In 1800 there were only 10,000 people living in the self-contained village of Islington. By 1870 there were more than 200,000 and a swollen Islington was absorbed into London.
As well as housing, these people needed pubs and churches and a spree of building works provided both.
The congregation of what became this church originally met at a local house in the 18th century before building a small chapel on Compton Terrace close to Highbury Corner in 1806. They named it the Union Chapel and opened it for all denominations of christian to worship together (hence “union”). As Islington expanded and the congregation outgrew the small chapel they built a new one on the same site and they went big. In this way the story of the church mirrors that of the borough.
The present church was designed by James Cubitt and built in the 1870’s in the gothic revival style. The people of Islington must have been experiencing rapid and confusing change as the mid-19th century sped by in a frenzy of industrialisation and what better than a little gothic nostalgia of a golden pre-industrial past to provide comfort.
Time has moved on inevitably. Although still an active church, its attendees have thinned out and The Union Chapel has dipped it’s toe in other waters not least as a venue for musical concerts – of all denominations, of course. The acoustic is wonderful and the back rooms make great bars and gathering places. I’ve seen classical, choral, rock, folk and pop there and all worked.
When you turn from Highbury Corner down Canonbury Road, you get the view in the featured picture. Something of the near East in those towers and domes. The more conventional “front on” view is below.