The name is a corruption of villa de Iseldon Berners (1274), being so called after the Berners family: powerful medieval manorial lords who gained ownership of a large part of Islington after the Norman Conquest. The area of Barnsbury was predominantly rural until the early nineteenth century.
By the end of the 18th century, however, 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.
Pentonville Prison (built 1842) is located within Barnsbury.
- Samuel Barnett, actor
- Tony Blair, Prime Minister lived at 1 Richmond Crescent.
- Benjamin Britten, composer lived at 99 Offord Road.
- Kenneth Cranham, actor.
- Chris Farlowe, singer lived in Offord Road.
- Sir Ian Holm, actor lived in Belitha Villas.
- Sir Peter Pears, singer lived in Offord Road.
- Thomas H. Shepherd, artist and printmaker lived in Batchelor Street.
- Walter Sickert, artist lived at 14 Barnsbury Park.
- VHS (fictional character), a fictional character featured in the comedy series The Mighty Boosh, claimed to own a factory in Barnsbury.
- Simon Rattle, conductor, has a residence in Lonsdale Square.
- Su Pollard, comedy actress, lives on Richmond Avenue.
- Caryl Churchill, playwright has lived in Thornhill Square since 1965.
- Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer
- Margaret Hodge, MP and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
- Zoe Wanamaker, actress
- Rosamund Pike, actress
- Emily Thornberry, MP
- Grayson Perry, artist, has a studio on Belitha Villas
- Rupert Graves, actor
- Angel tube station
- Caledonian Road tube station
- Highbury and Islington tube station
- Holloway Road tube station
- Caledonian Road & Barnsbury railway station
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- Mills, D., Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names, (2000)