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Former Sunday school, lecture hall and vestry block to Union Chapel

A Grade II* Listed Building in St Mary's, London

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Latitude: 51.5448 / 51°32'41"N

Longitude: -0.1023 / 0°6'8"W

OS Eastings: 531693

OS Northings: 184580

OS Grid: TQ316845

Mapcode National: GBR P0.6F

Mapcode Global: VHGQT.5FSM

Entry Name: Former Sunday school, lecture hall and vestry block to Union Chapel

Listing Date: 28 November 2011

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1404206

Location: Islington, London, N1

County: London

District: Islington

Electoral Ward/Division: St Mary's

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Islington

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Mary Islington

Church of England Diocese: London

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Former Sunday school, lecture hall and vestry block to Union Chapel, 1876-7 by James Cubitt.


London stock brick with red brick and stone dressings and tiled roofs.

The three ancillary buildings are built against the east end of Union Chapel (q.v.), facing Compton Avenue. The only access from the chapel is via a doorway to the right of the pulpit, which opens into a circulation corridor, now widened and extended. The Sunday school is in the centre. It is laid out on an 'Akron' plan, based on the Methodist Episcopal Church school at Akron, Ohio, and reflecting the ideas of the US educationalist Walter Blythe: the main hall is surrounded on three sides by a gallery containing a series of open-fronted booths, allowing several classes to be supervised by a single teacher. The lecture hall to the north is at first-floor level, with further rooms below. To the south is the vestry meeting room; an adjoining stair leads to the caretaker's flat above.

The buildings display a free domestic idiom not unlike that used by the London School Board, characterised by large multi-pane sash windows with flat-arched heads, complex rooflines dominated by steep gables and dormers, and much use of stepped and layered brickwork. The vestry block is a three-storey building resembling a tower-house, with a steep-pitched roof and end stacks. A single-storey east wing with a hipped roof contains the committee room. The Sunday school is a double-height block with a gabled roof set parallel to Compton Avenue and a pointed-arch entrance doorway to the left. Three slightly projecting bays with paired windows rise into gabled dormers; between them at eaves level runs a tiled frieze reading 'Union Chapel Sunday School'. The lecture hall is the tallest of the three buildings. Its broad gable end faces the street and contains three tiers of windows, the lower tier segmental-headed with iron grilles, and the upper two shoulder-arched and set within shallow segmental recesses. The roof-ridge is crowned by a small lead cupola, and the north wall has shoulder-arched windows set between massive stepped buttresses.

All three buildings have well-preserved interiors. The vestry and committee rooms both have fireplaces with moulded stone surrounds, decorative tilework and cast-iron grates with Japanese motifs. The committee room also contains a large built-in safe and, mounted on the adjoining wall, a folding board showing a plan of the chapel with moveable pins to indicate pew ownership. The windows contain etched glass, much degraded in the committee room but recently renewed in the vestry. An open-well staircase with decorative metal balustrades leads to the caretaker's flat, which has a number of fireplaces with plain stone surrounds. The Sunday school is a single rectangular space with stairs leading up to a three-sided gallery supported on cast-iron posts; the gallery has a decorative wrought-iron front, and the booths behind retain their original numbered plaques and (in some cases) their folding timber side and front panels. The lecture hall is a large double-height space with an arch-braced roof of four bays. The lower walls have matchboard dados, and at one end is a fireplace with a stone hood and a shouldered tilework surround. A bar has been formed in one corner using timber salvaged from pews. Below are two smaller halls separated by a corridor.


Islington's Union Chapel was established in 1799, when two of the area's numerous Evangelical congregations - one Anglican, the other Independent - came together to worship in a small chapel at No. 18 Highbury Grove. In 1806 they moved their base to Upper Street, taking over a new 1,000-seat chapel at the centre of the recently-developed Compton Terrace, designed by H Leroux. Over the succeeding decades the chapel gradually lost its hybrid character and became solidly Nonconformist, joining the Congregational Union in 1847. Under the leadership of Dr Henry Allon - minister from 1844 to 1892, editor of the Quarterly Review and a leading figure in contemporary Liberal intellectual circles - it became one of the foremost Congregational churches in London, particularly noted for its strong musical tradition, with a wealthy and well-connected congregation drawn from the fashionable northern suburbs.

The 1806 chapel was altered and extended several times: a school was built to the rear in 1837, a grand Ionic portico was added to the front in 1839, and the worship area was enlarged in 1861, adding a further 400 sittings. Even this proved insufficient, however, and in 1869 the decision was taken to build anew. A competition was organised, assessed by the eminent architect Alfred Waterhouse, who also acted as consultant; an essential stipulation was that all members of the congregation should be able to see and hear the minister. The winning design, by James Cubitt, was for a vast octagonal building inspired by the C11 church of Santa Fosca at Torcello near Venice, with a Sunday school, lecture theatre and vestry block/caretaker's house grouped together at the rear. The old chapel was demolished in 1875, and its replacement - designed to seat 1,600 - was built in 1876-7 by the local firm of LH & R Roberts at a cost of nearly £40,000; the upper stages of the tower were completed to a modified design in 1889. Thanks to Allon's connections in the Liberal party, the chapel enjoyed the patronage of important political figures: WE Gladstone was among the 3,500 people at the opening ceremony on 5 December 1877, and in 1908 Herbert Asquith (who had been part of Allon's congregation as a young man) was heckled by suffragette protesters whilst opening a Union Chapel bazaar. The chapel's membership declined steadily through the post-war years, and the building was seriously threatened with demolition in 1981. Since the 1990s, however, it has seen increasing use as a performing arts venue, with the resulting funds used to finance repair projects including the complete re-tiling of the roof in 2005-6.

James Cubitt (1836-1912) was one of the leading Nonconformist chapel architects of the C19. The son of a Baptist minister from Ilford, Essex, he was articled to the Nottingham architect Isaac Gilbert and attended classes at the Nottingham School of Art. He later worked as an assistant to RJ Withers and WW Pocock, the latter being the designer of the great Metropolitan Tabernacle at the Elephant and Castle, Southwark. From about 1868 he was in partnership with Henry Fuller, whose Congregational church at Clapton he completed after Fuller's death in 1872. Union Chapel was among his first major works, and is considered his masterpiece. Many of his other churches have been demolished, including the Redeemer in Birmingham (1882) and Osborne Road Baptist Church in Newcastle upon Tyne (1887); apart from Union Chapel, important surviving works include Emmanuel Church in Cambridge (Grade II, 1874) and the former Welsh Presbyterian Church on Charing Cross Road, London (1888, Grade II). His book Church Designs for Congregations (1870), which advocated stylistic eclecticism combined with polygonal central planning (based on Byzantine and early medieval precedents) for maximum visibility and audibility, was a key text in the development of Nonconformist architecture.

Reasons for Listing

The former Sunday school, lecture hall and vestry block are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architecture: designed together with the adjoining Union Chapel by James Cubitt, a leading Victorian Nonconformist architect, with little-altered interiors including an 'Akron'-plan galleried schoolroom.
* Group value: very strong visual and functional connection with the Grade I listed chapel building.

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