Finsbury Park at 150: Campaigner plans to update history book

The Avenue in Finsbury Park. Picture: Hugh Hayes

The Avenue in Finsbury Park. Picture: Hugh Hayes - Credit: Archant

The campaigner who wrote a book detailing the history of Finsbury Park is to update it to mark its 150th birthday.

The Finsbury Park boat house. Picture: Hugh Hayes

The Finsbury Park boat house. Picture: Hugh Hayes - Credit: Archant

Hugh Hayes, former chair of the Friends of Finsbury Park (FoFP) group, wrote the first version of A Park for Finsbury 20 years ago.

Now, a fundraiser has been launched to help finance a new version, covering issues right up to 2019 such as its £6million funding injection in the Noughties and the Wireless Festival judicial review two years ago.

More than £8,000 is needed to cover the writing, design, printing and editing of the book and any profits from sales will go to FoFP.

"The first one was for the millennium and we got millennium money for it," Hugh told the Gazette. "But it was done in a bit of a rush. I had to go to places as there was no online research and I was always a bit disappointed with things that were wrong.

Children in the Finsbury Park gardens. Picture: Hugh Hayes

Children in the Finsbury Park gardens. Picture: Hugh Hayes - Credit: Archant

"It went down very well because no one had any idea of the history or the amazing things that happened before and after the park opening. But most of it came from word of mouth and it was not always accurate. I've got a lot more information now and I always wanted to do it again."

The new edition will feature 16 more pages, including more images of Hornsey Wood House, which was on the land before it became the park.

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"It was famed for wrestling matches, pigeon shooting, pedestrianism - walking races, boating and of course, having a drink as well," said Hugh.

Over the last two decades he has also taken advantages of digital technological advancements and scoured old newspaper clippings online for information about the park. In one snippet from 1907, a man describes his memories of Hornsey Wood from his childhood.

Hugh Hayes.

Hugh Hayes. - Credit: Archant

"I knew it very well when I was a lad in the early fifties of the last century," it reads. "It was pleasantly situated on the rising ground which afforded a fine view of the surrounding country, and was a favourite resort for schoolchildren coming out in summer-time in vans etc from London, or robust pedestrians taking footpaths through what were called 'Southgate fields,' and crossing the (then) rural track known as the Seven Sisters Road.

"The wood was a small one, and composed (if I rightly remember) of white-barked birch trees. Beyond the wood, to the north, the clear and gentle New River wound its course through green meadows."

The man added: "In recent years I have tried in vain to locate the old place - miles of houses have supplanted what were once miles of fields and open country."

One of the items that has proved elusive to Hugh, however, is coverage and images of British Union of Fascists founder Oswald Moseley at a rally in the park in June 1936.

He explained: "They held two demonstrations there, and there were two counter demonstrations. Interestingly even all of the working-class people from Campbell Road on the Andover Estate - known as the worst street in north London - hated Moseley."

Another, more inspiring, political moment featured in the book took place in August 1987. Civil rights activist and Black Panther member Angela Davis spoke at an event calling for Nelson Mandela to be freed from prison. The revised version will also go deeper underground with the story of the Hornsey Wood Reservoir built beneath the park in 1868 by the East London Waterworks Company.

It is both decommissioned and out of bounds due to fears of a collapsing roof but in 2013 photographer Matt Emmett captured it with shots that went on to win the 2016 Arcaid Images Architectural Photography Awards.

"It's also in the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes film if you want to see it," said Hugh.

Though he has moved to Cornwall, partly because he "couldn't bear to see what Haringey Council did to the park", Hugh is still an honorary member of FoFP, and has followed their judicial review opposing Wireless Festival closely.

Though the core challenge has failed, it was decided any profits made from the festival must be spent on the park, which Hugh welcomes, even though shutting off the park for weeks in the summer goes against his beliefs.

"Everything is a commodity now and it goes against the whole reason the Victorians created parks in the first place," said Hugh. "I think parks should be for the people to enjoy."

To donate to the fundraiser click here.