Friday, 28 June 2013

A tour of Union Chapel, Islington

Looking towards the Rose window: ©Graham White

Last Monday a small group from the Islington Art Society were treated to a tour of Union Chapel by Andrew Gardner. This imposing Congregational, non-conformist church sits on Compton Terrace and dominates the skyline where Upper Street and Highbury Corner meet in Islington.

Andrew explained that the chapel, that replaced a previous Georgian chapel which was deemed too small, was designed by James Cubitt in the 1870s with non-conformist values in mind. Unlike Anglican churches the chapel has no central nave. There are instead two aisles either side the central seating area which encourages a feeling of community among people sitting there. The acoustics were considered most important and you can easily hear the spoken voice from anywhere in the chapel without amplification. Likewise the minister can see the entire congregation (which originally numbered around 1600 people) when speaking from the pulpit. These were all designed to foster a sense of inclusiveness.

In the chapel's Victorian hey day up to 1,000 children attended Sunday School every week and this would have been the only formal education they would have received. There were lecture rooms upstairs and downstairs so the chapel was busy during the week as well as on Sundays.

The numbers attending the chapel declined markedly after WWII and by 1980 Islington Council was ready to demolish the building because it had fallen into such bad repair but this was halted by enthusiasts of Victorian architecture who began the task of restoring this colossal building. One way of raising funds was to use the chapel as a music venue and it is this area which has thrived and many famous names have played here. In addition to this the famous Father Willis organ has recently been restored and is going to be featured during the Organ Project Launch Week, 14-20 July with a diverse line-up of artists.

We all enjoyed our tour around the nooks and crannies of this vast complex including peering at the hydraulics underneath the organ, inspecting the basement and the offices upstairs. If you too would like a tour of the chapel or to attend a concert contact Union Chapel here.
Revealing the balcony: ©Graham White

2 comments:

jacqui boyd said...

I love churches,don't know why as I am not religious in the slightest. I think it has to do with the feeling of community, even if the church has long lost it audience. It still has that feeling, echoing around like voices from the past.

Heather said...

I know what you mean Jacqui about the feeling of community. I think a large part of Union Chapel's survival is that it has reached out to a new community of musicians and actors.