St Albans Place, N1
Road in/near Barnsbury, existing between 1600 and now
Print-friendly version of this page Barnsbury is a place in the London Borough of Islington. The name is a corruption of Bernersbury, being so called after the Berners family, who gained ownership of the lands after the Norman Conquest.
St Albans Place was home to a famous Islington strong man.
During the 18th century, there was a pub here called the ’Duke’s Head’ on the south east corner of the street. It was known from 1600 onwards and presumably this dates the street to the rural origins of Islington.
The pub was kept at that time by Thomas Topham (1710-1749), a famous strongman who had been a publican at Coldbath Fields at the age of 24. He was originally a carpenter and stood 5 feet 10 inches according to contemporary records.
In nearby Bath Street, during 1741, he lifted three barrels of water - weighing 1183 pounds - by his neck in front of a huge crowd of thousands which included Admiral Vernon, the naval victor of Portobello and Carthagena. Portobello Road is named after Vernon.
Topham could also twist pewter plates into the shape of three-cornered hats. In the British Museum can be found a dish made of the hardest pewter that had been rolled up by Topham.
His story didn’t end well. After stabbing his wife, he stabbed himself. He died in August 1749 but his wife survived.
Before 1835, St Albans Place was called Cadd’s Row. On a 1735 map, this name was rendered as Gad’s Row.
By the end of the 18th century, Barnsbury, like other parts of Islington, was being regarded as attractive part-rural suburbs by the comparatively wealthy people wanting to move out of the cramped City of London and industrial Clerkenwell.
The area is close to the City, and had strong local trade in its position as the first staging post for travellers making the journey from London to the north, and with considerable agricultural traffic and cattle driving to the nearby Smithfield cattle market in the City.