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Finsbury Field


Finsbury Field is located in northen London outside the London Wall. Note that MoEML correctly locates Finsbury Field, which the label on the Agas map confuses with Mallow Field (Prockter 40). Located nearby is Finsbury Court. Finsbury Field is outside of the city wards within the borough of Islington (Mills 81).


Finsbury Field was most easily recognized on maps by its windmills. Three windmills are depicted on the Agas map and are mentioned in the 1567 survey of the Manor of Finsbury (Fisher 58). The earlier Copperplate Map depicts only two windmills but in much greater detail. Fisher describes the Copperplate Map windmills: We can see the ladder providing access and the long tail pole used to turn the mill into the wind. The presence of a hooded sack-hoist indicates that the mill was used for grinding corn and not for draining the surrounding marsh. These windmills were situated on bone heaps (Fisher 58).

Name and Etymology

Previous spellings for Finsbury are given as Vinisbir (1231), Finesbury (1254), Fynesbury (1294), and Fynnesbury (1535) (Mills 81). Other spellings included Finesbury Field, Fynesburie Fyeld, Fensbery, and Fynnesburie Fielde. According to A.D. Mills, Finsbury originally meant manor of a man called Finn, from an Old Scandinavian personal name and Middle English bury (Mills 81-82). Finsbury Field was also occasionally known as High Field and Medow Ground.


Finsbury and Moorfield were both part of a large fen, not drained until 1527 (Thornbury 196). Previously, the area was popular with the London youth for use as a skating ground in winter (Fitter 51). Stow gives us a description of the winter recreation from Fitzstephen’s account of London:
When the great fenne or Moore, which watereth the wals of the Citie on the North side, is frozen, many yong men play vpon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly: others make themselues seates of yce, as great as Milstones: one sits downe, many hand in hand doe draw him, and one slipping on a sudden, all fall togither: some tie bones to their feete, and vnder their heeles, and shouing themselues by a little picked Staffe, doe slide as swiftly as a bird flieth in the ayre, or an arrow out of a Crossebow. Sometime two runne togither with Poles, and hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt: some breake their armes, some their legges, but youth desirous of glorie in this sort exerciseth it selfe agaynst the time of warre. Many of the Citizens doe delight themselues in Hawkes and houndes, for they haue libertie of hunting in Middlesex, Hartfordshire, all Chiltron, and in Kent to the water of Cray. Thus farre Fitzstephen of sportes. (Stow 35)
This is one of the first recorded instances of ice skating.


Moorgate was built into the city wall in 1414 by order of Lord Mayor Thomas Falconer so Londoners could more easily access this recreational area. Stow records that in 1477 Mayor Ralph Joceline had the area searched for clay in order to repair the city wall, by which means this field was made the worse for a long time (Stow 2:76). Stow also describes the clearing of the gardens in 1498 in order to create a field for archery. Dikes were added and the ground leveled in 1511 under Lord Mayor Roger Acheley for even more ease of passage. Protector Somerset was notably welcomed in Finsbury Field by the Lord Mayor in 1548. In the early sixteenth century, trees were planted and gravel walks created for the public. In 1665, Finsbury Field was used as a burial ground for dissenters, as well as plague victims. After the Great Fire, many homeless Londoners camped there.

Textual and Literary References

The numerous mentions of Finsbury Field reveal a variety of uses. There are occasional remarks about the windmills: In his sixth yeer, Sir George Barnes Major of London, gave a Windmill in Finsbury-field to the Haberdashers of London, the profits thereof to be destributed to the poor of that Company; also to Saint Bartholamews the little, certaine Tenements to the like use (Baker 87). One play refers to the Battle of Finsbury Field: as never was Citizen beaten, since the great Battaile of Finsbury-Field (Brome sig. B6v). A Heywood epigram describes a fox in Finsbury Field that ſate in ſyght of certayne people, / Noddyng, and blyſſing, ſtaryng on poules ſteeple, from which we can discern that Finsbury was a good place from which to observe the city (Heywood sig. A5r). Finsbury is also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, when Hotspur complains that Kate, givest such sarcenet surety for thy oaths / As if thou never walk’st further than Finsbury (Shakespeare 3.1.1797-1798). We can infer that, as Finsbury was a popular recreational area on the northern edge of London, ordinary citizens might spend a day’s outing there. Hotspur seems to imply that those who never travel farther are parochial, unsophisticated, and common.


The activity for which Finsbury Field was most popular, however, was archery. Figures depicting archers can be seen on both the Agas Map and the Copperplate Map. Finsbury Field was well known for archery, and there are records of the field being used for this purpose as far back as 1498, when the Lord Mayor allocated eleven acres there for public archery. A short book called Ayme for Finsburie Archers was published in four editions from 1590 to 1628. The editions listed alphabetically the names of the marks, as well as their distances for one another. The opening of the 1601 edition gives a sense of how popular the sport was at the time: Shooting in the long bow being of it selfe very laudable, and our English nation in all ages surpassing therein all others Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (KMC)[…] And yet (a matter to be lamented) this laudable exercise of late dayes hath become cold in this land, famous London retaining the most ardent desire to maintaine the same, as appeareth by the daily concourse of Citizens Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (KMC)[…] most especially in that choice place Finsburie (E.B. sig A2). A series of rules are then given for proper use of the course, followed by the list of marks, or targets. Early modern recreational archery differed most obviously from modern practice in that rather than hitting a target at close range, early archers attempted to outdo each other by landing their arrows closest to a distant wooden, and later stone, mark. The archer who hit closest to the mark won the honor of choosing the next mark. These marks were three to four feet tall and were given a variety of names, such as Bush by the Swan, Sir Rowland, and Star (E.B. sig 1). Each mark had a slot in the top to hold an emblem to distinguish it from the others. The earliest map of these marks, which can been seen below, dates from 1594 and depicts 94 marks.
The popularity of Finsbury Field and the surrounding fields as a place for archery was not always well received by property owners in the area. Several conflicts arose over the years when owners tried to close off their land, and there are several reports of angry citizens tearing down hedges and filling ditches in an attempt to take back the fields for the purpose of practicing archery. The citizens appear to have had the support of the king: statutes were passed in the reign of Henry VIII and subsequently directing that the fields should be available for practice (Longman and Walrond 166).
1595 marked the end of the inclusion of archery in military training, and archery declined rapidly in early seventeenth century. The crown attempted to preserve the practice. King James declared that Finsbury Fields were protected for archery in 1605, and Charles I decreed that archery should be practiced on Sunday afternoons after divine service.
In 1641, the Honorable Artillery Company (HAC) took management of Finsbury. HAC replaced the wooden marks with ones made of stone. One of the privileges of the HAC was that an archer would not be responsible for accidentally shooting anyone while practising if they yelled faste before firing. However, the popularity of archery continued to decline and only 21 Finsbury Marks remained by 1737. Finsbury Fields are now home to Finsbury Square, developed in 1777. After 1786 nothing further was done to preserve the marks. There is currently only one remaining Finsbury Mark, titled Scarlett, on display in Armory House.


Cite this page

MLA citation

Casebeer, Kate. Finsbury Field. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FINS2.htm.

Chicago citation

Casebeer, Kate. Finsbury Field. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FINS2.htm.

APA citation

Casebeer, K. 2022. Finsbury Field. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/editions/7.0/FINS2.htm.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

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ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Finsbury Field
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FINS2.htm
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/xml/standalone/FINS2.xml
ER  - 

TEI citation

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Variant spellings