A brief (and remarkable) history of Upper Street, N1


Islington High St c.1934. Source: Islington Local History Centre

Once known as ‘The Devil’s Mile’ (on account of crime levels, drunkenness and prostitution), Upper Street has seen it all.

Originally a hilltop village serving local farmland, Upper Street and Lower Street (as Essex Road was once known) have been in existence since the 12th century. Henry VIII (1491-1547) used to hunt for ducks in the ponds just off Upper Street and writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618) is said to have owned a pub on Essex Road.

(Upper St, looking north c.1840. With permission from Islington Local History Centre)

There was a sprinkling of public houses by the early 17th century alongside tradesmen’s cottages but as the gentry began to depart, so many of their houses were converted to inns. Redevelopment really got underway in the 18th century – the first houses were built where Islington Town Hall now stands.

At that time Upper Street and Liverpool Road were well trodden routes by farmers and animals accessing the nearby Royal Agricultural Hall (now the Business Design Centre). That’s why the pavements are high (1m above the road at some points) –