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Finsbury Park, the home of the people

This enormous 115 hectare park, which came into being in 1869, is one of the areas of greatest cultural diversity in London and has played witness to important events.

 

Snow at Finsbury Park. Photo by Derek / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Juanjo Andres Cuervo

 

Many pacifist campaigns were carried out here during the First World War, in an area where a number of archaeological sites have been discovered.

Upon leaving the Finsbury Park underground station, the park, which shares its name can be found a short distance straight ahead.

It is situated in the heart of the neighbourhood and was opened in 1869, and is so large that it covers the whole length of the journey between the stations of Manor House and Finsbury Park. Nowadays it is a peaceful place, with enough space for any type of activity. Even on cold, overcast afternoons, people of different ethnic groups play football, basketball, work out or stroll around the park.

This is in contrast to the amount of clashes that the park once saw, as there were a large number of fights between fascists and anti-fascists in the area, particularly during both world wars.

The history of Finsbury Park, however, arose from co-operative ideals. Its beginnings can be traced back to 1833, when a special committee from the area informed the House of Commons that they wanted to create a park in North London. Their request was initially rejected due to the high costs of the construction materials that were required.

After this first attempt was denied, residents signed a petition in 1841 and sent it to the Queen.

N4, Finsbury Park, N4. Photo by Ewan Munro / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Finally, following the creation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855 financed by local taxpayers, a construction plan was created the following year, to be inaugurated in 1869.

At present, Finsbury Park stretches over 115 hectares, within which there is room for amusement in every part of the park. A large group of children play football on the grass, using backpacks for improvised goalposts.

People from all the communities that live together in the area take advantage of the tennis and basketball courts, skate parks and rugby pitches, which are in use at all hours of the day.

The broad, interconnected paths are continually navigated, by groups and individuals, but one of the things they have in common is that very few people walk; many ride bikes and others jog, although some take short cuts across the grass, where they have to avoid the groups of people that can be found there.

The most relaxed people sit down on the turf to read, chat or take photos of themselves.

There is also enough space for dogs to play fetch, and even to gather with other pets in an area specially designated for them.

By the swings, the youngest children run around laughing, while the more mischievous among them throw sand at their playmates.

Watched over by adults who sit under a covered area in the same space, the children feel like adventurers climbing up the pyramids, crossing the bridge or rocking back and forth on the toy motorbikes.

Birdlife on Finsbury Park lake. Photo by Adam W / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

The nearby Furtherfield Gallery offers exhibitions in addition to events related to art, technology and social change.

Located in the McKenzie Pavilion, it has built up an international reputation as as premiere art gallery in the city.

One of the paths leading away from the playground is the park’s “Flower Garden”, which has undergone numerous changes since its opening in 1900, with its problem during part of the 20th century being that it was difficult for plants to grow there.

Nowadays, a line of flowers on both sides of the path show traces of the garden that is still preserved. A short distance on from the flower area is the lake, which was created at the end of the 19th century and can be crossed in boats, fed by waters that come from the New River.

World War

In the early 20th century, Finsbury Park became a space for participation and debate on the political issues of the era. Its peak was reached when an area was created for the pacifist campaigns during the First World War.

Many meetings of pacifist groups took place during the Great War, in which the activist Sylvia Pankhurst also became involved. The female socialist played an important role in the history of the United Kingdom, fighting for the introduction of the vote for British women.

Finsbury Park Park Run. Photo by Tom Page / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

When the war came to an end, women over the age of 30 were given the vote and Pankhurst was sentenced to six months in prison for continuing her fight for peace.

Additionally, there were constant clashes between the British Union of Fascists and the country’s anti-fascist organisations during both world wars. During the Second World War, the area was equipped with one of the anti-aircraft guns prepared to defend against German attacks.

Apart from its history during the darkest days, Finsbury Park has also been an area of important archaeological sites in London. A significant amount of prehistoric human and animal remains have been discovered in the area, as well as Roman relics.

Outside the park

The area surrounding Finsbury Park is very cosmopolitan, with a great variety of shops and other establishments in the three streets that come together in Finsbury Park: Seven Sisters Road, Blackstock Road and Stroud Green Road.

A vast number of fast food stands fill the three streets; of the three, the most extensive is Seven Sisters Road, which passes through Manor House, Finsbury Park and Arsenal, among other neighbourhoods.

The fact that Blackstock Road has been christened “Little Algiers” is a demonstration of the variety of cultures that converge in the area, but generally no single ethnic group dominates; Jews, Maghrebis, Africans and Irish and English people all live in the locality.

Finsbury Park tube entrance. Photo by Kill Pop / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

The UK’s Universal Church, created in 1999, stands out in the neighbourhood itself.

Before its creation, the same site was home to one of the area´s most historic buildings, the Finsbury Park Astoria.

The cinema was opened in 1930 and was one of the biggest of its day. From 1960 onwards it was also used as a live music venue where big stars of the era, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix, performed to the delight of the audience members who were lucky enough to attend their shows.

Years later its name would be changed to the Rainbow Theatre, which was visited by Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. The theatre, however, closed its doors in 1981 after having been subject to a preservation order 10 years previously.

In this way the area, which grew as a result of an interchange for trains during the joining together of the London boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Haringey, witnessed some deterioration in the 1990s.

Stemming from the support of the locals, important funding was achieved for the redevelopment of the park in 2001. The initiative was driven by the Finsbury Park Action Group (FPAG) and returned the area to the glory deserved by such a multicultural place with spectacular surroundings.

(Translated by Alfie Lake) – Photos: Pixabay

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