Newington Green

Newington Green is a residential suburb which spans the London Boroughs of Hackney and Islington. The green itself, after spending many years as a glorified traffic island, was renovated in 2005 and provided with a new play area and café.

Newington Green has undergone partial gentrification in recent years as the middle class overspill from Highbury and Islington has moved in. This is reflected by the increase in trendy shops, restaurants and coffee bars in the shopping area. The majority of the housing stock in the area is Victorian although as with any area that is “on the up” sites which have been left empty for years are now rapidly being developed to take advantage of rising property prices. Although there are several bus routes that pass by the green the closest Tube Station is just under half a mile away. Highbury & Islington is on the Victoria Line (zone 2) with a travelling time to central London of around 15 minutes.

A Short History

Most people think of Newington Green today as a rather congested one-way system at the end of Green Lanes but the history of the area is fascinating. 

In the sixteenth century the area consisted of a small green surrounded by woodlands with a limited number of modest houses. It became popular as a hunting retreat for the aristocracy and there is evidence that Henry VIII kept a hunting lodge on the south side of the Green.  Many of the local roads, including King Henry’s Walk and Wolsey Road, reflect this early Tudor association.

A name which looms large in the history of the area is Sir Henry Mildmay. He owned a large estate to the south and east of the area and served as Master of the Jewel House for Charles I. He later became an opponent of the King’s religious policies and during the Civil War sided with the Parliamentarian faction. After the Civil war he sat as one of the judges in the king’s trial but refused to sign his death warrant.

Following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 Sir Henry was put on trial for his part in the King’s execution. Following the trial he was stripped of his knighthood and imprisoned in the Tower to await transportation to Tangiers. He died before he was due to leave. Several of the roads to the south of Newington Green still bear his name.

The restoration brought with it a series of oppressive laws which were designed to destroy the power of the Dissenters – those that opposed state interference in religious matters. Newington Green developed a reputation as a safe haven for the non-conformists and several schools and alternative universities were set up in the area. The most influential of these institutions was founded in 1667 by Charles Morton, an early exponent of progressive education methods, who would later become the first vice president of Yale University. One of the pupils at Morton’s Newington Green academy was Daniel Defoe – author of Robinson Crusoe.

The area’s reputation for radical thinkers continued in the eighteenth century with the arrival of Dr Richard Price in 1758. He was the new minister at the non-conformist church and took up residence at 54 Newington Green. His home became a meeting place for some of the greatest minds of the day. Adam Smith and Joseph Priestly were amongst those that visited as well as the Americans Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Dr Price published highly influential pamphlets on the subjects of probability and the National Debt before turning his attention to the struggle for American Independence. Many historians have chronicled Dr Price’s influence on the American Constitution and it is thought that he may have inspired his friend Thomas Paine to name the new country The United States of America.

Another attendee at Dr Price’s house was early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. After arriving in the area in 1784 she and her sister opened a school on The Green and used her experiences there to write Thoughts on the Education of Daughters in which she argued that women were educated from an early age to be dependent upon men. Her later work A Vindication ofthe Rights of Women ensured her continuing position as an emblem of the early feminist struggle.

Improvements to the transport system encouraged the rapid development of the area during the second half of the nineteenth. The Mildmay Estate was leased for development the 1850s and a new system of roads were laid out around the area in the two decades that followed. The program of building continued through to 1889 when the last remaining empty site, the grounds of Monte Cristo House, was put up for sale. By the turn of the century many of the buildings around the green had become shops.

Many properties in the area were lost during the Second World War and then to make room for modern developments in the 1960s.Fortunately number 52-55 Newington Green escaped both these events as well as the Great Fire. The terrace of four brick houses was built in 1658 and is thought to be the oldest remaining terrace in England and is Grade 1 listed.

Sources:

The Village That Changed the World – Alex Allardyce2008

A History of Islington – Alex Cosh 2005

Property Professionals in Newington Green

Unitarian Church, Newington Green, N16
Cissold Park
92-95 Newington Green, N16