Copenhagen House was a famous tavern & tea-garden which stood in what is now Caledonian Park, N7, from the early 17th century until 1855. As a pleasure garden it attracted Londoners keen to take tea, play skittles or fives (an early version of squash, said to have be invented here), watch boxing (and I’m afraid at times also dog fighting and bull baiting) and other entertainments and stroll in the gardens. A picture in the London Metropolitan Archive dating back to 1820s shows that it was a rather rustic setting. ideal for a day out of town. Although visiting the house was not without dangers, as early newspapers contain regular reports of people walking near the house being attacked by robbers ! The engraving below shows an early form of the house.
The Copenhagen name has two possible derivations. Christian IV King of Denmark visited London in 1606 and some sources claim that the house was built for some of his court members (although the King seems to have spent most of the visit at Greenwich or Theobald Palace) – or it could be (as local historian Nelson says) because it was the home of the Danish Ambassador in 1665 during the plague. The name is first mentioned on Camden’s Britannia map in 1695.
In 1770 the house became briefly famous for a brutal robbery where the house was broken into in the middle of the night, and the owner Mrs Harrington and her baby daughter were badly treated, and over £50 were stolen. Both the local vestry in Islington and the Government offered rewards, and one of the participants informed on the others, and three of the four attackers were sent to trial and executed (the informer was pardoned, but later executed for another crime).
In the 1830s a plan exists showing a scheme to build a massive cemetery on the hill. Later on it became a well known Cricket Ground (from 1835), and then later in the early 1850s briefly became the centre of track running in London (before then races were run on public roads). People raced for championship belts, the first sub 4 minutes 30 seconds record for running a mile on track was made by Charles Westhall. The London Metropolitan Archive has a London Illustrated News engraving from 1852 showing a runner and spectators. The house and estate was purchased in 1852 by the City of London, and demolished in 1853 to make way for the building of the Metropolitan Cattle Market (now Caledonian Park and Tower). See a future blog post to hear more about the establishment of the Cattle Market and building of the tower. Before the site was closed in 1853, the activities of the Copenhagen Running Grounds moved to Wandsworth.
Copenhagen Fields and Demonstrations
The grounds of the house were known as Copenhagen Fields, and stretched from the house down towards Kings Cross railway station. The large fields were used by protests over the centuries – some of these protests were huge even by todays standards. Major protests held here included:
In 1795 the London Corresponding Society held two different meetings at the fields, at the first in October over 200,000 people attended, arguing for universal (male) suffrage, and annual parliaments. The aim was political reform, and a plan was proposed to picket the King as he attended Parliament. The final rally took place in November – up to 400,000 people attended, The authorities fearing a repeat of the French Revolution introduced a series of capital offences, restricting the rights to protest and making some speeches punishable by death. The London Corresponding Society went out of business, but had laid the spadework for the Chartist movement that emerged in the 1840s. The cartoonist James Gilroy created a cartoon of the meetings that can be seen at the London Metropolitan Archives
In 1834 the Metropolitan Trade Unions held a meeting where a crowd of 40,000 people gathered to support the repeal of the transportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who had been sent to Australia. They carried a petition signed by 260,000 people to Whitehall to present to the Government. Two engravings at the London Metropolitan Archive show the scale of the crowds (here and here). The Tolpuddle name lives on as a street in Islington – and also in a mural painted on a building in Copenhagen Street.
In 1851 a demonstration was held by supporters of Lajos Kossuth the Hungarian Revolutionary in exile in London who argued for the sovereign rights of self-determination for individual countries. Numbers attending the meeting vary by source but were well over 25,000 spectators. Lord Palmerston (much to the annoyance of Queen Victoria) agreed to meet Kossuth and some of his supporters.
Copenhagen and London today
In more recent times the Copenhagen name has been passed on to the area around the north of Kings Cross, and there is still a Copenhagen Street in the area (complete with the Tolpuddle Martyrs Mural mentioned above). Plaques exist on the Caledonian Market Tower on the site of the Copenhagen House. Several pubs (sadly all closed and demolished) inherited the Copenhagen House name. The three tunnels (one disused today) about a mile north of Kings Cross taking the trains under Barnsbury are called the Copenhagen Tunnels. The local model railway club has made a rather delightful detailed model railway of the areathat can be seen on YouTube.
For more information
- The London Pleasure Gardens of the eighteenth century, Wroth 1896
Islington Guided Walks guides do tours of the Caledonian Market area, check Islingtonguidedwalks.com for scheduled walks in the Caledonian Market, or commission a private tour by contacting [email protected]