These are two pocket parks in North Islington surrounded by a square of Georgian houses that were laid out just under 200 years ago.

The land was owned by the Marquess of Northampton who leased it to the developer, Henry Leroux in 1805. However, not much was built until 1810, and before he finished though, his plans for a quiet square were interrupted by the construction of the New North Road turnpike, now Canonbury Road, which runs right through the middle of the square.

One corner having grand Georgian houses, the developer realised that a busy road meant he wasn’t going to find it easy to sell them, sold the lease to Richard Laycock who started building slightly cheaper smaller houses around the rest of the square. So while the whole square still looks fairly wealthy, it’s not as rich as it was intended to be. In fact, it was at one point fairly run down after WWII but was rediscovered in the 1960s, and people who bought derelict houses then are sitting on houses worth a small fortune today.

However, that interloping road is why what was intended to be one large central garden is two gardens, separated by a busy road that was once also an important tramway.

The gardens themselves were laid out in the 1840s when the square was largely finished, and where most gardens surrounded by houses were kept private, in 1884, William Compton, 4th Marquess of Northampton opened them to the public, and a few years later, in 1888 he donated them to Islington Borough Council.

During WW2 the original railings around the park were removed for the war effort — and you can see the chicken wire that was used as a replacement in the second photo down on this page — but the railings were replaced in the 1950s. There may have also been an air raid shelter dug in the gardens, as a tender to dig one was issued, but that’s not proof that it was actually dug.

Today, the two gardens have very different appearances.

The smaller western garden is dominated by the old plane trees including one right in the middle, and a very 1970s look paving and raised beds that run around the pocket park. Plenty of seating around the edges, but apart from the path, most of the space is blocked off for the plants. It’s their park.

More noticeable though are the grapes growing in the middle, as the park was given a bit of a makeover in 2006, funded by the Loire Valley Wines Legacy Gardens, who were for a few years, the sponsors of the annual Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The much larger eastern garden is laid out mostly with two large lawns split by a central path and surrounded by a bench-filled walkway around the edges. There are old plane trees on the sides, and high bedding around the edges to offer some privacy from the surrounding houses and roads.

Look on the north side for Nettie’s Tree, a memorial for Annette Fennessy who died young in 2013. The central avenue was restored in 2019 and a free standing stone urn was replaced with a globe sculpture surrounded by bedding plants.

There’s now an active friends group that was set up in 2018 and looks after the gardens and locks the gates at night.

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