This is a pair of gardens that run in front of a row of houses and were originally private spaces for the houses, but are now open to the public to enjoy.
They’re also about to have their bicentennial, having been created in 1823.
Compton Terrace is a row of houses on either side of the Union Chapel that were erected piecemeal between 1805-1831, as upmarket townhouses for professionals working in the City of London. They were set back from the noisy Upper Street, which leads to Islington, and while busy today, was even more so back then, being the main route into the City for people — but also for cattle to be taken to Smithfield market. In the early 19th century, it’s estimated that over 30,000 cattle were brought to the market each week.
So the grand houses were set back from Upper Street behind a long strip of fenced-off land that was effectively the front gardens for the houses.
However, in 1823, an agreement between the landowner, Lord Compton and the residents allowed the strip of open grass to be enclosed as a private garden for the residents. With fresh walls added and over time, lots more trees and hedges, it helped to reduce the noise and dirt from the busy road.
In 1841 the historian Samuel Lewis wrote, “Compton Terrace derives much ornament from a plantation between the houses and the high road which renders its situation more secluded than it would otherwise be.” That seclusion was necessary, as in 1870, Charles Dickens described Upper Street as being “amongst the noisiest and most disagreeable of thoroughfares in London”.
Compton Gardens used to be both private, and longer. However, WW2 took a hit to the northern end of the terrace, destroying 10 houses (and the local railway station), and in 1956, the council bought the land to turn it into a roundabout.
The gardens were managed by Islington Council as public space until the late 1980s, but when the gardener’s job was put out to tender as part of local authority reforms, the council sacked the gardener instead. By the 2000s the gardens were run down, and in 2009 a local group of volunteers, with a small grant from the council, took over management of the gardens.
In 2015, the truncated northern end of the gardens was partially cleared of overgrowth to create a woodland garden, and in 2019 the 1980s replica Victorian iron railings were repaired and made good. The gardens now contains 130 mature trees, with a large lawn running through the middle, and lots of park benches on the eastern side – do spot the ones donated by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association.
There are two large anchor shaped flower beds in the gardens, and no one knows why. It’s presumed that a former gardener may have laid them out like that for some personal reason, and they’ve never been changed since.
This article was published on ianVisits
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