If you don’t know much about Highbury, you might think of it as the former home of Arsenal’s football stadium or (with Islington) as a tube stop on the Victoria line. With its treelined streets of majestic villas and roomy Victorian homes, and access to green space in Highbury Fields and Finsbury and Clissold parks, the area is a good residential choice. The Times goes as far as calling the area around Highbury Fields, “the loveliest residential square in the capital.”

In the heart of Highbury, you’ll find an old village centre with its clock tower installed to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. Indeed, the area blossomed during Victoria’s era, as magnificent family homes were built from 1850 onwards to house London’s growing middle class.

But look deeper into Highbury, and you can trace the area’s history much further back – to the middle ages in fact.

Early history

Highbury takes its name from a manor house built on a hill in 1271. At a time when most of the area was made up of farms and woodland, Alicia de Barrow, an owner of Highbury Manor, gave the land to the Knights Hospitallers, a medieval religious and military order.

Although the manor house was burned down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the land remained in possession of the Knights Hospitallers until it was confiscated by Henry VIII in 1540. During the Great Fire of London, city dwellers made homeless camped out on Highbury Fields.

The 18th century …

Highbury Barn, originally part of the manor house estate, opened as a tea and ale house in the 18th century – which gained the approval of playwright Oliver Goldsmith.

In 1770 a stockbroker, John Dawes bought up some of the land. He built Highbury House for himself to live in and set about constructing other houses in the area. Before the end of the 18th century, the elegant terraces, which can still be seen today, had made their appearance surrounding Highbury Fields.

… and the 19th

Thomas Cubitt, the master builder responsible for much of Georgian London, was behind the construction of Highbury Park in the 1820s, kickstarting a frantic period of house building. Highbury New Park, a street known for its impressive line of Victorian villas, was built in the 1850s, the project of property developer Henry Rydon.

More villas were built during the 1860s and 1870s, enlarging the population of the area. Continued growth led to the opening of the impressive-looking Highbury Station in 1872.

By the late 19th century, the number of properties had grown, however Highbury Fields was saved as a green area for the public in 1885.

Highbury Barn tavern had expanded to include a pleasure garden with circus acts. Following a riot started by Barts Hospital medical students, it was closed down in response to complaints about disreputable’ behaviour. The new Highbury Barn pub opened in its place.

Arsenal FC

In 1913 Woolwich Arsenal Football Club moved north of the river to take over the sports ground of St John’s College of Divinity. The club dropped the ‘Woolwich’ part of its name and remained at the Highbury ground until moving to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. A development of 3,000 homes around a communal garden has been built on the site of the old Highbury stadium.

World War II

Highbury suffered during the Blitz. On 27 June 1944, Highbury was the site of one of Islington’s most destructive wartime attacks, when an enemy V-1 flying bomb or ‘doodle bug’ dropped on Highbury Corner, killing 28 people, including a four-year-old girl, and injuring a further 150.

The period after World War II saw a large municipal building programme, including construction of the London County Council’s Quadrant Estate, with 611 homes.

The arts

The films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Fever Pitch feature scenes in and around Highbury. It is also mentioned in the classic novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray – and it is the fictional residence of Mr Bean.

Highbury was the childhood home of poet John Betjeman. St Saviour’s in Aberdeen Park is the Grade I-listed church where his parents married. Referred to in one of his poems as the “great red church”, it is now occupied by artists’ studios.

Highbury today

A predominantly residential area, Highbury largely comprises the streets surrounding Highbury Fields, the largest green space in the London Borough of Islington. The properties surrounding the fields are typically well-preserved Georgian and Victorian terraced townhouses, now highly sought after. Highbury is especially popular with young professionals and families.

Would-be residents can choose from a selection of period semi-detached terraces, modern apartments, and larger, detached homes. A number of early villas survive, with some subdivided into flats.

If you’re looking to relocate to Highbury or would like to know the value of your Highbury home, contact M&M Property today. An estate agent in Highbury, Islington, Newington Green and Stoke Newington, we’d love to help, whether you want to sell, let, rent or buy a property.