City North’s brochure – with the caveat of an aster­isk and “sub­ject to lease” at the bot­tom of the page.

Hidden London: An autumnal scene in Finsbury Park, with the obligatory squirrel

The park itself is now the respon­si­bil­i­ty of Haringey coun­cil, which has restored it to some­thing approach­ing its Vic­to­ri­an glo­ry with the help of lot­tery fund­ing. The project includ­ed the re-land­scap­ing of the Amer­i­can Gar­dens, oppo­site which is an out­door gym. Fur­ther­field Gallery is based in the McKen­zie Pavil­ion, near the lake. Fins­bury Park is often the set­ting for major events and con­certs.

The local­i­ty has become increas­ing­ly art­sy in recent years. The Park The­atre opened in 2013 on Clifton Ter­race, just north of the sta­tion. Built on the site of a dis­used office block, the two-audi­to­ri­um venue incor­po­rates a 200-seat the­atre and a flex­i­ble 90-seat space. The the­atre’s bar is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle. The John Jones arts build­ing opened around the cor­ner in Mor­ris Place in 2014.

Fins­bury Park’s com­mu­ni­ty is cul­tur­al­ly diverse with no sin­gle eth­nic group form­ing a major­i­ty. Black­stock Road has been dubbed ‘Lit­tle Algiers’ for the num­ber of Alger­ian refugees who live in the vicin­i­ty.

The North London Central Mosque (commonly known as Finsbury Park mosque) was at the centre of controversy in the early 21st century as an alleged base for Islamic extremists, attracted by the preaching of one of its imams, Sheikh Abu Hamza. After being closed for more than a year the mosque reopened in 2005 under a more mainstream regime.

Postal district: N4
Population: 14,358 (Islington’s Finsbury Park ward, 2011 census)
Station: Piccadilly and Victoria lines and Great Northern (zone 2)
Web page: Haringey Council — Finsbury Park
Further reading: Jerry White, Campbell Bunk: The Worst Street in North London Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2003
and Ken Gay, Finsbury Park, Hornsey Historical Society, 1996
See also: Brownswood Park