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Buildings on Islington High Street
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Location within Greater London
Area14.86 km2 (5.74 sq mi) (whole Borough)
Population206,125 (2011 census) (whole borough) [1]
  Density 13,871/km2 (35,930/sq mi)
OS grid reference TQ315844
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district N1,EC1
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°32′38″N0°06′10″W / 51.5440°N 0.1027°W / 51.5440; -0.1027 Coordinates: 51°32′38″N0°06′10″W / 51.5440°N 0.1027°W / 51.5440; -0.1027

Islington ( /ˈɪzlɪŋtən/ ) is a district in the north of Greater London, England, and part of the London Borough of Islington. It is a mainly residential district of Inner London, extending from Islington's High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy High Street, Upper Street, Essex Road (former "Lower Street"), and Southgate Road to the east.


Modern definition

Islington grew as a sprawling Middlesex village along the line of the Great North Road, and has provided the name of the modern borough. This gave rise to some confusion, as neighbouring districts may also be said to be in Islington. This district is bounded by Liverpool Road to the west and City Road and Southgate Road to the south-east. Its northernmost point is in the area of Canonbury. The main north–south high street, Upper Street splits at Highbury Corner to Holloway Road to the west and St. Paul's Road to the east.

The Angel business improvement district (BID), an area centered around the Angel tube station, exists within southern Islington district and northern portions of two other districts in the London Borough of Islington – Finsbury and Pentonville.


A map showing the wards of Islington Metropolitan Borough as they appeared in 1916. Islington Met. B Ward Map 1916.svg
A map showing the wards of Islington Metropolitan Borough as they appeared in 1916.


Islington was originally named by the Saxons Giseldone (1005), then Gislandune (1062). The name means "Gīsla's hill" from the Old English personal name Gīsla and dun ("hill", "down"). The name later mutated to Isledon, which remained in use well into the 17th century when the modern form arose. [2] [3] In medieval times, Islington was just one of many small manors thereabouts, along with Bernersbury, Neweton Berewe or Hey-bury and Canonesbury (Barnsbury, Highbury and Canonbury – names first recorded in the 13th and 14th centuries).


1861 Royal Agricultural Hall, view from Liverpool Road. Now the rear entrance to the Business Design Centre Agricultural Hall Islington ILN 1861.jpg
1861 Royal Agricultural Hall, view from Liverpool Road. Now the rear entrance to the Business Design Centre
1861 Cattle show at the Royal Agricultural Hall Agricultural Hall Cattle Show ILN 1861.jpg
1861 Cattle show at the Royal Agricultural Hall

Some roads on the edge of the area, including Essex Road, were known as streets by the medieval period, possibly indicating a Roman origin, but little physical evidence remains. What is known is that the Great North Road from Aldersgate came into use in the 14th century, connecting with a new turnpike (toll road) up Highgate Hill. This was along the line of modern Upper Street, with a toll gate at The Angel defining the extent of the village. The Back Road, the modern Liverpool Road, was primarily a drovers' road where cattle would be rested before the final leg of their journey to Smithfield. Pens and sheds were erected along this road to accommodate the animals. [4]

The first recorded church, St Mary's, was erected in the twelfth century and was replaced in the fifteenth century. [5] Islington lay on the estates of the Bishop of London and the Dean and Chapter of St Pauls. There were substantial medieval moated manor houses in the area, principally at Canonbury and Highbury. In 1548, there were 440 communicants listed and the rural atmosphere, with access to the City and Westminster, made it a popular residence for the rich and eminent. [2] The local inns harboured many fugitives and sheltered recusants.

The Royal Agricultural Hall was built in 1862 on the Liverpool Road site of William Dixon's Cattle Layers. The hall was 75 ft high and the arched glass roof spanned 125 ft. It was built for the annual Smithfield Show in December of that year but was popular for other purposes, including recitals and the Royal Tournament. It was the primary exhibition site for London until the 20th century and the largest building of its kind, holding up to 50,000 people. [6] It was requisitioned for use by the Mount Pleasant sorting office during World War II and never re-opened. The main hall has now been incorporated into the Business Design Centre. [7]

Water sources

A statue of Hugh Myddelton, creator of the New River, surmounts a drinking fountain at Islington Green. (November 2005) Hugh myddleton islington green 1.jpg
A statue of Hugh Myddelton, creator of the New River, surmounts a drinking fountain at Islington Green. (November 2005)

The hill on which Islington stands has long supplied the City of London with water, the first projects drawing water through wooden pipes from the many springs that lay at its foot, in Finsbury. These included Sadler's Wells, London Spa and Clerkenwell.

By the 17th century these traditional sources were inadequate to supply the growing population and plans were laid to construct a waterway, the New River, to bring fresh water from the source of the River Lea, in Hertfordshire to New River Head, below Islington in Finsbury. The river was opened on 29 September 1613 by Sir Hugh Myddelton, the constructor of the project. His statue still stands where Upper Street meets Essex Road. The course of the river ran to the east of Upper Street, and much of its course is now covered and forms a linear park through the area. [8]

The Regent's Canal passes through Islington, for much of which in an 886-metre (2,907 ft) tunnel that runs from Colebrook Row east of the Angel, to emerge at Muriel Street near Caledonian Road. The stretch is marked above with a series of pavement plaques so walkers may find their way from one entrance to the other. The area of the canal east of the tunnel and north of the City Road was once dominated by much warehousing and industry surrounding the large City Road Basin and Wenlock Basin. Those old buildings that survive here are now largely residential or small creative work units. This stretch has an old double-fronted pub The Narrowboat, one side accessed from the towpath.

The canal was constructed in 1820 to carry cargo from Limehouse into the canal system. There is no tow-path in the tunnel so bargees had to walk their barges through, braced against the roof. [9] Commercial use of the canal has declined since the 1960s.

Market gardens and entertainments

In the 17th and 18th centuries the availability of water made Islington a good place for growing vegetables to feed London. The manor became a popular excursion destination for Londoners, attracted to the area by its rural feel. Many public houses were therefore built to serve the needs of both the excursionists and travellers on the turnpike. By 1716, there were 56 ale-house keepers in Upper Street, also offering pleasure and tea gardens, and activities such as archery, skittle alleys and bowling. By the 18th century, music and dancing were offered, together with billiards, firework displays and balloon ascents. The King's Head Tavern , now a Victorian building with a theatre, has remained on the same site, opposite the parish church, since 1543. [7] The founder of the theatre, Dan Crawford, who died in 2005, disagreed with the introduction of decimal coinage. For twenty-plus years after decimalisation (on 15 February 1971), the bar continued to show prices and charge for drinks in pre-decimalisation currency.

By the 19th century many music halls and theatres were established around Islington Green. One such was Collins' Music Hall, the remains of which are now partly incorporated into a bookshop. The remainder of the Hall has been redeveloped into a new theatre, with its entrance at the bottom of Essex Road. It stood on the site of the Landsdowne Tavern, where the landlord had built an entertainment room for customers who wanted to sing (and later for professional entertainers). It was founded in 1862 by Samuel Thomas Collins Vagg and by 1897 had become a 1,800-seat theatre with 10 bars. The theatre suffered damage in a fire in 1958 and has not reopened. [7] Between 92 and 162 acts were put on each evening and performers who started there included Marie Lloyd, George Robey, Harry Lauder, Harry Tate, George Formby, Vesta Tilley, Tommy Trinder, Gracie Fields, Tommy Handley and Norman Wisdom.

An 1805 map of Islington Islington E Baker 1805.jpg
An 1805 map of Islington

The Islington Literary and Scientific Society was established in 1833 and first met in Mr. Edgeworth's Academy on Upper Street. Its goal was to spread knowledge through lectures, discussions, and experiments, politics and theology being forbidden. A building, the Literary and Scientific Institution, was erected in 1837 in Wellington (later Almeida) Street, designed by Roumieu and Gough in a stuccoed Grecian style. It included a library (containing 3,300 volumes in 1839), reading room, museum, laboratory, and lecture theatre seating 500. The subscription was two guineas a year. After the library was sold off in 1872, the building was sold or leased in 1874 to the Wellington Club, which occupied it until 1886. In 1885 the hall was used for concerts, balls, and public meetings. The Salvation Army bought the building in 1890, renamed it the Wellington Castle barracks, and remained there until 1955. The building became a factory and showroom for Beck's British Carnival Novelties for a few years from 1956, after which it stood empty. In 1978 a campaign began with the goal to redevelop the building as a theatre. A public appeal was launched in 1981, and a festival of avant-garde theatre and music was held there and at other Islington venues in 1982. What has become the successful Almeida Theatre was founded. [7]


Some early development took place to accommodate the popularity of the nearby Sadler's Wells, which became a resort in the 16th century, but the 19th century saw the greatest expansion in housing, soon to cover the whole parish. In 1801, the population was 10,212, but by 1891 this had increased to 319,143. This rapid expansion was partly due to the introduction of horse-drawn omnibuses in 1830. Large well-built houses and fashionable squares drew clerks, artisans and professionals to the district. However, from the middle of the 19th century the poor were being displaced by clearances in inner London to build the new railway stations and goods yards. Many of the displaced settled in Islington, with the houses becoming occupied by many families. This, combined with the railways pushing into outer Middlesex, reduced Islington's attraction for the "better off" as it became "unfashionable". [10] The area fell into a long decline; and by the mid-20th century, it was largely run-down and a byword for urban poverty. [2]

The aerial bombing of World War II caused much damage to Islington's housing stock, with 3,200 dwellings destroyed. Before the war a number of 1930s council housing blocks had been added to the stock. After the war, partly as a result of bomb site redevelopment, the council housing boom got into its stride, reaching its peak in the 1960s: several extensive estates were constructed, by both the Metropolitan Borough of Islington and the London County Council. Clearance of the worst terraced housing was undertaken, but Islington continued to be very densely populated, with a high level of overcrowding. The district has many council blocks, and the local authority has begun to replace some of them.

From the 1960s, the remaining Georgian terraces were rediscovered by middle-class families. Many of the houses were rehabilitated, and the area became newly fashionable. This displacement of the poor by the aspirational has become known as gentrification. Among the new residents were a number of figures who became central in the New Labour movement, including Tony Blair before his victory in the 1997 general election. According to The Guardian in 2006, "Islington is widely regarded as the spiritual home of Britain's left-wing intelligentsia." [11] The Granita Pact between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair is said to have been made at a now defunct restaurant on Upper Street. [12]

The African National Congress's headquarters in-exile was based on Penton Street. It was the target of a bomb attack in 1982.

The completion of the Victoria line and redevelopment of Angel tube station created the conditions for developers to renovate many of the early Victorian and Georgian townhouses. They also built new developments. Islington remains a district with diverse inhabitants, with its private houses and apartments not far from social housing in immediately neighbouring wards such as Finsbury and Clerkenwell to the south, Bloomsbury and King's Cross to the west, and Highbury to the north west, and also the Hackney districts of De Beauvoir and Old Street to the north east.

Islington is the most densely populated borough in the UK according to the 2011 census, with a population density of 138.7 people per hectare, compared to an average of 52.0 for London.

Upper Street

Islington Town Hall in Upper Street IslingtonTownHall.jpg
Islington Town Hall in Upper Street

Upper Street is the main shopping street of central Islington, and carries the A1 road.

Islington High Street

Islington High Street is the former High Street of the original village of Islington. High Street runs approximately 500 metres (0.31 mi) from the intersection of Pentonville Road and City Road at the south end to Islington Green at the north end, where it branches into Upper Street and Essex Road (former Lower Street) – though some maps may simply show High Street as the southern portion of Upper Street. The earliest reference to Islington High Street is its appearance on a 1590 map of the area. At this time, nine inns (including the famous Angel, which has subsequently given its name to the area around High Street), as well as housing and a public pond were shown lining the street. [13] Then as now, Islington was and is unusual in that the village church, St Mary's, does not stand on the high street but is some way off on Upper Street.

In 1716 Islington High Street came under the control of the newly formed Islington Turnpike Trust. The Trust grew rapidly, and soon had control of most major roads in the area, building a number of major road arteries through the expanding residential areas, including Caledonian Road, Euston Road, City Road and New North Road. [14]

The Peacock Inn [15] at 11 Islington High Street dates from 1564, although the current façade dates from 1857. It featured in Tom Brown's Schooldays as the inn at which Tom stays prior to travelling to Rugby School. It closed in 1962, although the building still stands. [16]

Angel tube station on Islington High Street has the longest escalator on the London Underground system, at 318 steps. [17] In 2006 a Norwegian man made headlines after skiing down the escalator at the station. [18]

In culture

Islington features extensively in modern English literature and culture:






There are over 60 sports and other types of physical activity on offer to the public in Islington, at more than approximately one hundred clubs, leisure centres, parks, community centres, and other venues. [23] The Islington Boxing Club, on Hazellville Road, was founded in January 1974 and was originally based in the community hall of York Way Court, close to Kings Cross Station. [24]

The borough is home to top-flight professional football club Arsenal F.C., whose sixty-thousand capacity stadium is in Holloway.


The area is served by numerous bus routes, with a major bus interchange located near the Angel tube station. Red route and residents' parking restrictions apply throughout the area.


According to latest figures published by the Department for Education, there are 47 primary and 10 state-funded secondary schools in Islington.

Listed buildings

Grade II listed Arlington Square Arlington Square.jpg
Grade II listed Arlington Square
The Grade II* listed St Paul's Church seen from Essex Road. This was built in 1866 to a design by Sir Charles Barry, who went on to build the current Houses of Parliament. (March 2007) Islington st pauls 1.jpg
The Grade II* listed St Paul's Church seen from Essex Road. This was built in 1866 to a design by Sir Charles Barry, who went on to build the current Houses of Parliament. (March 2007)
The Egyptianate former Carlton Cinema, Essex Road is Grade II listed, and has now closed. (November 2005) Essex road carlton 1.jpg
The Egyptianate former Carlton Cinema, Essex Road is Grade II listed, and has now closed. (November 2005)

Grade II*

English Heritage [25] list three Grade II* listed buildings within Central Islington (and many more in surrounding districts):

Grade II (selected):

The area contains numerous Georgian townhouses, shops and pubs. Many whole terraces are listed including much of Liverpool Road (one side of which is in Barnsbury) and Islington High Street/Upper Street. Other multiply listed streets include Arlington Square (one of the UK's top 10 garden squares) [26] Camden Passage, Compton Terrace, Colebrooke Row, Cross Street, Duncan Terrace, Essex Road, Gibson Square and Milner Square.

Other Grade II listed structures include:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">London Borough of Islington</span> Borough in United Kingdom

The London Borough of Islington is a London borough in Inner London. Whilst the majority of the district is located in north London, the borough also includes a significant area to the south which forms part of central London. Islington has an estimated population of 215,667. It was formed in 1965 under the London Government Act 1963, which simultaneously abolished the metropolitan boroughs of Islington and Finsbury.

Canonbury is a residential area of Islington in the London Borough of Islington, North London. It is roughly in the area between Essex Road, Upper Street and Cross Street and either side of St Paul's Road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clerkenwell</span> Human settlement in England

Clerkenwell is an area of central London, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dalston</span> Human settlement in England

Dalston is an area of East London, in the London Borough of Hackney. It is four miles northeast of Charing Cross. Dalston began as a hamlet on either side of Dalston Lane, and as the area urbanised the term also came to apply to surrounding areas including Kingsland and Shacklewell, all three of which being part of the Ancient Parish of Hackney.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Highbury</span> Human settlement in England

Highbury is a district in North London and part of the London Borough of Islington in Greater London and in the historic county of Middlesex that was owned by Ranulf brother of Ilger and included all the areas north and east of Canonbury and Holloway Roads.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">King's Cross, London</span> Area of central London in England

Kings Cross is a district on either side of Euston Road, in north London, England, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of Charing Cross. It is bordered by Barnsbury to the north, Clerkenwell and Islington to the east, Holborn to the south and Euston to the west. It is served by two major rail termini, St Pancras and King's Cross. King's Cross station is the terminus of one of the major rail routes between London and the North.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">City Road</span> Street in London

City Road or The City Road is a road that runs through central London. The northwestern extremity of the road is at Angel where it forms a continuation of Pentonville Road. Pentonville Road itself is the modern name for the eastern part of London's first bypass, the New Road from Paddington to Islington, which was constructed in 1756. The City Road was built in 1761 as a continuation of that route to the City of London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan Borough of Islington</span> Former local authority of London, England

Islington was a civil parish and metropolitan borough in London, England. It was an ancient parish within the county of Middlesex, and formed part of The Metropolis from 1855. The parish was transferred to the County of London in 1889 and became a metropolitan borough in 1900. It was amalgamated with the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury to form the London Borough of Islington in Greater London in 1965.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pentonville</span> Human settlement in England

Pentonville is an area on the northern fringe of Central London, in the London Borough of Islington. It is located 1.75 miles (2.82 km) north-northeast of Charing Cross on the Inner Ring Road. Pentonville developed in the northwestern edge of the ancient parish of Clerkenwell on the New Road. It is named after Henry Penton, the developer of the area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New North Road, Islington</span> Street in the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney

The New North Road is a road in northern central London, forming part of a link road from the A1 at Highbury into the City of London at Moorgate. It is 0.8 miles (1.3 km) in length and is part of the A1200. This link road consists of Canonbury Road and New North Road, before several smaller sections to the south leading into the city.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Angel, Islington</span> Historic landmark in Islington, London,

The Angel, Islington, is a historic landmark and a series of buildings that have stood on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road in Islington, London, England. The land originally belonged to the Clerkenwell Priory and has had various properties built on it since the 16th century. An inn on the site was called the "Angel Inn" by 1614, and the crossing became generally known as "the Angel". The site was bisected by the New Road, which opened in 1756, and properties on the site have been rebuilt several times up to the 20th century. The corner site gave its name to Angel tube station, opened in 1901, and the surrounding Angel area of London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Essex Road railway station</span> Railway station in Greater London, England

Essex Road is a National Rail station in Canonbury in Greater London, England, and is on the Northern City Line between Old Street and Highbury & Islington, 1 mile 59 chains (2.8 km) down the line from Moorgate, and is in Travelcard Zone 2. The station is at the junction of Essex Road, Canonbury Road and New North Road, with the present entrance on Canonbury Road. Operated by Great Northern, it is the only deep-level underground station in London served exclusively by National Rail trains. Between 1933 and 1975 the station was operated as part of the London Underground, as a short branch of the Northern line. Between 1922 and 1948 the station name was Canonbury & Essex Road. The name reverted to the original form in 1948.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liverpool Road</span>

Liverpool Road is a street in Islington, North London. It covers a distance of 1+14 miles (2.0 km) between Islington High Street and Holloway Road, running roughly parallel to Upper Street through the area of Barnsbury. It contains several attractive terraces of Georgian houses and Victorian villas, many of which are listed buildings. There are a number of pubs, small businesses and restaurants along its route, as well as some secluded garden squares. The vast majority of the street is residential, with a bustling shopping and business area at the southern, Angel, end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Islington South and Finsbury (UK Parliament constituency)</span> Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1974 onwards

Islington South and Finsbury is a constituency created in 1974 and represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2005 by Emily Thornberry of the Labour Party. Thornberry served as Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2016 until 2020 and is currently Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Upper Street</span>

Upper Street is the main street of the Islington district of inner north London, and carries the A1 road. It begins at the junction of the A1 and Liverpool Road, continuing on from Islington High Street which runs from the crossroads at Pentonville Road/City Road and runs roughly northwards from outside the main entrance to Angel Underground station, then past the Business Design Centre, then splits at Islington Green, then past The Screen On The Green cinema, past Islington Town Hall, ending at Highbury & Islington tube station on Highbury corner, where the A1 carries on as Holloway Road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parks and open spaces in the London Borough of Islington</span>

The London Borough of Islington is short of large parks and open spaces, given its status in recent decades as a desirable place of residence. In fact, Islington has the lowest ratio of open space to built-up areas of any London borough. The largest continuous open space in the borough, at 11.75 hectares, is Highbury Fields.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Islington Green</span> Park in Islington, London

Islington Green is a small triangle of open land at the convergence of Upper Street and Essex Road in the London Borough of Islington. It roughly marks the northern boundary between the modern district of Angel and Islington proper.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southgate Road</span> Human settlement in England

Southgate Road is a street in London, England, that runs from Baring Street in the south to the junction with Mildmay Park and Ball's Pond Road in the north. The street forms a part of the B102 road, leading from Newington Green to The City. The west side of Southgate Road is in the London Borough of Islington; and the east side is in the London Borough of Hackney. Southgate Road lies north of the Regent's Canal, west of De Beauvoir Town and east of Essex Road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Angel, London</span> Human settlement in England

Angel is an area on the northern fringes of Central London within the London Borough of Islington. It is 2 miles (3.2 km) north-northeast of Charing Cross on the Inner Ring Road at a busy transport intersection. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in London. It is a significant commercial and retail centre, and a business improvement district. Angel straddles the ancient boundary of the parishes of Clerkenwell and Islington that later became the metropolitan boroughs of Finsbury and Islington. It is named from the former Angel Inn which stood on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road. Since 1965 the whole area has formed part of the London Borough of Islington in Greater London.


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Further reading