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St Mary's Church Gardens Islington

Summary

St Mary’s Church Gardens is the former parish churchyard where many historical dignitaries were buried. There has been a church here from at least the early C14th although the medieval church was replaced by a new building in 1751-54. The body of the church was rebuilt in 1954-56 following WWII bomb damage, although the C18th tower and steeple remain. St Mary’s churchyard was enlarged in 1793, and after it closed for burial it was laid out as a public garden in 1885. The early C19th layout of main diagonal paths and forecourt remains intact. Headstones are stacked around its perimeter walls and there are fine mature plane and lime trees. The gardens were enhanced on the north side in the1960s with the construction of a sunken rock garden. An ornamental sundial with floral beds and a drinking fountain was added in 2001.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
Islington Parish Church

Site location:
Upper Street

Postcode:
N1 ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Public Gardens

Date(s):
1751-54

Designer(s):

Listed structures:
LBII: St Mary's Church

Borough:
Islington

Site ownership:
LB Islington

Site management:
Greenspace. Friends of St Mary Church Gardens

Open to public?
Yes

Opening times:
8am - dusk

Special conditions:

Facilities:

Events:
events in church

Public transport:
Rail/London Overground/Tube (Victoria): Highbury and Islington. Tube: Angel (Northern) Bus: 4, 19, 30, 43

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2011
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.islington.gov.uk/services/parks-environment/parks/your_parks/greenspace_az

Further Information

Grid ref:
TQ317838

Size in hectares:
0.69

Green Flag:
No

On EH National Register :
No

EH grade:
None

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
No

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
No

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
No

Local Authority Data

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.

On Local List:
No

In Conservation Area:
Yes

Conservation Area name:
Upper Street

Tree Preservation Order:
No

Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance

Green Belt:
No

Metropolitan Open Land:
No

Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Area

Other LA designation:
Church: local landmark

Fuller information

Islington originated as 'Gisla's Hill' or Gislandune in Anglo Saxon, and was referred to in the Domesday Survey as Iseldene, when the land here was owned by the Canons of St Paul. The earliest reference to a church is in 1317 and the village was important from early days as a stopping place on the route to the City of London. Islington became famous for supplying London with fresh milk and other dairy produce from farms in the area and it also had a good water supply, with the New River terminating here.

The medieval church was rebuilt in 1751-4 by Launcelot Dowbiggin, who was later buried in the churchyard. It was badly damaged by WWII bombing and the body of the church was rebuilt in 1954-6 by Seely and Paget, while the C18th tower and steeple remained as did its porch of 1903 designed by A W Blomfield. Within the church is the C18th font and two C16th brasses. The church had numerous illustrious visitors including Charles Wesley who was an unlicensed lecturer here in 1738; Dr Samuel Johnson was a friend of Dr George Strahan who was vicar between 1772-1824. Thomas Osborne, the bookseller who Dr Johnson famously knocked down, was buried in the churchyard, and Edward Elgar's parents were married here in 1848. There were a number of famous curates at St Mary's including Dr George Carey and Dr Donald Coggan, both Archbishops of Canterbury, Revd David Sheppard, later Bishop of Liverpool and Revd Maurice Wood, later Bishop of Norwich.

Among those buried in the churchyard were Sir Richard Cloudesley after whom Cloudesley Square (q.v.) is named; Sir James Steward, the godson of James I and Sir George Wharton, both killed in a duel with sword and dagger in 1609 after which the King ordered them to be buried in a single grave at his expense; and Dame Alice Owen, who founded schools for boys and girls in 1613 as well as almshouses. As a girl she had been saved from an accidental shot by a bowman while milking a cow in Islington, and when she later married Sir Thomas Owen she became benefactress to the community. A number of the important developers of Islington were also buried here including Thomas Bilham (d.1836) and Nathaniel Bishop (d.1836), both involved in Barnsbury. Islington became famous for supplying London with fresh milk and other dairy produce from farms in the area and it also had a good water supply, with the New River terminating here.

The churchyard was enlarged in 1793, and later it was laid out as a public garden in 1885, maintained by the vicar and churchwardens. The early C19th layout of main diagonal paths and forecourt remain intact. The gardens were enhanced on the north side in the 1960s with the construction of a sunken rock garden, similar to rockwork found in New River Walk, and Duncan Terrace Garden (q.q.v.).The headstones are stacked around north, east and south perimeter walls and the garden has notable mature planes and limes. Four species of fern are also found here including lady-fern and hart's tongue fern. There are reproduction railings throughout and plinths remain of former obelisks at the north and south ends of the forecourt. Within an area of planting towards the east of the garden is an ornamental sundial with floral beds and a drinking fountain was donated by The Brewers' Company in 2001.

Sources consulted:

Lewis, S. Junior, The History & Topography of the Parish of Islington, (London, 1842); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Whitaker lecture; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Mervyn Blatch, 'A Guide to London's Churches' (Constable, London, 2nd ed. 1995); Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Mary Cosh, The Squares of Islington Part II: Islington Parish, (London, 1993); Mrs Basil Holmes, The London Burial Grounds, 1896

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