“… put a beginning and end to the “*Fight at Finsbury,”…

…and if you can succeed in that, you may then “restore” Westminster Abbey.” William Morris, June 1893.

Above: Aldgate, early 2020. The London City Police was officially formed in 1832, before becoming the City of London Police with the passing of the City of London Police Act 1839. The headquarters is located at Guildhall and there are two additional stations at Bishopsgate and Wood Street.

From: the website Map of Early Modern London (University of Victoria, Humanities Computing and Media Centre):

“Finsbury Field is located in northern London outside the London Wall. Note that MoEML correctly locates Finsbury Field, which the label on the Agas map confuses with Mallow Field (Prockter 40). Located nearby is Finsbury Court. Finsbury Field is outside of the city wards within the borough of Islington (Mills 81).

Finsbury Field was most easily recognized on maps by its windmills. Three windmills are depicted on the Agas map and are mentioned in the 1567 survey of the Manor of Finsbury (Fisher 58). The earlier Copperplate Map depicts only two windmills but in much greater detail. Fisher describes the Copperplate Map windmills: “We can see the ladder providing access and the long tail pole used to turn the mill into the wind. The presence of a hooded sack-hoist indicates that the mill was used for grinding corn and not for draining the surrounding marsh. These windmills were situated on bone heaps” (Fisher 58).

According to A.D. Mills, Finsbury originally meant “‘manor of a man called Finn,’ from an Old Scandinavian personal name and Middle English bury” (Mills 81-82). Finsbury Field was also occasionally known as High Field and Medow Ground.

Finsbury and Moorfield were both part of a large fen, not drained until 1527 (Thornbury 196). Previously, the area was popular with the London youth for use as a skating ground in winter (Fitter 51). Stow gives us a description of the winter recreation from Fitzstephen’s account of London:

When the great fenne or Moore, which watereth the wals of the Citie on the North side, is frozen, many yong men play vpon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly: others make themselues seates of yce, as great as Milstones: one sits downe, many hand in hand doe draw him, and one slipping on a sudden, all fall togither: some tie bones to their feete, and vnder their heeles, and shouing themselues by a little picked Staffe, doe slide as swiftly as a bird flieth in the ayre, or an arrow out of a Crossebow. Sometime two runne togither with Poles, and hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt: some breake their armes, some their legges, but youth desirous of glorie in this sort exerciseth it selfe agaynst the time of warre. Many of the Citizens doe delight themselues in Hawkes and houndes, for they haue libertie of hunting in Middlesex, Hartfordshire, all Chiltron, and in Kent to the water of Cray. Thus farre Fitzstephen of sportes. (Stow 35)

This is one of the first recorded instances of ice skating.

Moorgate was built into the city wall in 1414 by order of Lord Mayor Thomas Falconer so Londoners could more easily access this recreational area. Stow records that in 1477 Mayor Ralph Joceline had the area searched for clay in order to repair the city wall, “by which means this field was made the worse for a long time” (Stow 2: 76). Stow also describes the clearing of the gardens in 1498 in order to create a field for archery. Dikes were added and the ground leveled in 1511 under Lord Mayor Roger Acheley for even more ease of passage. Protector Somerset was notably welcomed in Finsbury Field by the Lord Mayor in 1548 . In the early 16th century, trees were planted and gravel walks created for the public. In 1665, Finsbury Field was used as a burial ground for dissenters, as well as plague victims. After the Great Fire, many homeless Londoners camped there.

The numerous mentions of Finsbury Field reveal a variety of uses. There are occasional remarks about the windmills: “In his sixth yeer, Sir George Barnes Major of London, gave a Windmill in Finsbury-field to the Haberdashers of London, the profits thereof to be destributed to the poor of that Company; also to Saint Bartholamews the little, certaine Tenements to the like use” (Baker 87). *One play refers to the Battle of Finsbury Field: “as never was Citizen beaten, since the great Battaile of Finsbury-Field” (Brome sig. B6v). A Heywood epigram describes a fox in Finsbury Field that “ſate in ſyght of certayne people, / Noddyng, and blyſſing, ſtaryng on poules ſteeple,” from which we can discern that Finsbury was a good place from which to observe the city (Heywood sig. A5r). Finsbury is also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, when Hotspur complains that Kate, “givest such sarcenet surety for thy oaths / As if thou never walk’st further than Finsbury” (Shakespeare 3.1.1797-1798). We can infer that, as Finsbury was a popular recreational area on the northern edge of London, ordinary citizens might spend a day’s outing there. Hotspur seems to imply that those who never travel farther are parochial, unsophisticated, and common…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s