Union Chapel Is Creating An Archive Of Its 200 Year History

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago
Union Chapel Is Creating An Archive Of Its 200 Year History
Kandace Spring performs at Union Chapel in 2016. Image: Tatiana Gorilovsky

Not many churches have been blessed by the presence of Stewart Lee, Amy Winehouse and Adele — but then Union Chapel is no ordinary church.

Standing in the heart of the Islington community for 200 years, Union Chapel hosts religious services, homeless drop-ins, around 250 music and comedy performances a year, not to mention a sell-out annnual carol concert.

A John Peel session at the Union Chapel.

It is arguably one of the most fascinating churches in the city — certainly in the diversity of the events it stages — and now, thanks to a £1 million Lottery grant, that history will be properly documented in an archive.

The church's Sunday School Building, designed by Thomas Cubitt, and which will now be restored.

Union Chapel's adjoining Grade II* listed gothic revival Sunday School is home to an impressive yet un-curated archive of records, books, artefacts and memorabilia. The collections contain everything from the ceremonial trowel used to lay to foundation stone of the current chapel building (constructed in the late 1800s, to house a swelling congregation), to photos and posters of the many acts who've played at the chapel down the years — and including U2, Jack White and Celeste.

A ceremonial trowel from the laying of the chapel's foundation stone.

Now, the archives will be properly restored and fully catalogued — made available to the public physically, and online.

A wall covered with framed tour posters
A taste of the countless acts who've played at Union Chapel.

The Sunday School building itself — built in the 19th century to cater for 180 under-privileged children, and saved from demolition in the 1980s — will undergo essential repairs as part of the plans. Once again, it'll become the community hub it was designed to be.

A stack of dog-earred leather bound books
Scores of undocumented material will be sorted through and made available to the public.

It's 30 years since the Union Chapel diversified into live music, during which time, readers of Time Out have voted it 'London's Best Live Music Venue' three times.

A sepia photos showing lots of old men with beards at the laying of the chapel's foundation stone
The laying of the chapel's foundation stone in the late 1800s. The congregation first met in 1799, but soon needed more space in which to worship.

The archive and Sunday School project is expected to take three years to complete.

Last Updated 28 October 2022

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