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London’s pioneering gentrified locality, consisting of a mix of older terraces and squares and council blocks in north-west Islington. The 13th-century Berners family gave their name to a large manor, of which present day Barnsbury covers just a small part. Legal obstacles prevented building on the land until the 1820s, significantly later than nearby districts such as Canonbury. During the 1830s an eccentric Frenchman named Baume set up the short-lived Barnsbury Park Community, a co-operative community with a farm and a college, settled by radical tailors and shoemakers. Elsewhere, the rows of narrow-fronted terraces were destined to house a lower class of occupant than its developers intended, especially when the building of the railways prompted the better-off to flee to more distant suburbs. Many larger houses were subdivided for multiple occupancy, or even turned into factories. During the 1970s, some of the most run-down parts were demolished and the council and Barnsbury Housing Association put up new homes. The latter also restored some older properties. Around this time the pendulum began to swing back in favour of city dwelling and Barnsbury’s protracted decline was reversed. Young professionals flocked in and the district became known for its ‘liberal intelligentsia’ – including numerous writers and journalists, as well as Tony Blair before he became prime minister.

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Barnsbury Stores, on Hemingford Road

Its long spell out of fashion has ironically preserved many features since speculators did not deem the area worthy of redevelopment. There is evidence that prices here have subsequently escalated to the detriment of the sense of community fostered by the first wave of gentrifiers, with combined household incomes now typically in six figures.

Postal districts: N1 and N7
Population: 10,274
Station: Silverlink Metro (Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, zone 2)
Further reading: Mary Cash, An Historical Walk through Barnsbury, Islington Archaeology and History Society, 1981

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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