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Finsbury Park’s life: 150 years, from duels to Dylan

Celebrations to mark milestone, as author reveals a secret history

09 August, 2019 — By Emily Finch

An aerial photograph of the park taken in 1907 – celebrations to mark its 150th will begin tomorrow (Saturday)

A MAN who was shot in the right breast in ­Finsbury Park is likely to recover from his wound.

This is not 2019, however, but 1821, when the park – still mostly a vast woodland and not yet officially a park – was a duelling location for men to air their grievances in lethal fashion.

The two men who were “well known as extensively engaged in Stock Exchange transactions” sought battle and one ­suffered a bullet wound to the chest.

But according to local reports from the time, “although the wound is considered dangerous, yet sanguine hopes are entertained that it will not prove mortal”.

Just 38 years later a second recorded duel took place between a Mr Bates and a Mr Reynolds after one of the men “inadvertently laughed” while listening to a “voice of a lady” at a friend’s house in ­Finchley.

How the popular park looks today after 150 years

“The pistols didn’t take effect and no one was injured,” said Hugh Hayes, an actor and former chairman of Friends of Finsbury Park who has spent years collecting ­stories about the area.

Mr Hayes originally penned his book on the history of the park – which is in Haringey but straddles Hackney and Islington – back in 2000 but has updated it ahead of the park’s 150th celebration tomorrow.

He was a park regular for 31 years but moved to Cornwall in 2013. He explained that there were no records of duels after the grounds were officially made into a park through an act of parliament in 1869.

He said: “Two Germans wanted to have a fight in Finsbury Park. According to British newspapers from the 1880s they asked for permission for the duel but they were refused. They went to another park. I had to take this out from my original book which said they had a duel.”

He said it was “extraordinary” that this area had been a “place of recreation” for 250 years. Finsbury Park was previously a pleasure garden – an area for public entrainment that featured pigeon-shooting ranges, a tea house and wrestling and pedestrian matches. Pedestrian matches, also known as pedestrianism, were a form of competitive walking where people would bet on their race favourites.

Hugh Hayes

Mr Hayes said large-scale events in the park had been “contentious” since the 1980s when a tent blew down in strong winds and crashed through trees.

A large number of residents have called for an end to large-scale music festivals in the park in the past few years over worries of increased anti-social behaviour and damage to the grounds.

Mr Hayes said: “The park had been built and paid for by ratepayers for use by local people. It’s a horticultural joy and the open space wasn’t built to be leased off.

“In the book, I wanted to show what a wonderful history it has. The latest one will include more about Hornsey Wood House, that was pulled down to make way for the park, more about the reservoir under the park, details about the six million pounds spent on the park in the 2000s, and all the famous people who have visited, from Sylvia Pankhust to Bob Dylan.”

Asked what he thought the park would be like in another 150 years’ time, he said: “It’s up to the English people – if they want everything to be a commodity like the American system, you would be paying to enter.”

Mr Hayes will introduce his book, A Park for Finsbury, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday at 12pm as part of the 150th celebrations.

 Suggs and Corbyn to join in birthday bash

FINSBURY Park will celebrate its 150th birthday on Saturday with a free festival open to the whole family, writes Jamie Barton.

Featuring live music from Madness’s Mike Barson and Graham “Suggs” McPherson, the event will also offer various street food stalls as well as talks by the likes of MPs Jeremy Corbyn and David Lammy.

Although the so-called People’s Park is now 150 years old, it has been providing Londoners with an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life for even longer. The Hornsey Wood Tavern had been developed from a small tea room at the turn of the 19th century, and the nearby lake quickly became a site for boating.

The park was officially recognised as one by Parliament on August 7 1859.

Rapid urbanisation increased demand for the creation of open green spaces, and after petitions began in 1841, Finsbury Park was eventually opened in 1869.

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