This is an Islington public garden that’s famous(ish) for the classical building in the centre, which is actually a ventilation shaft for the London Underground.
The gardens and the houses around are named after Thomas Gibson, an MP who promoted free trade and the abolition of the corn laws, and 200 years ago, in 1823 he leased land from the local landowner with the intention to develop it into housing.
His estate surveyor and architect Francis Edwards, a pupil of Sir John Soane, laid out the estate between 1828 and 1846, with two private garden squares surrounded by fine housing.
The garden square was initially laid out with three lawns split by diagonal paths, and surrounded by planting, with a large oval flower bed in the centre of the garden. It was also a private space for use only by the residents of the houses that surrounded it.
As with many fine squares built in the Islington area, the middle classes started moving out in the 19th century to the edges of London thanks to the emerging commuter railways, leaving behind houses that were usually chopped up into cheap flats.
This saw the area start to become run-down, thanks largely to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act 1915, which was designed to stop landlords from profiting by raising rents during the war, but also, unsurprisingly, meant landlords had no incentive to look after their properties. A slump firmly set in.
By the late 1920s, the garden was increasingly unkempt as maintenance was funded by the houses around it, and it’s suggested that the owner, the Trustees of Thomas Milner-Gibson tried to develop it for housing, but were thwarted when the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931 protected it. A few years later, it was handed over to Islington Council to look after, and they opened it up as a public space.
During WWII, the gardens were dug up to create shallow air-raid shelters and restored after the war.
By the 1960s though, the area was known for poverty and blight but was also seen as an opportunity for people to buy unusually large homes cheaply and renovate them.
It was these newly moved in middle-class sorts who gave the garden its unexpected fame as they kicked up a huge fuss to prevent London Underground from building a large ventilation shaft in the middle of the garden.
The shaft was needed to provide fresh air to the Victoria line which was to be dug in tunnels running right under the gardens.
A newly formed Gibson Square Protection Society set up a campaign to resist the London Transport Executive’s plans to use the garden square as an excavation site and to leave a large ventilation shaft behind. According to the Holloway Press, the shaft would have been built of brick and concrete, and soar some 50 feet up into the air.
The locals lost the argument not to use the garden square as a construction site, and they had to have the ventilation shaft, but did get an agreement for it to be considerably smaller, and be disguised. You can see the shaft and construction site in this photo.
A 1966 BBC documentary series featured the people who lived around the garden square during the construction works in episode 1 here.
The cladding around the now rather shrunken shaft was designed by the neo-Georgian architect, Raymond Erith who chose to disguise the building as a classical temple, called the “Tower of the Winds”. The temple was completed in 1970, along with London Transport restoring the gardens and installing the current garden railings.
And so a modest otherwise unassuming pocket garden gained unexpected fame, as the location for one of London Underground’s more unusual looking buildings.