Buildings of Aberdeen Park
One of the reasons Aberdeen Park is a Conservation Area is its varied yet harmonious array of buildings in a spacious and verdant setting. There are 314 addresses in Aberdeen Park. The predominant form is domestic architecture, which covers a span of some 150 years. But there is also a well-known church (St Saviour’s), some large houses converted for public use, and a Christian budget hotel (the Foreign Missions Club).
The southern and eastern perimeters of the Park are lined by handsome, four storey, Victorian villas, some semi-detached and some detached. Constructed for prosperous City merchants and well-to-do local families in the 1850s and 1860s, these houses were the first buildings in the new, gated private community of Aberdeen Park. Some are adorned with Italianate towers and all have extensive gardens. A number were destroyed or damaged during the Second World War and some property was compulsorily purchased and demolished by Islington Council to create room for the, originally Council, flats at Numbers 6-10.
Several other of the Victorian villas have been converted into flats and Numbers 30 to 32 are a convent. Numbers 16-28 have been combined into one building, the Highbury Centre, formerly the Foreign Missions Club. Established in the nineteenth century to provide economic accommodation for missionaries visiting London, the centre is today a Christian budget hotel. Further details about the centre’s rooms and rates are available on several websites found using a search engine such as Google.
Although built at about the same time as the first Victorian villas, Number 19 is in a completely different, more Ruskin-esque style. It is a large detached house on the south-west corner of the inner circle. Originally built as the vicarage for St Saviour’s church, to which it was connected by a path from the back garden, Number 19 is now accommodation for people with mild handicaps.
A row of variegated late Victorian and Edwardian houses, Numbers 1-15, lines the northern edge of the entrance road leading to the circle. A detached house in this row, Number 15, is a half-way house for released prisoners. There are other late Victorian and Edwardian houses, most of them large and several detached, on the southern and outer rim of the circle as it begins to swing towards the east and north.
However, the period of the most active building in Aberdeen Park was between the wars. We have roughly two types of domestic architecture from this period. Numbers 31-41, on the southern rim of the inner circle, were put up in the early 1920s and are scaled down versions of more generous Edwardian houses. Their design, however, prefigures the large number of the second type of inter-war property, constructed during the house building boom of the 1930s. The whole of the inner circle from the north side of the church dates from this time, as does the northern side of the outer circle. All of these inter-war houses are semi-detached and remain comfortable family homes. Many have good-sized gardens.
Apart from all its houses, Aberdeen Park also has several blocks of flats. Some of those at Numbers 6-10, built about 35 years ago as Council flats, are now privately owned. Escuan Lodge, on the south-west corner of the circle opposite Number 19, and Mostyn Lodge, on the south-east corner of the spur leading from Aberdeen Park to Aberdeen Road, are post-war blocks of private flats. Between Numbers 19 and 31 lies the Newcombe Estate, a group of blocks of flats owned by the Islington Housing Association and opened by the actress Joyce Grenfell in 1950. On the north side of the spur is the Woodlands, a largish block of Council flats.
These are all mainly undistinguished buildings. Perhaps the most interesting block of flats is Number 70, Aberdeen Court, opposite the church on the east side of the outer circle. The flats were erected in the 1920s by a speculative builder and the block sports balconies and Dutch style gables. The same builder also constructed several adjacent houses. One of these, Number 72, is built onto the side of Aberdeen Court and was said to have been occupied by the builder and his family.
Aberdeen Park’s outstanding building is St Saviour’s Church, which is the only Grade 1 listed building in Islington. Completed in 1866 to a design by William White, St Saviour’s echoes the contemporary Oxford movement and Pre-Raphaelites. Its proportions, brick adornment and tile motifs remind the observer of Keble College, Oxford. John Betjeman, the poet, has recalled how he worshipped at the church as a boy with his family, who lived in nearby Highbury New Park.
Unfortunately, as Highbury’s fortunes declined, attendance at St Saviour’s all but vanished. The church was closed and almost abandoned for many years, and its physical condition deteriorated. It was probably during this period that the decoration on the ceiling faded so that it is now barely detectable. However, in the early 1980s funds were found to restore the building’s fabric and make it safe for use. In 1988 it became the home of the Florence Trust, a charity established by the English artist Patrick Hamilton (who lived and worked in Florence, Italy) to provide a peaceful space for artists to develop their work. Today, the handsome building of St Saviour’s has a new role in the community for which it has been a focal point since Aberdeen Park’s early days.