Whether you’re after fitness, festivals, food or fashion – you’ll find Finsbury Park well worth a visit!
The neighbourhood has a long-standing reputation for entertainment. You can visit the site of the iconic Rainbow Theatre and/or try some bowling or Karaoke at Rowan’s Tenpin Bowl. The impressive shopping and dining options reflect the area’s rich cultural mix. Fonthill Road developed a rag-trade speciality in the 1960s and now has a Saturday market and daily shops specialising in cut-price designer clothes and offering the latest trends in hair and beauty. Head up Stroud Green Road for a range of cafes, pubs and restaurants offering competitively priced food from across the world.
The Park itself stands on the site of an ancient hunting ground. Although it’s now managed by Haringey Council, it was built as by the Victorians as a leafy refuge for the poorer residents of inner-city Islington, so has a long association with the borough. The nearby Parkland Walk Nature Reserve offers a walk or cycle along the disused railway line to Alexandra Palace or Highgate. Head to the Sobell Centre for excellent sports facilities, including an ice rink and climbing wall.
Stroud Green Road was part of an old Medieval route north out of London and Stroud Green was the original name for the area now known as Finsbury Park. The name was in use by the 1500s and is thought to mean marshy land. It was an area of pasture and by the 18th Century a place of recreation with tea houses. The external panels on the Old Dairy, Hanley Road, depicting dairy farming, are evocative of the area’s rural past. Seven Sisters Road was laid out in 1832 and controlled by a turnpike until the 1870s. The road was named for the group of seven elm trees at the Tottenham end.
With the coming of the railways in the 1850s, the area became a middle-class suburb, with fine Victorian Gothic and Arts and Crafts villas. New transport links in the early 20th century enabled the middle classes to move further out and many houses were subsequently subdivided leading to overcrowding. New transport links boosted the area’s appeal to commuters in the early 20th century as the worst of the housing stock was replaced following World War II bomb damage.
Places to Visit
Finsbury Park Station The first station, known as Seven Sisters, opened in 1861 and was renamed Finsbury Park when a new line to Edgware opened a few years later. The station was connected to what would become the Piccadilly Line in 1906 and the Victoria Line in 1968 when the station buildings were modernised.
The area around the station has recently had a facelift from City North, a mixed-use development set across four buildings including two 23-storey towers providing new homes, shops, a gym and a cinema.
Finsbury Park In the 1860s the area known as Hornsey Wood hosted a popular tea house and pleasure gardens. The 115-acre Park as we know it was opened in 1869, intended to boost the welfare of the residents of the parliamentary constituency of Finsbury and Seven Sisters Station was renamed Finsbury Park. It was landscaped by Alexander McKenzie, a noted Victorian garden designer who laid out Alexander Park. It was the first municipal park to be authorised by its own Act of Parliament (1857) and now enjoys Grade II listing.
Astoria/Rainbow Theatre (232-238 Seven Sisters Road) Edward A Stone’s art deco Astoria cinema opened in 1930, with an ornate interior evocative of a Moorish settlement at night. The Astoria subsequently became a noted live music venue, hosting the Beatles’ Christmas shows in 1963 and staging a range of notable artists including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. A string of famous names including Jimi Hendrix, the Clash and the Who performed there in the 1970s, when it was the legendary Rainbow Theatre. It is now the London headquarters of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Pentecostal mission of Brazilian origin, and is Grade II listed.
Cinematograph Theatre/Rowans When the Cinematograph Theatre (1909) on Seven Sisters Road closed it was converted into a roller-skating rink, which never opened. Instead, it became the Rink Cinema and was the first British cinema to show “Talkies” to film industry representatives in the 1920s. It was known as Gaumont and then Majestic Ballroom before it became a bingo hall then snooker club and since the late-1990’s has been the iconic Rowan’s Tenpin Bowl, one of most famous bowling alleys and nightlife venues in London.
Finsbury Park Empire Theatre (now Vaudeville Court, St Thomas’s Road) Finsbury Park Empire, once one of London’s most famous music halls and variety theatres, has a green Islington People’s Plaque awarded by popular vote in 2016. The 2000-seat theatre opened in 1910 and played host to many stage and screen greats including Marie Lloyd. Under the same ownership as the London Palladium from 1947 it saw performances by Laurel and Hardy, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Shirley Bassey and Tommy Cooper. The Cliff Richard film ‘The Young Ones’ featured scenes shot inside and outside the Empire in 1964.
North London Mosque, St Thomas’s Road The five-storey mosque was opened by Prince Charles in 1994. It achieved unwelcome notoriety when Abu Hamza al-Masri a radical preacher, became its Imam in 1997. Following closure and community support the Trustees reformed the Mosque but experienced a setback in 2017 when there was an anti-Islam terrorist attack on several worshippers in the vicinity. Despite this the Mosque has since recovered with thousands of worshippers attending each year.
Hornsey Road Baths and Laundry This baths, with its famous neon sign of a female diver, was the largest complex of its kind in the UK when built in 1895, with four swimming pools, a public washhouse and laundry. It was frequented by famous swimmers in the Victorian era including Agnes Beckwith who swam five miles of the Thames in 1875 at the age of 14. After damage during the blitz in 1941 the main baths were extensively rebuilt during the 1960’s, but eventually closed in 1991 due to lack of funds. A glass atrium now surrounds the former 80ft-high Victorian boiler chimney as a lobby entrance to the mixed housing development now on the site.
St Mellitus Church, Tollington Park The organ at St Mellitus is a unique memorial, built in 1920 to honour the men from the parish who served in the First World War. It is housed in a Grade II listed building, now known as St Mellitus church, but originally opened in 1871 as the New Court Congregational church and sold in 1959 to the Roman Catholic Westminster Diocese. The name panels were restored and reinstalled at a Remembrance Day service in 2014. The organ benefited from a Heritage Lottery grant and was restored in 2020. Volunteers have created an archive of the people named on the organ.
Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace The theatre community, including luminaries such as Sir Ian McKellen and Alan Rickman worked with residents to raise the necessary funds to convert a disused office block into a thriving new theatre and beacon for the community. At a cost of just £2.6 million, the building, designed by David Hughes Architects, opened in May 2013 to rave reviews from the critics. Actress Maureen Lipman was one of the first stars to tread the boards in the 200-seat auditorium.
Sculptures Outside Finsbury Park Station These figures were chosen by the local community and installed by the walking and cycling charity Sustrans:
- Jazzie B, the DJ and music producer (real name Trevor Beresford Romeo OBE) born January 1963 and founder of 1980s chart toppers Soul II Soul
- Edith Garrud, suffragist and first female martial arts instructor in the western world, she taught on Seven Sisters Road
- Florence Keen, founded the North Islington Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Holloway in 1913, when around 10% of local children died before their fifth birthday
Andrea Levy The author (March 1956-February 2019) best known for her novel Small Island (2004) was brought up in Twyford House, just off Blackstock Road, by Jamaican parents. She became a leading voice of the Windrush generation and Small Island ends with the heroine, Hortense, buying a run-down house in Finsbury Park. An Islington Heritage Plaque was installed at Twyford House in 2020 in her honour.
Sir Don McCullin The famous Photojournalist grew up in Finsbury Park (his family lived at number 40 Fonthill Road) and some of his first great black and white images were of Islington gangs in the 1950s. Published in 1958, The Guv’nors which features a notorious local gang during the demolition of a Victorian house, is said to have launched his career. He is now regarded as one of the 20th Century’s greatest photographers, famed for his powerful war photography covering conflicts in countries such as Nigeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iran.
Sir Michael Sobell The Philanthropist’s family moved to England in 1903 and he attended school in Islington. He went on to make his fortune in electronics, including manufacturing television sets. He used his wealth to set up a charitable trust to provide financial support to a variety of benevolent causes including medical, educational, and fitness endeavours. The Michael Sobell Sports Centre, Hornsey Road was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1973 and features a green Islington plaque outside to honour its founder.
Kate Beckinsale The actress was born in Finsbury Park in July 1973. She made her film debut while still a student at Oxford and went on to star in British costume dramas such as Emma (1996) and The Golden Bowl (2000) and several Hollywood films including Pearl Harbour (2002) and the Underworld vampire films (2003-2012).
Naomie Harris Famed for her role as Eve Moneypenny in three Bond films (Skyfall 2012, Spectre 2015 and No Time to Die 2021) the actress was brought up in Finsbury Park. She studied acting at the Anna Scher Theatre School, Islington as a child before training at the Bristol Old Vic after graduating from Cambridge. She still lives in the area and describes herself as “North London through and through”.
Minnie Driver The Hollywood actress was born Amelia Driver in Finsbury Park in January 1970. Her mother, a former couture model was the mistress of Ronnie Driver [failed financier, war hero and bigamist) who was unaware of his other family. Minnie was brought up in Barbados and made her stage debut in 1991 after attending drama school in London. She went on to make several films and TV series and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (1997).
Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens The businessman and philanthropist (1841-1918) moved his ink factory to Gillespie Road, near the Arsenal Stadium, in 1892. A well-known local character, he was elected as MP for the Hornsey constituency in 1887.
John La Rose The prominent Caribbean activist (1927-2006) was a founder of New Beacon Books in Stroud Green Road and organised the first International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books in Islington Town Hall (1982).
- Purchase of land to create Finsbury Park (1860s)
- Arrival of the railways (1861) and underground (Piccadilly Line 1906), Victoria Line (1968)
- Building of main roads (mid-19th century)
- https://2nq.uk/blog/fascism-and-antifascism-finsbury-park-and-1930s linked to Islington.
Jenni Bowley, Oonagh Gay, Bridgid Goddard, Fran Farragher
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