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Richmond Avenue, Islington
But why are there sphinxes outside a row of terraced houses?

Between 1801 and 1841 the population of the parish of Islington grew from c.10,000 to c.56,000. Joseph Kay, who had previously been responsible for town improvements in Greenwich and Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury, became the chief architect and surveyor for the Thornhill estate in Islington. George Thornhill’s estate was around 86 acres and building work began in about 1820. The Thornhill estate land was owned by a family which held land chiefly in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire and this influenced a number of street names. The land here had previously been used for dairy farming.

The classic white stucco-fronted terraced houses of Islington were clearly influenced by John Nash, the chief architect to the Prince Regent who became King

Building started on Richmond Avenue in the late 1820s, which was called Richmond Road before 1938, to stimulate the development. Joseph Kay laid out Richmond Avenue in 1829 with giant Ionic pilasters on the end houses and doorways with Greek Doric columns.

It was not until the 1840s that William Dennis built the southern terrace in Richmond Avenue with sphinxes, as fierce as any hunting dog, guarding the steps. On each side of numbers 46 to 72 the entrance steps are flanked by graven sphinxes which have attracted the interest of many photographers. It has been noted most of the noses have broken off over the years but many have been restored.

The period 1839 to 1841 was one in which Britain was much concerned with Egypt. In 1840 England, Russia, Austria and Prussia undertook to expel the forces of Ibrahim Pasha from Syria. A succession of victories and the capture of Acre induced them to quit Syria. These sphinxes were ‘motifs’ of this period and not directly the influence of Nelson’s Nile victory over 40 years before although most attribute them to be.


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