Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Islington is one of the most fascinating parts of London, and an entire book, let alone a
chapter, could easily be given to it. The area has a many-sided character: the fine terraces
of Canonbury, those of the rest of Islington, some of which are still neglected, and others
forming a sort of new Bloomsbury in character as well as architecture; Victorian Islington;
and the contrast between the working classes and the newly established ones who paint or
write; and so on.
It is today a little hard to realise that Islington in the mid-eighteenth century was little
more than a cluster of houses grouped about the green, with smaller, distant hamlets such
as Holloway and Canonbury, and that the lower parts of Islington running into Finsbury
had tea gardens and spas, lslington Spa being near the Sadlers Wells Theatre, and Bagnigge
Wells on a site now occupied by Cubitts near King's Cross. Nonetheless, if you look attent-
ively at the top storeys of Upper Street, where the road widens and the pavement is stepped,
you will see the remains of Georgian brickwork and get a passing impression of Islington
as a country village. In fact, Islington retained this integrity to a late period; as recently as
the 1880s, people who lived in Islington generally confined their lives to the district.
King's Cross and up Pentonville Road is a good way to tour the area, a part of London
given to little ironmongers' shops which still retain the sign of the dry-salters' jars, little
restaurants like Romano's close to Sadlers Wells dining-rooms, and the like. Romano's Fish
Dining and Supper Rooms is very characteristic: note the late Victorian woodwork, the
hanging lamp with the globe missing, and the lace curtains. Of the several streets worth a
visit, I single out Wharton Street, up the hill from King's Cross, and Percy Circus. Whar-
ton Street is almost unspoilt and has pretty Classic villas with gardens of minute propor-
tions, full of roses and scooters. The villas are tiny, with triangular pediments, and have a
little frilly ornament in the form of Gothic railings. At the top is Percy Circus, bomb-dam-
aged, but its architectural quality can still be admired. My illustration shows the well-pro-
portioned windows of the Circus and the shapely iron railings that enclose the green in the
centre. These squares and circuses with their linked terraces are the logical way of living
in cities - if cities are to be agreeable to the eye, that is, and not merely soul-destroying
glass and concrete beehives; the squares of London are the city's distinctive contribution
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