Highbury lends its names to many things – a Place, a House, a Terrace, a Barn, some Fields, a Hill, and even a Hill House – to name some. In the 1700s it was a pleasant largely rural place to be. There was a lot of woodland and dairy farming around and being on slightly higher ground, the air was fresher. It was somewhere more pleasant to be.
Perhaps it was not surprising that a stockbroker, John Dawes, bought the land and granted leases. In the 1770s, the houses themselves were built by John Spillar, a Southwark architect and builder. This was the birth of what we know today as Highbury Place.
The style of houses – in a terrace – was typical in growing cities at this time, influenced by the series of anti-fire building regulations introduced after the Great Fire of 1666.
It was designed for wealthy people, particularly to help those who wanted to escape the increasingly crowded City. The houses had great views across to the countryside. When Highbury Terrace was built some years later, it was sited to not block the rolling rural view of the residents in Highbury Place. It was a gated estate and the residents wanted it to be exclusive – paying privately for their own lighting and watching rather than paying the parish to provide them. The building of the railway in 1870s demolished villas and gates at the start of the Fields.
Further up the hill, some substantial detached houses were built with large gardens: Highbury House was built for John Dawes himself – it had 74 acres of grounds which included shrubberies, hot houses, green houses, stables. And there was Highbury Hill House. Sadly, neither exist today.
So what sort of people lived there?
One eminent banker bought a house as a ‘country retreat’. Abraham Newland worked as Chief Cashier at the Bank of England between 1782 and 1807. He would sign bank notes which were often called ‘Abraham Newlands’!
In the middle of the nineteenth century (1845-54) the young Joseph Chamberlain lived in a house at number 25. He went on to be a great social reformer in Birmingham and eventually represented a constituency of that City in Parliament. But the area must have made an impression on him as he went on to build a large Victorian Gothic style house in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley in the late 1870s. So what did he name it? Highbury Hall.
For guided walks or more information on Highbury please contact Hazel Phillips the author of this post.