Barnsbury was a medieval manor, and a moated farm once stood on the site of the current square. The name is derived from that of Ralph de Berners, whose family owned the manor until the early 16th century. In the early 19th century, the lord of the manor, William Tufnell began to lease land for development to various speculative builders. The square was central to the Bishop Estate, developed from 1834 mainly by Thomas Whowell, who built and lived in Mountfort Crescent from 1841. The square gardens were laid out as 'ornamental pleasure grounds' for the private use of residents. In 1889 the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (MPGA) purchased the lease and opened the gardens to the public, but ownership disputes after the lease expired in 1909 led to decline and damage over the next decade. The gardens were finally conveyed to Islington Council by deed poll in 1933, restored with funds from the MPGA and reopened to the public in 1934. It was redesigned in the 1960s and 70s with raised beds, a small pavilion and new railings.