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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Lonsdale Square, a Barnsbury beauty of Gothic Tudor

A one-off 19th century square in the Barnsbury area of Islington.

Lonsdale Square, Barnsbury, London Borough of Islington, corner houses
Lonsdale Square, Barnsbury, Islington

Praised as "a unique, intense and immaculately composed piece of design" by Historic England, much of the square is Grade II* listed.


Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.


Built between 1838 and 1845, when the majority of garden squares adopted the neo-classical look of the Georgian era, Lonsdale Square is one of a kind.

Made of yellow London stock brick, with white stucco mouldings around the windows and doors, the steep pointed gables and low arched door frames provide a distinctly Tudor look to the square's townhouses.

Other details include mullioned windows (that is, with vertical divisions), triangular cross-section cornices and street railings with fleur de lys finials (ornaments at the top).

The east and west sides of the square have triple quatrefoils (a four-leafed decoration) as fan lights over the front doors. Above the doors on the north and south sides are sunk panels with blind multi-foils (that is, the patterns are not glazed and have many leaves).

Lonsdale Square. Triple quatrefoil fanlight over the door
Triple quatrefoil fanlight over the door

Lonsdale Square was once a part of the countryside known as the Gossey Field. The field was bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Drapers in 1690 by the daughter of a former Clerk of the Company, John Walter, to provide an income to support almshouses in Southwark. At that time, a number of City of London livery companies held land in Islington and other rural areas.

The Gossey Field's income came from cattle pens for herds resting before their final journey to Smithfield Market in the City of London a couple of miles south of here. The gathering pace of urbanisation in Islington eventually persuaded the Drapers' Company to develop the land for housing.

In the 1830s the Drapers appointed architect Richard Cromwell Carpenter, the Company Surveyor and also district surveyor for East Islington, to design the square. According to some sources, Carpenter's father, also Richard, had previously taken a grazing lease on the Field and then a building lease. He had drawn up plans for houses in the classical style, but the son chose his own design when he succeeded on his father's death.

The younger Carpenter was a friend of Augustus Pugin, one of the most important figures in the Gothic Revival movement of the 19th century. Pugin may have advised and influenced Carpenter in his designs for Lonsdale Square. Richard Carpenter, who also designed Gothic Revival churches and almshouses elsewhere, died from tuberculosis in 1855 at the age of 42.

On completion, the leases for the square required single-family occupation of its houses and the original occupants were mainly comfortably middle-class. In 1851 a third of the households were headed by men in religious orders. In around 1890, the Charles Booth poverty map categorised most households as “Middle class. Well-to-do.”

Lonsdale Square, Barnsbury, London Borough of Islington
Lonsdale Square's gables, windows and door arches have a Tudor look

However, the area slid downmarket in the early 20th century and many houses passed into multiple occupation, with furnished rooms separately rented. By the time the Drapers' Company sold the square by auction in 1954, it had become very unfashionable.

That was the low point, and the area enjoyed a revival in the 1960s. Lonsdale Square's distinct architectural style once again attracted middle-class families and its houses rehabilitated by new owner-occupiers.

As with all Georgian and Victorian garden squares, the garden in the middle of Lonsdale Square was originally for residents only. It remained so until Islington Council bought it for £50 in 1960, since when it has been open to public.

Lonsdale Square, Barnsbury, London Borough of Islington
Lonsdale Square's garden

The original railings were removed in World War II, when metal was need for the war effort. The chain link fence installed at that time was only replaced by iron railings in the early 1970s.

Former residents of Lonsdale Square include author Salman Rushdie, who stayed in a basement here while he was in hiding while living under a fatwa after the publication of Satanic Verses in 1991. Conductor Sir Simon Rattle has, or had, a house there and the composer and jazz pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett also owned a house on the square.

Barnsbury is an area known for its garden squares and its Georgian and Victorian architecture. Lonsdale Square's Tudor Gothic appearance sets it apart from the others.


Lonsdale Square can be seen on London On The Ground's new walking tour Beautiful Barnsbury, together with other squares, parks and gardens in the area. This walk will have its first outing on Tuesday 16 May at 2pm. Click here for more details.


Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

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