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Union Chapel, Islington

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Union Chapel
Islington union chapel 1.jpg
October 2006 photo of the Union Chapel
LocationLondon Borough of Islington
Architect(s)James Cubitt
Years built1874–1877, additions through 1890
Minister(s)Karen Stallard and Vaughan Jones

Union Chapel is a working church, live entertainment venue and charity drop-in centre for the homeless in Islington, London, England. Built in the late 19th century in the Gothic revival style, the church is Grade I-listed. It is at the north end of Upper Street, near Highbury Fields.

As a venue

The church interior, prepared for a music performance
The church interior, prepared for a music performance

Union Chapel hosts live music, film, spoken word and comedy events. There are around 250 events per year. It was voted London's Best Live Music Venue by readers of Time Out magazine in 2002, 2012 and again in 2014.[1] It has a reputation for great acoustics, thanks to its design.

Margins Homelessness Project

The Margins Project, based in the Union Chapel, provides a range of support services to people facing homelessness, crisis and isolation. It operates Monday & Wednesday drop-in that provides advice around accessing benefits, support showers and laundry facilities. There is also a Supported Employment Programme which provides opportunity for people who have experienced homelessness and crisis to get back into work. Plus a Winter Night Shelter and support services such as access to therapy.[2]

Church in the Chapel

Union Chapel is a Congregational church, which describes itself as "An open community exploring and revitalising the faith in challenging times" and meets every Sunday for worship.[3] The church meets every Sunday at 11am and is committed building community and encouraging social justice. It also runs Culture Cafe 11am - 2pm each Wednesday to help tackle social isolation and provide a space for conversation and creativity.


The congregation first met in 1799 in a house in Highbury Grove as a union of evangelical Anglicans and non-conformists, and moved to a previous building on the present site in Compton Terrace, just off Upper Street, in 1806. The current building is in the Victorian gothic style of architecture. It was designed by James Cubitt of Loughton, and built between 1874 and 1877, with further additions from 1877 to 1890, while Henry Allon was pastor.[4] The chapel was used for a major scene in the 1982 film, Who Dares Wins. Since 1982 and facing demolition the charity Friends of Union Chapel has helped conserve the buildings. The charity Union Chapel Project established in 1991 organise activities including gigs and events to help raise money for the building and open it up.[5] Behind the church is the large Sunday School, built on the Akron Plan.


  • Thomas Lewis 1804–1852
  • Henry Allon 1844–1892
  • Hardy Harwood 1891–1914
  • Charles James Barry MA(cantab) ?
  • Ronald Taylor 1940–1980
  • Gareth Trevor Jones 1981–1986
  • Janet Wootton 1987–?
  • Karen Stallard 2010–2018
  • Vaughan Jones 2017–present


The Organ at Union Chapel was designed and built specially for the size and acoustics of the new Chapel building in 1877 by master organ builder Henry "Father" Willis. It is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world. Neither James Cubitt, the architect of the Chapel, nor Rev Henry Allon, the minister at the time, wanted the congregation to be distracted by the sight of an organ or organist: they wanted the music itself to be the focus during worship. So the organ is deliberately hidden away behind ornate screens under the rose window, which itself actually hints at the organ's importance, with its depiction of eight angels all playing different musical instruments. It is one of just two organs left in the United Kingdom, and the only one in England, with a fully working original hydraulic (water powered) blowing system, which can be used as an alternative to the electric blowers.

The organ was restored in 1946 by Monk & Gunther;[6] and by Harrison & Harrison in 2013.


Organ Reframed

Organ Reframed,[8] launched in 2016, is an annual music festival at Union Chapel with an experimental approach to the use of the organ. It is curated by composer and Music Director of the organ at Union Chapel, Claire M Singer. Partners include London Contemporary Orchestra and Spitfire Audio. Commissions have included work from Éliane Radigue,[9] Low, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Adam Wiltzie, Phil Niblock,[10] Darkstar, Philip Jeck, Sarah Davachi,[11] and Mark Fell.

See also


  1. ^ "London's top 20 music venues revealed". Time Out. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Welcome to the Margins Project". Chapel website. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Union Chapel – Church". Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  4. ^ "History of Union Chapel". Chapel website. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  5. ^ "Who the Friends are". Chapel website. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  6. ^ "Union Chapel". National Pipe Organ Register. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  7. ^ "Claire M Singer Website". Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Organ Reframed". Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Organ Reframed is your chance to hear one of the world's finest organs". Standard. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  10. ^ "New music for a unique organ". The Wire. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Organ Reframed". Time Out. Retrieved 16 November 2018.

Further reading

  • Cherry, Bridget, ed. (2007). Dissent and the Gothic Revival: papers from a study day at Union Chapel, Islington. London: The Chapels Society. ISBN 9780954506117. Includes: The building of Union Chapel / Anthony Richardson – 'The most vital bonds of union', Union Chapel and Congregationalism / Clyde Binfield—The Union Chapel archives and library / Richard Wallington.'Sunday schools and the life and work of the chapel'/ Chris Pond

External links

This page was last edited on 5 January 2021, at 15:38
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