Many Londoners will know Finsbury Square and Finsbury Circus: small open spaces , set amidst the office blocks on the northern edge of the City, near Moorgate and Liverpool Street stations. But how many will realise that they are the last remnants of London’s first public park laid out between 1606 and 1616
This talk tells the story of how the boggy moor, once the mediaeval home of ice skating and football, was drained, planted with trees and turned into walks for all Londoners. Of course like many well-intentioned projects it didn’t quite work out quite the way it was intended. It quickly gained a name for crime, prostitution, illegal building, street theatre, fly-tipping and even the occasional riot! Keepers had to be appointed to maintain order. After the Great Fire of 1666 it became a campsite for thousands of Londoners who set up tents and shops amongst the trees. The last ones did not leave for 7 years afterwards.
A new asylum for “lunatics” was build on a part of it – the famous Bedlam – and it became a big tourist attraction. The Corporation maintained the walks, replanting trees and keeping the grass cut, the rails and fencing in good order and the gravel paths well-rolled but continual vandalism took its toll. By the 18th century the city fathers decided to sell off large chunks of the park for housing development, and although there was a lot of opposition – including some early environmental campaigners – they finally succeeded. Finsbury Square was built in 1777-91 and Finsbury Circus between 1815-17.