Canonbury Tower

Above: The photograph was taken in 2001 when the building was still in use as the Tower Theatre.

Canonbury is a district on the east side of the London Borough of Islington. The name derives from a manor that in 1253 was given to the Canons of Priory of St Bartholomew, situated at Smithfield in the City of London. In 1562, the manor house, now called Canonbury Tower, was rebuilt by William Bolton, Prior of St Bartholomew the Great. The house had a moat and gardens. The property remained in the ownership of St Bartholomew until 1536 when the priory and Canonbury were surrendered to the Crown.

In 1570, John Spencer – Lord Mayor of London – made many improvements to the house, including the fine panelling in the Spencer and Compton Oak rooms which remain today. Canonbury House was leased 1616-25 to Sir Francis Bacon, who was Attorney General. In 1625, Canonbury House was leased to Sir Thomas Coventry, later Lord Keeper.

During the Commonwealth (1649-60) the Earl of Northampton lived mainly at Canonbury. William Viscount Fielding, Earl of Denbigh, died in 1685 at Canonbury. Thereafter and during the 18th century, the Tower and adjoining buildings were let as apartments. For example, Oliver Goldsmith lodged 1762-64 in the Compton Oak Room, on the second floor of the Tower.

The southern range of Bolton’s building was demolished in 1770-80 and replaced with what was described as “elegant new villas”, now Nos 1-5 Canonbury Place. Canonbury Tower was occupied from 1887-to 1940 as a club for estate tenants. In 1908, the building was restored by the fifth Marquis of Northampton. During the Second World War, damage to the building was negligible and Canonbury Tower was occupied between 1940-47 as a youth centre for boys and girls on the estate.

In 1952, Canonbury Tower was leased to the Tavistock Repertory Company. The building became called the Tower Theatre which remained in use until 2003. Since 1998 the tower has been used as a Masonic research centre which is occasionally open for public visits as part of a guided tour. Most of the original Canonbury House stands beside Canonbury Tower. It is the oldest building in the London Borough of Islington.

The tower is 66 feet (20 m) high and about 17 feet (5.2 m) square. The brick walls vary in thickness from 4 feet (1.2 m) to 2 feet 6 inches (0.76 m). The main entrance hall leads into a low hall adjoining the tower itself, and on the ground floor is a room with the original brickwork exposed. The address is 6 Canonbury Place.


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