First, Some History

Thornhill Gardens (see here for a description) can be found at the junction of Richmond Avenue and Thornhill Road, bordered to the North by Malvern Terrace, opposite the Albion pub.  Until 1890 this area of land was a nursery.  Then in 1887 it was sold for £2,000 by the freeholder, Mr Thornhill, to the Islington Vestry who laid it out as a public garden, opened in 1890.  The following images show the gardens in 1871, 1896 and 2019.

Thornhill Gardens Map 1871Thornhill Gardens Map 1896Thornhill Gardens Map 2019


Update:  here's yet another map ("OS 1940s-1960s") which shows a shelter backing on to Richmond Crescent.  Note also that there used to be a fountain in the centre of the park, and that "St James's Vicarage" is identified next to the South-West corner.  Does anyone know what this was?

Map 1940 60 PNG



Jenny has found several newspaper cuttings describing the grand opening of the gardens and other relevant goings on at the time - click to download here.  Here's my favourite:

The Islington Gazette May 15 1890

Ding-a-ring-dong – Tomorrow the new open space at the corner of Thornhill Road, euphoniously called “Thornhill Gardens”, will be opened to the public by the Rev. W H Barlow, in the presence of all the giddy aristocracy of the Vestry and their friends. From a recent observation of the spot it promises to be a very pretty break in the monotony of life in Richmond Road, and it is not treated like Islington Green – jealously locked up from the people by iron railings. When the parochial mind trained by Lord Meath is able to believe in the possibility of the people being trusted to take care of a pretty garden, somebody may propose to pull down the inner railings on the Green.  The “Merrie” Villager


Here's a 1952 painting by David Higginbottom of the gardens with Malvern Terrace in the background.  For more paintings by this artist, including one of Holy Trinity Church and several Regents Canal scenes, see here.

David Higginbottom 1952


War Memorial

In the South West corner of the garden there is a war memorial dedicated to the men from Holy Trinity parish who died in the First World War - their names are recorded on a plaque in the church, as we reported previously, here.

War Memorial 2


Friends of Thornhill Gardens

Our local counciller, the admirable Rowena Champion, has now set up the "Friends of Thornhill Gardens" group to help maintain and improve the gardens through gardening and other activities, as reported in our last newsletter.  We meet in the gardens on the last Sunday of each month from 10.00 to 2.00.  Come along - it's great fun!  

Here below is a group photo of some of the volunteers who turned up last Sunday, September 25.  You can find more photos in the gallery, here.

IMG 0906 Group


Dirk Meerstadt is our fundraiser-in-chief.  At the last count he had raised in excess of £600 to be spent on vital items such as manure.  He has also obtained a commitment from some famous past neighbours whose children used to play in the gardens - none other than Tony and Cherie Blair!

In times gone by there used to be a public conveniences at the entrance to the gardens - it is marked as "urinals" in the 1896 map above - and it has a dark past!  Dirk claims that about 30 years ago a severed human head was found there.  Others say this is an urban myth.  Can anyone provide evidence?  Do please click on "Add comment" below if you can!


Update (comment from Nick, October 2019) .  It's true! This morning whilst on gardening duty at the gardens, Jenny and I met Stuart who confirmed the severed head story - you can read all about it here:

The head belonged to Billy Moseley. In 1974 his headless body was found in the Thames, and Reg Dudley and Bob Maynard were convicted of his murder together with that of his friend Micky Cornwall AKA "the Laughing Bank Robber". Three years later in 1977 Moseley's slowly defrosting head was found in the Thornhill Gardens urinals, while Dudley and Maynard were behind bars. Eventually, after 25 years, they were acquitted - it had been a gross miscarriage of justice, apparently hatched up by Commander Bert Wickstead of the Yard, AKA "The Old Grey Fox"!

So who murdered Moseley and kept his head in the freezer? We may never know!


Stop Press! 

Fame at last - Thornhill Gardens features in a BBC programme called Easy Way to Live Well, featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (see about 2/3 of the way through).  Here's a screenshot below.  He must live locally - another potential volunteer?

Fearnley Whittingstall



Forking and Sanding

The lawns in the park have been aerated in a massive forking exercise and four tons of sand have been spread to improve the quality of the soil.  Here is a photo to commemorate the moment when this mammoth task was completed (before social distancing rules, obviously!)

2020.3.5 Victory sanding finished 4 tons



Coronavirus Update! 

After an initial false alarm we're delighted to report that Rowena says it's OK to keep on digging (thanks Rowena!):

"I have just got advice that gardening is exercise so as long as we follow the other rules e.g. no more than two in a group (who are 6 feet apart) we can garden.

Our efforts are going to be more important than ever given Greenspace resources. They are supporting street cleansing and waste and are unable to do the usual garden work."

Hooray!  But just to remind you of those all important rules, here's two photos of Dirk's handiwork which Jenny has provided:

social distancing2

social distancing1 4













By popular demand - sparrows in Jenny's garden who are clearly flaunting the social distancing guidelines (but aren't they sweet!) :-).

DSCN2960crop Sparrows


Was the picture above what inspired Dirk's smart new birdtable?

Bird Table


.. and still on the bird theme, here are some thrush fledglings snapped by William:

Thrush FledglingDSC01472 3 Thrush Chicks 2












Update:  ... and now William has had this really nice letter with the picture of the thrushes published in the Islington Tribune, with a quote from Jenny and an honourable mention for Rowena.  Thanks William.  But remember - you saw it here first :-).



Thrush Article


Thanks to Annita for this remarkable photo of a vanishing sign in the gardens.  It once said "Please Keep Off The Grass" on a green metal council sign but has long since been swallowed up by the tree's steadily expanding girth - I believe it's the large London Plane just to the right as you enter through the gate from Richmond Avenue.

Vanishing Notice in Plane Tree


Know Your Trees

Here below is a map identifying the trees in Thornhill Gardens.  As explained elsewhere in the website, there is a wonderful site called London Street Trees which identifies individual trees on London's streets and parks.  As you can see, Thornhill sports planes, limes, three ashes, a hawthorn and a whitebeam.  Disappointingly, the seven trees marked by a dark brown dots as "other" along the Northern boundary are nothing exotic - just humble hollies.  There is one tree missing - in the South-west corner is a rare elm (most elms in London were wiped out by dutch elm disease).  Given that it doesn't appear on the official map, and that it appears to be quite young, maybe this one is self-seeded, which is encouraging!


Thornhill Trees



...   and here's a helpful communication from Bhupesh showing the schedule of works for trees in the garden:


The numbers in the first column relate to the numbers on the trees on the plan.

Sgl/1                      Plane; London - n/t ent g8, Thornhill rd side                                          Remove all Ivy

Sgl/4                      Lime; Small-leaved - op Barnsbury rd                                                    Crown Lift to 7m              

Sgl/5                      Plane; London - n/t ent g8, Richmond ave  side                                     Crown lift to 7m and Massaria removal works

Sgl/6                      Plane; London - op 185  Cloudesley                                                       Crown lift to 7m               

Sgl/8                      Elm - op 84 Richmond ave                                                                     Crown lift to 3m

Sgl/10                    Plane; London - op 185  Cloudesley                                                       Remove deadwood                                        

Sgl/12                    Plane; London - n/t r/g 87 Richmond ave                                               Massaria removal works

Sgl/21                    Plane; London - n/t hut  Order placed                                                    Climbing inspection to report of any decay

Sgl/22                    Whitebeam - op 5 Malvern Terrace, behind hut  Order placed                Crown lift to 7m

 Trees Schedule of Works

Bhupesh Thapa

Central Assistant Parks Manager

Environment & Regeneration

Islington Council

Tel: 07825 098458

Alternative contact: Contact Islington 0207 527 2000






Update, June 2020

Jacky has snapped this picture of poppies growing, appropriately enough, by the war memorial.  And Jenny and Dirk are responsible for the latest wondrous creation in the gardens of a "stumpery", planted about with ferns.  This is a key feature on the exciting new childrens' trail through the undergrowth to the right of the shed - I can't wait to try it out!

Poppies IMG 4419 3

Stumpery DSCN3135 Cropped