Monopoly: The Angel, Islington

Moving swiftly along as ever, let’s return to the Monopoly board (UK edition). This is the only property on the board named for a single building, and that building is, thankfully for our purposes, a pub. Or perhaps rather an “inn”. Though there’s nothing especially precise about any of the terms used for drinking places, it is one of the oldest and represents an establishment that serviced travellers with food and lodgings,1 which the Angel once did.

The Angel Inn (Islington N1)
Figure 88. The Angel Inn (Islington N1), now closed.

Of course, nowadays it’s neither pub nor inn and offers none of those functions: it’s a bank. There’s a plaque commemorating its inclusion on the canonical Monopoly board, but there’s nothing to indicate its former use (aside from the existence next door of a Wetherspoon’s pub, opened in 1998 and opportunistically named The Angel after its predecessor). Before it was a bank, it was a restaurant. It hasn’t been a pub since around 1921, when it was sold by the brewers Truman Hanbury Buxton to Lyons, who promptly reopened it as the Angel Cafe Restaurant.2 Which means it wasn’t even a pub when the Monopoly board was set.

So what’s the reason for its prominence, giving its name as it does not only to a tube station, and by extension an area of London, but also to a (fairly cheap) property on Monopoly?

Earliest History

What is now this stretch of Islington High Street was once part of the Great North Road, a coaching route leading from the City of London to the north (and now largely followed by the A1 trunk route).3 It was, as it remains, a major artery and as such has always been well-provisioned with hostelries. Records for the area go back as far as the 16th century and even then mention four or five establishments on this road in the immediate vicinity, with many more mentioned in records over successive centuries.4 Some of these almost certainly existed further back in time, and although the earliest firm record of the Angel Inn is in 1614 (as The Sheepcote), its existence may stretch back as far as the 13th century.5

Coaching Inn

The Sheepcote was rebuilt as a coaching inn in around 1638, and may have taken the Angel name at that time. For around two centuries it was one of the prime sites on the coaching route, being located just by the final hazardous stretch into the City. The Great North Road on which it sat originally led from Smithfield Market along St John Street, with another major route leading from the City along Goswell Road. When City Road was built in the mid-18th century, a tollgate was set up where it joined these other, older routes. The Angel was sited at just the point where all these routes converged.

It wasn’t until 1819 that it was demolished and replaced by something like the building that stands today (the present building with its impressive dome dates from a later rebuilding in 1899).6 Though this was hardly the end of the coaching era (some of London’s other coaching inns survived until the late-19th century), it’s fair to say that it was only a matter of decades before the coaching trade would be consigned to irrelevancy by the coming of the railways.

The Area

Like several parts of London (the Elephant & Castle, Fitzrovia, Swiss Cottage, and possibly Nunhead, though there’s a fuller post to be made on this phenomenon), the name of the most prominent pub has also come to be used for its surroundings. In the case of the Angel, it’s more of an enclave between Clerkenwell and Islington, and as its placement on the Monopoly board suggests, not always a particularly salubrious one. Even now, there are patches of estate housing, particularly on the Pentonville side of the Angel, which remain fairly rough compared to their wealthier, upmarket neighbours in Barnsbury and Canonbury, while Chapel Market retains a rambunctiousness that contrasts starkly with the thoroughly ersatz, middle-class shopping experience that is Upper Street.

The latter provides more of a clue to the area’s current character, it having made great gentrifying leaps since the Monopoly board properties were chosen in the 1930s. Some even say the choices were set at a meeting in the Angel itself.7 Given the game’s subject, a bank seems an appropriate setting for this legacy, and maybe if the same choices were made today, the meeting would happen at a bank. In any case, the Angel Islington remains a prominent landmark, one perhaps more coveted now than when it was a pub.

[1] Paul Jennings, The Local: A History of the English Pub (Stroud: Tempus, 2007) pp19-38. Jennings has a very useful discussion of the many distinctions, noting that ‘inn’, ‘tavern’ and ‘alehouse’ are the oldest terms, “used in a government survey of 1577, which provides the first detailed information we have on drinking places”.
[2] This and other basic historical information is in the Wikipedia entry.
[3] Wikipedia entry.
[4] T.F.T. Baker and C.R. Elrington (eds.), A History of the County of Middlesex, volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes (1985) p45, accessed online at British History.
[5] Russ Willey, Chambers London Gazetteer (London: Chambers, 2006) p11. Subsequent details about the change of name and the hazardous nature of City Road also come from this entry.
[6] Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (ed.), The London Encyclopaedia (London: Macmillan, 1983) p22.
[7] Wikipedia entry.


One response to “Monopoly: The Angel, Islington

  1. using as a bank?.. is rather apt considering how we seem to give the banks our hard earned cash like the toll booth in ye olden times!