Highbury, Islington

Famed as the former home of Arsenal football club, Highbury is an elongated settlement in north Islington, between Canonbury and Finsbury Park

Highbury Fields in winter, with ice cream van

In the 13th cen­tu­ry the farms and wood­land here came into the pos­ses­sion of the Knights Hos­pi­taller, a mil­i­tary monas­tic order. The Hos­pi­tallers’ manor house was burned down by Wat Tyler’s rebels in the Peas­ants’ Revolt of 1381.

The woods were most­ly cleared dur­ing the 17th cen­tu­ry. Lon­don­ers who had been burned out of their homes in the Great Fire camped out on High­bury Fields.

In 1740 a tea and ale house opened at High­bury Barn, which had orig­i­nal­ly been the barn of High­bury manor farm; Oliv­er Gold­smith lat­er wrote of the pleas­ant time he had spent here.

In 1770 John Dawes, a stock­bro­ker, began to acquire land, build­ing a High­bury House for him­self and grant­i­ng build­ing leas­es for the first sub­ur­ban hous­es. Dawes died in 1788 and his son sold off most of the estate for fur­ther build­ing. Before the cen­tu­ry was out High­bury Fields were encir­cled by impos­ing ter­races of hous­es.

In the 1820s Thomas Cubitt built High­bury Park, set­ting up his own brick­fields near­by. Thir­ty years lat­er Hen­ry Rydon added High­bury New Park. Oth­er devel­op­ers con­struct­ed rows of vil­las in the 1860s and 1870s – again using the term ‘park’ to con­vey an impres­sion of qua­si-rur­al grandeur. This growth led to the open­ing of High­bury rail­way sta­tion in 1872, when it looked a much more impos­ing than it does now.

Highbury Place in early spring
High­bury Place

High­bury Fields were saved for the pub­lic in 1885. In the same year the present High­bury Barn opened, replac­ing the old tav­ern and plea­sure gar­dens, which had become a scene of dis­rep­utable activ­i­ties. The clock tow­er at High­bury Quad­rant was erect­ed in cel­e­bra­tion of Queen Victoria’s dia­mond jubilee in 1897. Arse­nal Foot­ball Club took over the sports ground of St John’s Col­lege of Divin­i­ty in 1913 and moved to the Emi­rates sta­di­um in 2006.

Unlike most parts of sub­ur­ban Lon­don, High­bury saw lit­tle change between the wars as the area was already ful­ly built up, although a few of the grand­est prop­er­ties were sup­plant­ed by more afford­able ter­raced hous­es and man­sion blocks.

Bombed sites were filled with new hous­ing after the Sec­ond World War; the largest project was the Lon­don Coun­ty Council’s Quad­rant estate, with 611 homes.

The last of Highbury’s hand­ful of man­u­fac­tur­ing firms moved out in the ear­ly 1960s.

Like much of the bor­ough, High­bury has an afflu­ent minor­i­ty and a less vis­i­ble, less afflu­ent major­i­ty. Young sin­gles make up a high pro­por­tion of the adult res­i­dents. A num­ber of ear­ly vil­las have sur­vived, most of which have been sub­di­vid­ed.

According to J. Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era (1908), a ‘barner’ was “a roaring blade, a fast man of North London.” Such a character would have been a regular at the Highbury Barn.

Postal district: N5
Population: 26,664 (Highbury East and Highbury West wards, 2011 census)
Station: London Overground ( East and North London lines); Great Northern (Northern City line); Victoria line (Highbury and Islington, zone 2)
Further reading: Keith Sugden, History of Highbury, Islington Archaeology and History Society, 1984