One of the great things about walking around in Islington is the opportunity to come across unexpected hidden streets and some interesting architectureSuch is the case with Compton Terrace. Nestling alongside busy Upper Street (A1) is an interesting street featuring the splendid Union Chapel, Georgian-era terraced houses and some delightful community gardens.
To get there, take a Victoria line tube train or the Overground to Highbury & Islington. On leaving the station, turn right into Upper Street and then cross over the road at the crossing by Highbury Corner.
One of the first things to be seen is the very distinctive Union Chapel, the largest building in the vicinity. In fact, this is the second chapel of the same name built on the site. The first chapel, built in in 1806 in an ecumenical spirit, comprised of worshippers of both Anglican and Nonconformist traditions who initially met in Highbury Grove. By 1866, the original chapel building had been enlarged but in 1875 it was decided to build a larger chapel designed by architect James Cubitt. Taking just over eighteen months to build after the laying of the foundation stone, the chapel was dedicated in December 1877 although the impressive tower was only completed twelve years after the rest of the building opened for worship. The architect was inspired to design the tower of Union Chapel based on the church of St. Fosca, Torcello near Venice. Unlike other denominations such as the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches, Union Chapel is run by its congregation. Clergy and members have an equal voice and the chapel is also a member of the Congregational Federation. Today, Union Chapel is not only a living church but also a centre for community outreach projects and an important arts and events venue.
On an historical note, residents living in Compton Terrace were badly affected by the loss of ten houses between Union Chapel and St. Paul’s Road at Highbury Corner when they were hit by a V1 flying bomb on 27 June 1944. Sadly, the bombing caused twenty-six deaths and one hundred and fifty people suffered injury.
Continuing down Compton Terrace in the direction of The Angel stands a wonderful line of Georgian terraced properties. Like some other streets in the area, Compton Terrace was built by developer Henry Leroux on land owned by the Marquess of Northampton. Building got underway in 1806 although unfortunately Leroux went bankrupt in 1809. Compton Terrace was finally completed between 1821-1831 by Henry Flower and Samuel Kell. Number 13 Compton Terrace was home to the grandfather of the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. The Betjeman’s were a family business of cabinet makers in Pentonville Road between 1859 and 1945 when the firm closed.
In the 21st Century, it is hard to imagine that Upper Street was formerly one of the main thoroughfares in London for driving cattle to Smithfield Market from many parts of the country. To shield the residents of Compton Terrace from the noise and smells of this activity, the 19th century developers agreed to make a private road with a communal garden in front of the houses adjoining Upper Street and the gardens were laid out in 1823. Responsibility for the upkeep of the road and garden was later transferred to the local council who maintained a professional gardening team in looking after the gardens until the 1980s when central government funding for local authorities was reduced. Since 2009, the gardens have been in the care of local volunteers who receive a grant from Islington Council and there are regular working groups who keep everything in order.
- Islington Past by John Richardson; Historical Publications
- The Book of Islington by Eric A. Willats (former Islington librarian); Islington Local History Educational Trust
- The Compton Terrace Gardening Group – https://comptonterracegardens.org.ukUnion Chapel – https://unionchapel.org.uk
For more information contact Bob Atkinson the author of this post.
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