12th March 2021
This plaque, which can be found on our clock tower, shows the names of Copenhagen House and Caledonian Market, both associated with our park. How did these Danish and Scottish names arrive at this site within 3 miles of the City of London and used for centuries by Londoners for pleasure, protest and the market trading of cattle for slaughter and then bric-a-brac?
The stretch of land for a few miles north of Kings Cross station was known as Copenhagen Fields from the 17th to the middle of the 19th century. This illustration from the Islington Local History Centre shows a rural idyll ‘from the back of Copenhagen House’.
The fields took their name from Copenhagen House and there are various theories about how the house acquired its name. Did a Danish nobleman at the court of King James I build a manor house in this area? James’s wife Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark and doubtless, the court in the early decades of the 17th century was filled with Danes as well as Scots
However, a map of 1695 is one of the earliest records of the house so it is much more likely that it was built by a Danish ambassador as a summer refuge from the dangers of fire and plague in London in the second half of the 17th century. This map from 1735 shows Copenhagen House in an entirely rural setting next to Maiden Lane.
A century after this map was drawn Charles Dickens described, on the 2nd May 1836, walking up Maiden Lane to Copenhagen House and Fields. The manor house had become a tavern by the first half of the 18th century and became an attractive destination for Londoners escaping the dirt of the city – they ate, drank, played sports and generally enjoyed themselves on the fields surrounding the house – well illustrated in the painting below.
If you stand on the grass to the east of the Clock Tower we think you are standing on the site of the house which was demolished in 1853 to make way for the Metropolitan Meat Market. It must have had a splendid view down into London.
Copenhagen Fields lost its Danish name after the City of London bought 75 acres in the area in 1853 and the fields disappeared under the site of the Metropolitan Meat Market. The livestock market was moved from Smithfield, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s cathedral. The creator of this cartoon depicting the chaos of Smithfield ironically sends ‘my best wishes to the inhabitance of Copenhagen-fields & Islington’.
However the Metropolitan Meat Market gradually became known as the Caledonian Market because of nearby Caledonian Road. Up until the 1850s the road was formally known as Chalk Road and the name was changed because of the famous Caledonian Asylum that was built in the rural Copenhagen Fields in 1819.
There was a very real Scottish connection here as the Caledonian Asylum was founded by the Highland Society in London to care for and educate Scottish orphans and needy children in the capital in 1815 following the deaths of Scottish soldiers in the Napoleonic wars. The Highland Society in London was formed in 1778 when twenty-five Highland gentlemen met at the Spring Garden Coffee House in Charing Cross and it was one of many Scottish societies in London. The asylum’s first home was in Hatton Garden but they soon needed more space and they built in rural Islington. EH Dixon’s 1838 pencil drawing of travellers on the Caledonian Road near the Asylum illustrates how rural it was. Picture the children from the asylum playing in their kilts on the Copenhagen Fields!
Although the Caledonian Asylum school moved to Hertfordshire in the 1900s the Scottish connection lives on in the name of the Caledonian Road and in the names of the social housing buildings erected by the London County Council on the site of the Caledonian Asylum. The names given to the five blocks commemorated the Caledonian Asylum using people from Scottish history such as the poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) and the Scottish independence fighter William Wallace (1272 – 1305). In fact, there are many signs around our park which remind us of the market history as well as the Danish and Scottish connections.
Although the Caledonian Asylum school moved to Hertfordshire in the 1900s the Scottish connection lives on in the name of the Caledonian Road and in the names of the social housing buildings erected by the London County Council on the site of the Caledonian Asylum.
The names given to the five blocks commemorated the Caledonian Asylum using people from Scottish history such as the poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) and the Scottish independence fighter William Wallace (1272 – 1305). In fact, there are many signs around our park which remind us of the market history as well as the Danish and Scottish connections.
Market Road was named in 1876 as the southern entrance to the Metropolitan Meat Market and as late as the 1950s animals were still being driven to slaughter down it.
The Shearling Estate built in the late 1970s uses many names associated with the market including Fleece Walk, Ewe Close and Shearling Way – all associated with the sheep brought to the Metropolitan Meat Market. Pedlars Way references the pedlar’s pitches at Rag Fair of the old Caledonian Market, a market that had its roots in the old Bartholomew Fair at Smithfield. Yoke Close refers to the way animals were joined together to pull a cart or plough.
Finally, in the most recent development north of the Caledonian Park, the name ‘Drovers Way’ was given to one of the new access roads. It is nice to think of those drovers, some of them from Scotland, who walked their cattle to the Metropolitan Meat Market in the 19th century commemorated in the 21st century.
What’s in a name?
About the author…
Susan is a Clerkenwell & Islington Guide with wide experience of creating and delivering tours of the area as well as landmark buildings.