Finsbury Park is at the north-east tip of Islington and unusually the area is named after the large park, not the other way around. The park itself was formally opened in 1869 – now Grade II listed it was the first municipal park to be authorised by its own Act of Parliament. It’s a long way from the district of Finsbury and its 115 acres include what remains of Hornsey Wood, so why isn’t it called Hornsey Park?
In the early nineteenth century the area was mostly agricultural land, but London was expanding rapidly. Early Victorian philanthropists were concerned that residents of Finsbury (on the northern outskirts of the city of London) were losing access to open land and there was a campaign for a large park. The campaign used the quotation attributed to the eighteen century Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder, that parks were the essential “lungs of London”. But the campaign was started too late and was overtaken by development.
In 1857 an Act of Parliament authorised the Metropolitan Board of Works to purchase 250 acres and the plan was to create a large park which would be called Albert Park, matching the new Victoria Park in Hackney. But land prices continued to increase and in the end only 115 acres were purchased. When it eventually opened it was named Finsbury Park as the original campaign had been intended to provide a park for Finsbury residents. Although Finsbury residents never did get a local park, a further 27.5 acres was purchased and saved from development – this can be found at Highbury Fields, the largest open space in the Borough of Islington.