Union Chapel, Islington

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.

Union Chapel
Islington union chapel 1.jpg
The Union Chapel (October 2006)
Coordinates: 51°32′41″N 0°06′09″W / 51.544707°N 0.102503°W / 51.544707; -0.102503
LocationLondon Borough of Islington
Architect(s)James Cubitt
Years built1874–1877, additions through 1890
Minister(s)Vaughan Jones

As a venueEdit

The church interior, prepared for a music performance (February 2016)

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 ProjectEdit

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]

Union Chapel ChurchEdit

Union Chapel is a Congregational church and part of the Congregational Federation.[3] The church describes itself as "An open community exploring and revitalising the faith in challenging times" and meets every Sunday for worship.[4] 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. Between 1805 and 1809 a new chapel was built by Henry Leroux[5]: 170  on the present site in Compton Terrace, just off Upper Street, and the congregation moved to it in 1806.[6] The new chapel was a two-storeyed building in the classical style with a central pediment, and with two houses on either side. A girls' school was founded in 1807 and a boys' founded in 1814.[7] The Rev. Thomas Lewis,[5]: 260  the father of the historian Samuel Lewis, was minister of the chapel from 1804-52, and lived next door at number 19.

His successor, the Rev. Henry Allon, was minister from 1852 to 1892 and greatly increased the congregation as the local population grew. The building became "inconveniently crowded",[8]: 235  and by the 1870s the Chapel had been enlarged and given a colonnaded façade.

It was replaced by the current building in the Victorian gothic style of architecture, designed by James Cubitt of Loughton and built between 1874 and 1877, with further additions from 1877 to 1890.[9] Its Gothic style is almost unique among non-conformist churches, and its plan is based on the church of Santa Fosca in Torcello.[8]: 235  It provided seating for 1,700 worshippers, and a Sunday School Hall (currently Grade II* listed) for 1,000 children. Two Liberal prime ministers, William Gladstone and H. H. Asquith, were at different times members of the congregation. The solid tower was completed in 1889.

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 organises activities including gigs and events to help raise money for the building and open it up.[10] 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. 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;[11] and by Harrison & Harrison in 2013.


Organ ReframedEdit

Organ Reframed,[14] 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,[15] Low, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Adam Wiltzie, Phil Niblock,[16] Darkstar, Philip Jeck, Sarah Davachi,[17] and Mark Fell.

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "Congregational Federation - Union Chapel". Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Union Chapel – Church". Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  5. ^ a b Lewis, Samuel (1842). The History and Topography of the Parish of Saint Mary, Islington, in the County of Middlesex. Islington Green, London: J. H. Jackson.
  6. ^ "Islington: Growth, Canonbury". British History Online.
  7. ^ "Islington: Education". British History Online.
  8. ^ a b Cosh, Mary (2005). A History of Islington. London: Historical Publications Ltd. ISBN 0 948667 97 4.
  9. ^ "History of Union Chapel". Chapel website. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  10. ^ "Who the Friends are". Chapel website. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  11. ^ "Union Chapel". National Pipe Organ Register. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  12. ^ London Concord Singers (13 May 1991). "1991.05.13 Concert Programme" (PDF). London Concord Singers Archive 1990s. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  13. ^ "Claire M. Singer Website". Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Organ Reframed". Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Organ Reframed is your chance to hear one of the world's finest organs". Standard. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  16. ^ "New music for a unique organ". The Wire. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  17. ^ "Organ Reframed". Time Out. Retrieved 16 November 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit