The Henry Allon Years
When he arrived Allon described the services as 'musically at zero'. He would go on to put music at the heart of the Chapel.
Dr Henry Allon was appointed Minister of Union Chapel
For the first 8 years of his Ministry Henry Allon was co-pastor with Thomas Lewis. He would remain minister of Union Chapel until his death in 1892.
1844 - 1892
Henry Allon puts music at the heart of Union Chapel
When he arrived at the Chapel Allon described the services as ‘musically at zero'. He would go on to change all that. The whole congregation, not just the choir was expected to sing. They even tackled the Hallelujah Chorus. When the Chapel was re-built under Allon's direction in the 1870s every care was taken to make it suitable for Music. And in fact the glorious rose window shows angels all playing musical instruments. Today that tradition continues - not only is the Chapel a world renowned music venue we also have a thriving choir - Union Chapel Singers.Union Chapel Singers
Union Chapel organist Henry John Gauntlett composes the music to Once In Royal David’s City
Another famous Union Chapel Organist was Ebenezer Prout who’s teaching and efforts in music theory went on to underpin the work of musicians for generations to come.Find out about the Organ today
1850s & 60s
Union Chapel becomes really rather fashionable
The Congregation was expanding at an enormous rate Henry Allon was a widely respected preachers who attracted a more and more members. Gladstone was a regular attendee as was a young H. H. Asquith – he went on to become prime minister from 1908-1916. The changes in Islington during this period were profound. By 1870 the population had risen to nearly 300,000 (from just 10,000 at the beginning of the century). Between 1800 and 1840, 24 new Anglican and Nonconformist churches were built in Islington to minister to this expanding population.
15th January 1872
A momentous decision to rebuild Union Chapel is made
A competition is launched to design a new bigger Chapel! Alfred Waterman was appointed to be the assessor of the competition but the views of Henry Allon were key. He wanted a space where “every person should see and hear the preacher without conscious effort" and where the acoustics would also be suitable for prayer - "he who prays cannot shout in addressing the Almighty". Most importantly he felt "Our church buildings are for use, not for the realisation of conventional ideas which unfit them for use". The budget was £15,000 and everyone agreed a tower would be nice.
This Competition was won by James Cubitt
Not the famous Cubitt! This Cubbit was a well known architect of non-conformist churches. His design was chosen unanimously from a field of seven. It was inspired by Santa Fosca, Torcello - a Venetian Byzantium Cathedral the design of which dates back to 1008. James Cubit was, almost exclusively, an architect of non-conformist Churches – his vision was to "to step out of the enchanted circle of habit and precedent ... to break through the tyranny of custom". Unsurprising then, that his design was unique.
16th May 1876
The Foundation stone for the new Union Chapel laid with much pomp & ceremony
The postcard pictured was actually found in a scrap book and very kindly donated to us.
29th January 1877
The opening of the Sunday School & Upper Hall
With tea & coffee at half past five o'clock
5th December 1877
The inauguration of the new Union Chapel – the building we know and love today.
Cubitt’s design created space for over 1,7000 worshipers at a cost of £47,000 (around £3 million in today’s money). At this, its official opening, 3,500 folk were crammed in including William Gladstone (former prime minister then in opposition). The buildings also included a lecture hall (now the bar), Sunday School & other ancillary spaces such as a ladies powder room.
11th March 1878
The Chapel’s new organ is played for the first time
The organ was built by Henry Willis, who also built the Organs for The Royal Albert Hall & Saint Paul's Cathedral and was deliberately incorporated into the very fabric of the building. It is hidden from view so when it is played it’s almost as if the building itself is exuding music. It is, we can proudly say, one of the finest organs in the world. It was built by Henry Willis, when he was really at the height of his prolific career. It has over 2,000 pipes, the largest being 16ft long and is one of only few organs in England with surviving hydraulic bellows.The Organ today
Work on the Tower begun
Cubit’s original design (pictured) included a spire but in order to keep costs down it was not built. However as works progressed it was agreed that, with some modifications, it was worth the extra expense.Recent Tower Restoration
11th November 1887
On the night of Friday 11th of November 1887 some person or persons STOLE our communion plate and various other bits and bobs. Hmpf! And that £10 reward still holds good...
The Tower is finally completed
It topped out at a lofty 166ft!
16th April 1892
Dr Henry Allon dies
Dr Henry Allon preached his last sermon at the Chapel on the 10th of April 1882. He died less than a week later and was buried in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington. He is commemorated with six stained glass windows on the south side of the building.
Explore more of Union Chapel’s HistoryContinue reading