The Angel, Islington
Rebuilt in 1819, the former coaching inn is now used as a bank
The Angel shown within Greater London
|OS grid reference|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Islington South and Finsbury|
|London Assembly||North East|
The Angel was originally an inn near a toll gate on the Great North Road (at what is now the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road). The corner itself was in the parish of Clerkenwell which was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury until it was merged with the Metropolitan Borough of Islington to form the London Borough of Islington in 1965.
Thomas Paine may have stayed at the inn after he returned from France in 1790 and it is believed that he wrote passages of the Rights of Man whilst staying at the nearby Red Lion, now Old Red Lion, in St. John Street. The original Angel was rebuilt in 1819 and became a coaching inn, the first staging post outside the City of London. It became a local landmark and was mentioned in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: "The coach rattled away and, turning when it reached the Angel at Islington, stopped at length before a neat house in Pentonville". A new building in pale terracotta stone with a corner cupola replaced the earlier building in 1899. From 1921 to 1959 the building was used as a Lyons Corner House and it is now a branch of the Co-operative Bank, with ORC International, a market research agency, occupying the floors above the bank. Next-door is a pub operated by JD Wetherspoon, which is also called The Angel.
In his book "The Inns and Taverns of Old London" published in 1909, Henry C. Shelley has the following to say of the old inn:
The Angel dates back to before 1665... In the seventeenth century and later, as old pictures testify, the inn presented the usual features of a large old country hostelry. As such the courtyard is depicted by Hogarth in his print of the "Stage Coach."
Angel Cafe Restaurant
The Angel Hotel, situated at the junction of Pentonville Road, City Road, Upper Street (High Street, Islington) and St John Street, was purchased by Lyons in 1921 and opened as the Angel Cafe Restaurant on 21 February 1922. Some contemporary records wrongly attribute it as having opened in 1899 as a Corner House. It did not open at this time nor was it a Corner House. Nevertheless it was a fairly grand restaurant on two floors with a rather conspicuous external dome, which became a local landmark. The earliest reference to this property's acquisition by Lyons is dated 21 May 1921 when the firm registered a mortgage to the value of £24,000. The property appears to have been bought from the Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co brewery, which had owned the Angel pub.
The Angel had, from Jacobean times (1603), been a coaching inn and it had been rebuilt a number of times before Lyons acquired the property in 1921. The area in which it was situated used to be called Merry Islington because from time immemorial it had been a great entertainment centre of London. The Collins Music Hall, the Grand Theatre and the Philharmonic Hall were all situated here. Being outside London, Islington also became a refuge after the plagues and the Great Fire of London. It was also a refuge for travellers entering London from the north. Here they would rest overnight as the open land between Islington and the City itself was dangerous to cross lest highwaymen, vagrants, rogues or sham soldiers would relieve them of the valuables and possibly their lives. There were large fields for the farming community to rest their animals before the onward journey to Smithfield meat market. Charles Dickens also used the location for the meeting of the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist in his famous novel of that name. In chapter VIII The Artful Dodger (John Dawkins) it reads: "John Dawkins objected to their entering London before nightfall, it was nearly eleven o'clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St John's Road. ..."
Although the Angel Cafe was one of the larger restaurants, ranked between a teashop and a Corner House, it has received little publicity within the J. Lyons house journals. In fact only two or three references are made to The Angel Cafe and these only to the memorial wreaths that were laid by the staff at the annual memorial services at Greenford. A brief reference appears in the Board Minutes of 1945 when a liquor licence was applied for. This paucity of information makes it difficult to document details about the restaurant. It is known to have been a popular meeting place for residents of Islington as its dome made it conspicuous. Furthermore, it was directly opposite the Angel underground station and adjacent to bus and tram routes, which served many areas of London. Some people held their wedding breakfasts there in the upstairs restaurant, which could be hired for such functions after the Second World War.
The Angel Restaurant, like the teashops, suffered from neglect during the war and went into decline thereafter. By 1959 it needed a considerable sum spent on it but the County of London Development Plan provided for the compulsory acquisition of the premises in a few year's time. This ruled out the heavy expenditure necessary to bring it up to acceptable standards. Lyons therefore approached the London County Council in 1959/60 and reached an agreement with them for its earlier acquisition. The precise date of transfer of ownership is not known but it is thought to have been in early 1960 as it was mentioned in Isidore M. Gluckstein's Statement to Shareholders dated 10 June 1960. In the event the plans which the London County Council had drawn up for the modernisation of the Angel did not affect this site and the building, with its dome, is still intact. Memorial wreaths continued to be laid by the staff, at the Lyons war memorials in Greenford, until its closure.
In popular culture
″The Angel Islington″ is a place in the standard UK edition of the Monopoly board game, forming the light blue family together with Pentonville Road and Euston Road. The Angel Islington is also an actual Angel dwelling in the sewers of London Below in the Neverwhere book, TV series, and radio series by Neil Gaiman. Students from the local Islington Green School (now The London Academy) featured in the song 'Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)' from Pink Floyd's 1979 album, The Wall.
- Mills, D. (2000). Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford.
- Mayor of London (February 2008). "London Plan (Consolidated with Alterations since 2004)". Greater London Authority.
- "J. Lyons & Co. - The Angel Cafe Restaurant, by Peter Bird 2004".