What’s in a name?…Finsbury…

June 18, 2018

Part of Clerkenwell, located to the north of the City of London, the central district of Finsbury – as well as associated landmarks like Finsbury Square,  Finsbury Circus, and the more northerly district of Finsbury Park – take their name from a manor which once stood here.

Dating from at least as far back 13th century, the manor apparently took its name from a man named Finn about whom we know nothing other than his name.

The area, which was once fenland, was long a place of recreation for Londoners – there are reports of apprentices skating on the frozen fens in winter and when Moorgate was built in 1414, Lord Mayor Thomas Falconer commented that it would allow access to the fields beyond for the various recreational activities.

A late 16th century map depicts the area being used for drying sheets, for archery, cattle grazing, for windmills and for the Lord Mayor’s kennels.

In 1641, the Honourable Artillery Company moved there and for a time there was a cannon foundry there. In 1665, Bunhill Fields, a burial ground for dissenters, opened in the area. The fields of Finsbury were also where many Londoners camped temporarily after the destructive power of the Great Fire in 1666 razed much of the old City.

The parish church, St Luke Old Street, was built in the early 1730s and just a few years later, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, took over the former cannon foundry and converted it into a chapel as well as a home and school.

Around 1800, George Dance laid out a new residential development centred on Finsbury Square, fashionable among medicos until they migrated to the area around Harley Street at the end of the 19th century. Finsbury Park was created in the mid-1850s some three miles to the north as a place of recreation for Finsbury’s residents.

A parliamentary borough named Finsbury was created in 1832 (among the claims to fame of this politically progressive borough was that Dadabhai Naoroji, the “Grand Old Man of India”, became Britain’s first Asian MP when he was elected the Liberal member in 1892).

The Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was created in 1900 (in a similar vein to the parliamentary borough, among the metropolitan borough’s claims to fame was that Dr Chuni Lal Katial become the first Asian mayor in the entire UK when he was elected in 1938). The metropolitan borough was abolished in 1965 when the area was absorbed into the Borough of Islington.

Famous residents of Finsbury have included Vladimir Lenin, who lived here in exile, and the Victorian illustrator George Cruikshank.

PICTURE: Finsbury Town Hall, officially opened on 14th June, 1895, by then Prime Minister Lord Rosebery (Lionel Allorge licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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