The site was previously known as Finsbury Fields, part of the old Moorfields outside the City walls. They were used from medieval times for archery and the Lord Mayor's Hunt, and in the early C17th trees were planted and walks laid out. Following the Fire of London in 1666 many people camped on the Fields, and plague victims were buried here. In the mid C18th John Wesley and the early Methodists first preached in Finsbury Fields to large crowds. Finsbury Square was formally laid out in the late C18th, but none of these early buildings survive. The central garden was originally circular and reserved for the private use of residents well into the C20th. Just before WWII, work had begun on redesigning the garden as a square with a subterranean car park beneath it, but this was not completed until the early 1960s. In 1955 Finsbury Council had acquired freehold of the site and the public garden was then created in its present form with flowerbeds, bowling green and changing rooms, and a refreshment house.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Finsbury Fields were previously the old Moorfields, part of fens outside the City walls, the land belonging to St Paul's Cathedral. When the Wesleys first established the Methodist movement here they preached in Finsbury Felds to large crowds and until the late C18th the area was little built on. Although plans for laying out the area were drawn up in 1751 by George Dance the Elder, who was City Surveyor, Finsbury Square was eventually laid out by his son George Dance the Younger between 1777-92 who was attempting to recreate a 'West End' atmosphere in the City, the fine houses overlooking a circular garden. Finsbury Square was the first public place where gas lighting was permanently installed and was fashionable until the late C19th particularly among members of the medical profession. Among its famous residents were the missionary David Livingstone, who stayed here in 1856 and composer Anton Bruckner, who began is 2nd Symphony while staying here in 1871. None of the original houses remain, and the buildings surrounding the gardens are C20th, mostly modern.
The central garden, originally private and for the use of residents of Finsbury Square, was rebuilt in its present form after WWII, which included the building of a subterranean car-park, the first under a London square. The latter had been planned as early as 1925, first raised as an idea by the Automobile Association but work by Finsbury Council was interrupted by the war, and it was not until 1955 that the Council acquired the freehold from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The gardens, which had become run down in the interim, were re-landscaped in the early 1960s with a bowling green, changing rooms, new flower-beds, refreshment house as well as the car park. The gardens now have a petrol station, restaurant and two bowling greens.
There are two granite cattle troughs and a Drinking Fountain presented to the parish of St Luke by Thomas and Walter Smith in 1899 to commemorate their mother Martha Smith who died in 1898. The fountain was originally on the pavement but was moved to its present position in the south east corner in 1962.
Mary Cosh, The Squares of Islington Part I: Finsbury and Clerkenwell, London, 1990; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928