This is a nice pocket park in Islington cared for by an active local community group, but also a link to a grisly unsolved murder.

The gardens and the land around them were originally owned by Thomas Thornhill in the 19th-century, who developed it for housing. The land where the garden is was at the time used as a commercial market garden nursery, and put up for sale by the freeholder, Thomas Thornhill in October 1887, being offered to the Islington Vestry for a “moderate price”.

OS 25 inch England and Wales, 1841

They were able to raise the money to create a public park in an area rather lacking in them. The total cost of buying the land was reported to be £2,000, of which the County Council provided half, and the rest came from the rates. The landscaping cost an additional £782.

The garden was formally opened on Friday 16th May 1890 by the Vicar of Islington, the Rev WH Barlow.

OS map 1896

It was laid out with a raised area in the centre for a fountain and seating, and then paths around the sides and ornamental planting in the borders. Apart from the small trees being considerably larger today, the park layout hasn’t changed much since then. However, the fountain was removed at some point, and there’s a fundraising campaign to restore it.

The garden also gained a war memorial in July 1920 to those locals who died in the Great War. The inscription on the memorial is derived from the words contained in a condolence letter sent by King George V to every bereaved family. It’s now a listed monument and protected. It was also restored in 2016.

During WW2, the western side of the garden was dug up for a basic air raid shelter.

A local community group was formed in 2019 to look after the garden through voluntary work in collaboration with Islington Council. Since then, the Victorian gardener’s hut has been refitted internally, 13 benches have been restored, a wildlife trail created in one corner, and new plants and trees have been planted.

One of the donors to the groups is listed simply as ” a former Prime Minister, whose house backed onto the gardens”, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to work out that would be Sir Tony Blair, who moved into 1 Richmond Crescent in 1993, only moving out in 1997 when he decamped to a modest flat above his office in Westminster.

An interesting aspect I noticed is that the gates to the garden are kept closed, which makes sense with several dogs running around, but it’s not something I often see in other public pocket parks. The gates aren’t locked though – just pull back the bolt to go inside.

Talking of dogs, one of the recent additions to the park is a memorial bench, added by a local resident in memory of his dogs.

Less appealing is that there used to be public toilets on the south side of the gardens, and they gained unexpected notoriety in 1977, when the decapitated head of the London gangland criminal, Billy Moseley was found in the toilets.

His disappearance, apparent torture, and eventual murder was a major news story in the mid 1970s.

Two men were convicted of his murder in 1977 and jailed for life, but their conviction was overturned in 2002 when it was proven that the police evidence against them had been falsified. Whoever it was that dumped the head in the garden loo is still unknown.

The toilet block was later demolished.


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