From war bombing to ‘stinking’ paddling pools: A history of Barnard Park
PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 June 2018
Barnard Park in Barnsbury is one of Islington’s biggest – and therefore most important – green spaces. Naturally, people have been quarrelling about it from the very offset. The Gazette looks through the archives to see how the park developed.
With summer under way, the Gazette is bracing itself for another three months of rows about barbecues in Highbury Fields.
But quarrels about Islington’s precious green space are nothing new.
Head south-west from the Fields to Barnsbury and people have been clashing over Barnard Park throughout its history: from the paddling pool to the football pitches.
The current 10-acre park, one of the biggest of Islington’s very limited range, was developed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Its history as a recreational space goes back to the 18th century, when it was a cricket ground in open fields. It was then known as Copenhagen Street Open Space.
Housing was eventually built on the site, but much of it was decimated by Second World War bombing.
As Nazi bombers targeted the strategic site of nearby King’s Cross station, many lives were lost and houses destroyed in the Barnard Park area during the Blitz in 1940/41.
In 1944, a German V1 flying bomb also caused widespread destruction on the south end of the park site.
As a temporary solution to the post-war housing crisis, prefabricated bungalows were imported from the USA.
Islington Metropolitan Borough Council ordered 250, and 30 were built in streets where Barnard Park now stands.
In 1967, the site was laid out as Barnsbury Park and extended in 1975.
At a public meeting to discuss the 2.5-acre extension in 1972, people raised concerns about Islington’s housing shortage. But Cllr Morris Perry also pointed to the borough’s chronic lack of green space. Funny how nothing has changed 46 years on, isn’t it?
In a press release issued by the council, a frank Cllr Perry said: “I am afraid some who came to the meeting were more concerned with housing matters. When our housing problems are so overwhelming, how can we think of anything else?
“It is a good question but it was probably answered by other people who came to the meeting. There is no doubt we need space for play and for football, and we all like stretches of grass at other times. Local people have been pressuring us for just these things.”
The extension went ahead and Barnsbury Park was quickly renamed Barnard Park. It was a tribute to former mayor and long serving Cllr George Barnard, who dedicated much of his life to improving Islington’s recreational facilities.
But from the offset, there were rows about how the park was used.
In 1975, at the official unveiling of the extension, furious parents held a protest about the “stinking” paddling pool.
They said it was frequented by dirty dogs and also had bricks and broken glass lying at the bottom.
Peggy Scott, of the nearby Barnsbury Estate, complained to the Gazette: “It stinks. Who’d let their children play in there?”
Then mayor Cllr David Davies was furious at our coverage, saying it was an “insult” to Cllr Barnard.
Much like barbecues in Highbury Fields, the pool became one of those recurring rows in our pages. In 1977, the council said it would erect a fence and even discussed employing “dog catchers” in the park. In 1984, meanwhile, a child was attacked by a dog.
It was only natural, then, that the closure of the pool in 1990 was greeted with fury.
Mary Watson told us: “It is terrible to dig up a whole corner of the park. The children used to like the paddling pool.”
The year before, well-to-do homeowners in Barnsbury were also campaigning for tennis facilities.
They even pledged to make personal contributions to the £45,000 cost (equivalent of £106,000 today).
Social Democratic Party Cllr Ann Brenna said it smacked of “ability to pay syndrome” – where those with little money lost out.
And more recently, of course, there was the massive dispute over Barnard Park’s sports pitch, the only last free-to-use full-size pitch in Islington.
The town hall wanted to reduce it to a seven-a-side pitch and create more green space. But, after effective opposition from Highbury Football School and park users, as well as complaints from Sport England, the government stepped in and Islington was forced to abandon the plans last year.