Leave Angel in London and walk to Finsbury Park and you will pass through Highbury. It is the nature of Islington that it is difficult to know when you enter and leave Highbury. The restaurants and smart houses continue without interruption. At an early age the right wing historian and media celebrity, David Starkey, decided to use his education to travel as far away from the British working class as possible. The rarefied air of Highbury is now what he breathes. A happy ending for the class sensitive historian, as long as his sinuses are not affected by inner city pollution and the nearby poverty that exists throughout Islington. Highbury is prosperous. A four bedroomed house on Highbury Hill costs over £2million. The flats offer less value for money. The Islington Fairness Commission refers to a ‘band of deprivation’ that runs through Islington including Highbury. 45% of the children of Islington live in poverty, and men in Islington have the lowest life expectancy in London.
The journey between Angel and Finsbury Park passes Highbury Fields. This was deemed public land in 1885. The spot is charming, pastoral calm amidst urban sprawl. The simple park is much appreciated by dogs and joggers. Highbury Field School achieves good academic results. Last year the school received £429,300 as a pupil premium. This is to help disadvantaged children and reflects the twin characteristics of prosperity and deprivation that define Islington and most of inner London. The school organises an annual ski trip, and whether any of the pupil premium is spent on the ski trip, I am not sure.
London has been described as a collection of villages but many of these villages began as manors controlled by bishops and Catholic Orders. The building, Highbury Manor, was destroyed in the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Back then the Manor was owned by the Knights Hospitallers, a Catholic military order that began as a group of individuals who cared for the sick at the beginning of the 11th Century. By 1381 their good intentions had been dissipated by the usual temptations. The 20,000 rioters of the Peasants Revolt were offended by the ‘wealth and haughtiness’ of the Hospitallers, really offended. The Lord Prior of Highbury Manor, Robert Hales, was captured and beheaded on Tower Hill. His biographer described Hales as ‘magnanimous but the commons loved him not.’ Jack Straw was one of the three leaders that led the Revolt, and for many years the Manor was known as Jack Straw’s Castle.
Highbury is famous for the old and demolished football stadium. The land was used to build flats, and they surround a small park, which used to be the football field. Only residents of the flats are allowed in the neat rectangular mix of plants, grass and path. A key is required to enter a space that previously nourished working class identity and fantasies. The new development is called the Highbury Stadium Square, and a two bedroomed flat in the square will cost three quarters of a million pounds. We know that at least 45% of the population of Highbury will not be interested.
Next week, shadows and ointment, Hinckley
Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.
If you want to read more about his travels click here.