This month we asked Tim Carlton to share his particular interest in one of Islington’s oldest and most architecturally revealing streets.
Cross Street joins two of Islington's main roads - Upper Street and Essex Road. This goes some way to explain its period architecture and varied styles which are synonymous with the borough as a whole. You could say it's an architectural diary of Islington

The earliest appearance of what would become Cross St. is an unmarked pathway on a map dated 1560 entitled ‘Map of the village of Isledon in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1'. Since the beginning of the 18th century the street has been occupied by the wealthy, the poor and tradesmen of every description – a reflection of the borough of Islington as it developed, regressed and developed again up to the present time.

The street in 1721 was merely called ‘The Lane', later becoming ‘Cross Street' as it enabled one to ‘cross' from Upper Street to the then named Lower Street (Essex Road). Upper Street would continue up to Highgate and Hertford, Lower Street to Newington, Kingsland and Epping. During this period there were shops and Inns along both roads behind which were open fields.
left; Fowler House, situated at the eastern end of Lower St (Cross Street), right; View of Upper Street looking south showing the spire of St Mary's Church, 1754
On the north side of Cross St, Canonbury Fields stretched away to Canonbury House in the distance, on the south side open fields and the Parish Church of St Mary. One of the earliest recorded buildings, ‘Fowler House' was situated at the eastern end of Cross St and Halford Rd. It was a substantial Elizabethan building containing the Fowler family crest dated 1588. Fowler Road which exists today probably indicates the northern boundary of the house.
left; Southern side of Cross St showing the raised pavement at its eastern end, centre; The row of 18 continuous houses c.1780 shown here in 1935, right; The street as it looks today with its 19 mature trees.
The 18th c. saw the beginning of the commercial development of the City of London and its tradesmen were keen to leave the filth and stench of the City. The proximity of Islington made it a desirable area with its high elevation, clean air and abundant supply of fresh water enabled by Sir Hugh Mydelton's ‘New River Scheme' of 1613.
The first major house building commenced in 1730 on the north side of the street next to Fowler House all the way up to what is now Shillingford St.

In 1780 a line of 18 houses were built on the opposite south side forming the longest line of continuous houses on the street. The street has a considerable drop from end to end which required the builders to create a raised pavement of aproximately four feet to level out the drop - this raised pavement is still visable today
left; Four of the street's oldest houses c1785 shown here in 1969, centre and right; The four houses as they look today.
In 1785, again on the south side, a further group of four houses (shown above) were built at the upper west end of the street. All these houses are still standing today - some 250 years after they were built - and are some of the oldest surviving houses in the borough.
The Old Parr's Head public house, first mentioned in 1754
At the top of the street stands The Old Parr's Head public house which is first mentioned in 1754 and this end also holds the street's oldest building, No. 61 (shown below) built in 1750. During the Gordon Riots of 1870 the house which then belonged to Mr William Hyde, magistrate reader of the Riot Act, was attacked by an angry mob. The house was ransacked and its contents burnt and Hyde escaped by using a tunnel which lead towards St Mary's Church. At the end of the 18th c. Cross St had residential properties from the middle of the street right down to its eastern end at Lower Street (Essex Road).
left; The street's oldest building, No.61 (built c1750) at the west end of Cross Street as it looks today, centre; Shown in 1945, right; Old House in Cross St, 1973, by Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher (1923 -2004).
From the beginning of the 19th c. the various spaces in the street were filled with new buildings and the streets we know today - Dagma Passage, Little Cross Street and Florence Street - were formed. As the area developed, some buildings were required for manufacturing and a large industrial scheme was built at No. 20 which would become the tallest building in the street. In 1850 Fowler House (the original Elizabethan mansion) was pulled down and the land acquired by a congregation of Islington Baptists. In 1852 a large Gothic style chapel was erected, designed by John Barnett
left; The Gothic style Chapel built in 1852 on the site of the Elizabethan ‘Fowler House' shown here in 1905, centre; The chapel - destroyed during WW2 and rebuilt in 1957, right; In 1944 Cross Street narrowly avoided major damage as a V1 Flying Bomb landed in nearby Hayman Street now St Mary's Church School.
900 most of the wealthy and prominent had moved from the area, which coincided with an influx of the emerging middle class - clerks, managers and skilled workers. This in turn gave way to tradesmen of every description.

As Islington's population grew, shops began to appear and many of the residential houses were used for business such as dressmaking and tailoring and there was even a surgeon. With the area becoming ever more popular and overcrowded most of the houses were filled with multiple occupants. Sometimes up to four or five families would share a house.

By the end of the century the street looked very much as it does today although there were no trees to be seen in the street; today there are 19. From the beginning of the 20thc. Cross St. fell into slow decline. There were high levels of squalor and overcrowding became a major problem compounded by the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the blitz of 1940 Cross St was bombed several times resulting in several buildings being demolished, notably the Baptist Church which was rebuilt in 1957. In 1941 the‘Thatched House' public house in Essex Rd was destroyed and by the end of the war every house in Cross St. had sustained some form of bomb damage. In 1944 a V1 FlyingBomb narrowly missed Cross St. and landed in Hayman St. (where St Mary's Churchschool now stands) destroying 14 houses.
left; The famous Wicks Hardware Store at Cross St's western tip shown here in 1988, centre; As it looks today, right; One of the streets grand Neo-classical doorways.
After the War the area recovered slowly with no further new building until the 1960's when two small council blocks were built at the Essex Road end. Over the next 40 years Cross St saw a gradual renaissance resulting in soaring property prices. In 1950 you could have bought the whole street for the price of a single house in today's property market.

Cross Street today is, in many ways, a reflection of the development of the borough over the last 250 years. Most of its buildings are from the 18th and 19th c. with only seven or eight from the 20th century. It is a street of history, architecture and interest and is very much part of Islington's rich past.

Tim Carlton
Carlton Estate Agents
319 Upper Street
London N1 2XQ
Tel : 020 7359 0000
Registered in UK No. 3732683