Finsbury Circus Gardens

London's oldest public park
London's oldest public park dating back to 1606, Finsbury Circus Gardens is the largest green space in the City.

In 2020, Realm (previously called ReardonSmith Landscape) won an open competition to renovate Finsbury Circus Gardens, the oldest public park in London. Set within the historic context of Finsbury Circus, the gardens are the largest open green space in the Square Mile. The site is what remains of Moor Fields which dates from the early 1600s, and the present form was laid out by George Dance the Younger during the early 19th century.

The site of Finsbury Circus has a varied and fascinating history, from the natural processes that helped form it, and the people and communities that helped shape it. The original green space was created through a natural and man-made process, when London Wall partially dammed the River Walbrook, creating a marshy fens, which gave its name to ‘Fens-bury’.

For centuries the park has acted as a haven to serve the community, from providing a ground for archery, drying of clothes and walks, to a temporary tented living space for those displaced during the Great Fire of London and Black Death, and was a former site of Bethlehem Hospital (also known as bedlam) England's first mental institution.

The history of people and place is a key underlying concept for the sensitive transformation of Finsbury Circus Gardens to provide a haven for people and nature. The design has stayed true to the concept of providing a green haven, referencing a rich heritage of providing useful green space to the local community in times of need. 

The functionality of the space will be improved by providing increased seating and using a high quality and hardwearing palette of materials which reference traditional building materials found in the local City context. 
The design features swathes of biodiverse planting surrounding a large lawn space which will support a range of activities and uses. Close care and attention are being paid to the existing trees which encircle the gardens, and a woodland walkway will be created though the western end of the park.
The design seeks to improve biodiversity within the Gardens and three new planting character areas will be introduced, all with distinct plant palettes that reflect their different microclimates and provide new habitats:

Woodland Habitat - To the west of the Gardens, a woodland habitat is proposed under the large canopies of the existing mature London Plane trees. This will include a number of shade-loving shrubs and evergreen plants with fragrant flowers around the gateways and adjacent to bench seats to enhance the visitor experience. The planting will provide habitat for birds, in addition, will include loggeries for stag beetles and insects, bat boxes and nest boxes, helping to improve biodiversity in the area.

Riverside margin planting incorporating Rain Gardens - Riverside margin planting beds will reflect the historic relationship with the River Walbrook. The beds in the south-eastern part of the Gardens will also function as specialised rain gardens 
with a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) to help mitigate the flow of surface water into the street drainage network and infiltrate the groundwater to support the trees and other planting. Plants within this area have been selected for their ability to endure ground conditions that will vary between moist or poorly drained soil. In this area, there will be a high percentage of grasses, planting with seed heads for birds and pollinator species that will also provide visual interest for visitors.

Herbaceous Perennial Borders - Swathes of longer grass and spring bulbs around the lawn will provide colour and support for pollinators in spring. This will be followed though summer by a succession of flowering plants in the flower rich borders that edge the inner path and provide an attractive outlook from the new stone bench seats. Proposed species will be chosen from the RHS Perfect for Pollinators and Api:Cultural lists to help further improve biodiversity within the Gardens, including night-scented plants to attract moths and provide a food source for bats.

‘The winning bid very successfully captured our vision for a biodiverse, 21st-century park which respects the historic nature of the site and complements the buildings that surround it. The redesign will restore the park to what it has been in the past: the jewel in the crown of our City Gardens and an urban oasis accessible to all, where people can come to exercise, socialise and relax.’

Oliver Sells, chair of the City of London Corporation’s Open Spaces and City Gardens Committee.


Finsbury Circus Gardens, City of London


City of London


2.2 Hectares


Lead Designer: Landscape and Public Realm Design
Planning Approval, Concept to Tender, Construction monitoring


Winner - Architect's Journal Competition 2020


Pavilion & Parks Office Architect: Studio Weave / Architecture 00
Structural & Civil Engineers: Engenuiti
M&E Engineers: XC02
Trees: Tim Moya Associates
Soils: Tim O'Hare Associates
Project Manager: Potter Raper
Heritage Consultant: MOLA
Sustainability Consultant: Etude
Planning Consultant: Tibbalds
Quantity Surveyor: Currie & Brown
Communications: Kanda
Contractor: Maylim