Islington: Roman Catholicism

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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'Islington: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, (London, 1985) pp. 99-101. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

Roman Catholicism

Three recusants were reported in 1577 and two were named in 1588. (fn. 51) Many lodged in Islington (fn. 52) because it was near London yet separated by open country. Thomas Worthington, a priest from Douai, was arrested there in 1584, (fn. 53) a priest called Williams went to Mr. Talbot's house there in 1592, and a seminary priest, Thomas Clarke, spent several months in 1592 at the Crown at Islington. (fn. 54) Three priests sent to England c. 1600 were to lodge at Islington. (fn. 55) In 1626 it was feared that children were being brought up as Roman Catholics in a house where mass was evidently held. (fn. 56)

There were two suspected recusants in 1680, and one professed and one reputed Catholic in 1708. (fn. 57) Christopher Piggot, a seminary priest, passed some years in Islington, where he died in 1735, and by 1733 was said to have formed a community of converted gentlewomen in a village in north London, who gave large sums for Roman Catholics in London and colleges abroad. (fn. 58)

In the late 18th century there were three or four Roman Catholics, (fn. 59) but it was not until 1837 that two priests from Moorfields moved to the parish and built the school in Duncan Street which was used for worship until the church of St. John the Evangelist was built. (fn. 60) By 1840 there were 600 Roman Catholics living between Ball's Pond and City Road; a 'poor man' was very active in securing attendances at mass in Duncan Street. About a third of the families around City Road and the Angel were poor Irish Roman Catholics. (fn. 61)

In 1841 it seemed likely that the Roman Catholic congregation would become one of the most important in the suburbs. (fn. 62) Its rapid growth, in an Evangelical parish, led in 1846 to the establishment of the Islington Protestant Institute, whose defence of Protestantism included the conversion of Romanists; publications, meetings, sermons, petitions to parliament and the queen, and missionary work were all employed. (fn. 63) Re-establishment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850 provoked agitation and the parading of effigies of the pope and Cardinal Wiseman at St. John's church on Guy Fawkes day. (fn. 64) In the 1920s worshippers were still abused as they walked to mass in Eden Grove. (fn. 65)

A second centre of worship was started in 1854, to serve Lower Holloway, and in 1858 the Passionist Fathers founded St. Joseph's church and Retreat on Highgate Hill, where their congregation grew rapidly with the influx of Irish into Upper Holloway. The Ball's Pond area was served from 1854 by Our Lady and St. Joseph, Kingsland, just outside the boundary, which moved to a new church in Islington in 1964. No further churches were built until the church of the Blessed Sacrament was opened in Barnsbury in 1916 and services began in Highbury in 1918. A chapel was opened in Upper Holloway in 1928, for those unable to reach St. Joseph's, and one in Tollington Park c. 1925. An increased Roman Catholic population in north Islington from 1950 led to extra masses at both chapels, which eventually were replaced by parish churches.

Two separatist groups also appeared in Islington after the Second World War. The Old Roman Catholic Church, founded in England in 1908, established their British headquarters at no. 16 Aberdeen Road, where they opened a chapel in 1952. (fn. 66) They moved to no. 23 Drayton Park c. 1974 and opened a chapel there. (fn. 67) In 1982 followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, who held to the Latin Tridentine mass, bought St. Padarn's C.E. church, Salterton Rd., changing its dedication to St. Joseph and St. Padarn. (fn. 68) Individual churches and convents are described below. (fn. 69)

St. John the Evangelist, Duncan Terr., originated in svces. in sch. in Duncan Street, founded from St. Mary, Moorfields, Lond. 1837. Worshippers from wide area: Islington, Highbury, Stoke Newington, Kingsland. (fn. 70) Chapel on ground floor of sch. opened 1839. Large redbrick ch. in Anglo-Norman style by J. J. Scoles, started 1841 on site shared by schs., opened 1843; two towers and side chapels finished later; consec. 1873. (fn. 71) Seated 850 in 1851, when attendance 1,500 at three masses a.m., 201 aft., 1,179 evg. (fn. 72) Attendance 1903: 1,220 a.m.; 210 p.m. Major alterations to interior 1964 and 1973; seated 270 in 1982. (fn. 73)

Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated in mission chapel at no. 5 Albany Pl., Ring Cross, founded 1854 by Canon Oakeley of St. John the Evangelist. Larger chapel of the Guardian Angels opened 1855 at no. 19 Cornwall Pl. (later Eden Grove), later site of Willow Ct., (fn. 74) and reg. 1857 as chapel of St. Mary of the Angels: (fn. 75) two ground-floor rooms made into one. Site at top of Eden Grove bought 1867. Church opened 1870, renamed Sacred Heart of Jesus: (fn. 76) Early Eng. style with stone and brick facade, two side chapels. (fn. 77) Consec. 1928 after debt repaid. (fn. 78) Attendance 1903: 861 a.m.; 148 p.m. Seated c. 400 in 1982. (fn. 79)

Passionist Fathers from Hendon bought former Black Dog tavern, Highgate Hill, 1858, converting ground floor into chapel of St. Joseph, with accn. upstairs for community of 18. (fn. 80) Chapel behind opened 1860. New retreat begun 1875, as community had increased. Iron chapel built and old ch. demolished 1888; new ch. of St. Jos. on site opened 1889 to serve over 2,000: (fn. 81) whitebrick with Doulton dressings in Romanesque style, with some Renaissance details; wide aisled nave; five side chapels inc. one with relics of St. Valeriana; dome 107 ft. high a landmark. Seated 800 in 1929. (fn. 82) Attendance 1903: 1,233 a.m.; 329 p.m.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Copenhagen St., started 1913 and opened 1916. Small, almost square, with organ gallery with hall underneath. New sacristy added c. 1929. Ch. doubled in length 1957; seated c. 300 in 1982. (fn. 83)

St. Joan of Arc, Highbury Pk., originated in svces. in Carmelite chapel, Highbury Pk., 1918. Temporary ch. seating 140 in Kelross Rd. opened 1920, possibly first to be dedicated to St. Joan of Arc (canonized 1920). Extended 1925 to seat extra 100. Sperati fam. gave ho., used as presbytery. Permanent ch. of brick with stone dressings, seating 760, on site of Carmelite chapel, by S. C. Kerr Bate 1961-2: bell by Whitechapel foundry; perspex statue of St. Joan by Arthur J. Fleischmann. Sunday mass centre opened in Portland hotel on parish boundary 1960. Attendance 1961: 3,000 at 10 masses at par. ch.; 300 at 3 masses at Portland hotel. (fn. 84) Temporary ch. became hall 1962. (fn. 85)

Iron chapel of ease, dedicated to St. Gabriel, built 1928 in Hatchard Rd., Upper Holloway, by Passionists from St. Jos. Seated 200, enlarged c. 1931. (fn. 86) Transferred to diocese and formed combined par. of St. Mellitus, Tollington Pk., and St. Gabriel 1939. (fn. 87) Three additional masses each Sunday 1955 to 1964. St. Gabriel became separate par. 1964. (fn. 88) Permanent ch. in Holloway Rd. seating 500-600, of dark grey brick with concrete and aluminium roof, by Gerard Goalen 1966-7: windowless walls to shut out traffic noise. Seats 500-600. Temporary ch. became hall. (fn. 89)

St. Mellitus's chapel, no. 140 Tollington Pk., reg. 1925, (fn. 90) replaced 1927 by asbestos ch. in Everleigh St. (fn. 91) Under care of canons regular at Stroud Green until par. formed 1939. (fn. 92) Moved to New Ct. Cong. ch., Tollington Pk., and Everleigh St. bldg. temporarily used by Congs. 1959. Ch. seated c. 900 in 1982 and former Sunday sch. converted into presbytery. (fn. 93)

Church of Our Lady and St. Joseph, Kingsland, moved from corner of Culford Rd. and Tottenham Street, Hackney, to no. 100A Ball's Pond Rd. 1964. Seated 600 in 1982. (fn. 94)

Polish Catholic Mission, set up 1894 to serve immigrants, moved from Shadwell St., Stepney, 1930 to former New Jerusalem ch. in Devonshire St. (Devonia Rd. from 1943). Ch. of Our Lady of Czestochowa and St. Casimir, seating c. 120-50, serves N. and E. Lond. and is residence of vicar delegate for Poles in Eng. and Wales. (fn. 95)

Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary founded St. Pelagia's Home, nos. 25 and 27 Bickerton Road, Upper Holloway, in 1889 for mothers with illegitimate children. Chapel reg. for worship 1905. Closed c. 1924, and moved to no. 34 West Hill, Highgate. (fn. 96)

Convent of Discalced Carmelites, at no. 64 Highbury Pk. from St. John the Evangelist 1918, survived 1953. New ch. of St. Joan of Arc built on site 1962. (fn. 97)

Augustinian Sisters of Meaux formed convent and nursing home at Bethanie, no. 12 Hornsey Lane, 1922, for chronic invalids and convalescents. (fn. 98)

Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood opened maternity home at no. 31 Highbury Hill, connected with the Crusade of Rescue in 1940s. Closed by 1966. (fn. 99)

Fathers of the Order of St. Camillus opened Ho.of Our Lady of Consolation, no. 100 Hornsey Lane, by 1953; closed between 1966 and 1979. (fn. 1)

Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Sisters) reg. chapel at no. 7 Milner Pl., Barnsbury, 1969. (fn. 2)

Several congregations opened hos. in 1970s: Little Brothers of Jesus, no. 27 Bracey Street, Tollington Pk.; Sisters of Providence, no. 17 St. John's Villas, Upper Holloway; Sisters of Loreto, no. 149 Hemingford Road, Barnsbury; Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, no. 30 Aberdeen Pk., Highbury; Ursulines of Jesus, no. 8 King Henry's Walk, Ball's Pond Road. (fn. 3)


  • 51. Cath, Rec. Soc. xxii. 46, 123; Cal. S.P. Dom. Add. 1566-79, 551.
  • 52. e.g. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1581-90, 277; 1591-4, 19.
  • 53. D.N.B.
  • 54. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1591-4, 176, 305.
  • 55. Hist. MSS. Com. 9, Hatfield Ho., xi, p. 115.
  • 56. Acts of P.C. 1626, 178, 212.
  • 57. G.L.R.O., MR/RR 4, nos. 60, 61; MR/RR 11, m. 2; cf. Guildhall MS. 9800.
  • 58. G. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, iii. 170; J. Kirk, Biogs. of English Caths. (1909), p. 184.
  • 59. Guildhall MS. 9557, p. 32.
  • 60. Below.
  • 61. Lond. City Miss. Mag. v (1840), 103-4; vi (1841), 7.
  • 62. Cath, Dir. (1841), p. 19.
  • 63. S. Lewis, Islington As It Was (1854), 65; Islington Prot. Inst. Ann. Rep. and published sermons (in Islington libr.).
  • 64. St. John the Evangelist, Islington, 1843-1943 (booklet supplied by par. priest), 6-7.
  • 65. Golden Jubilee of Consec. of Sacred Heart Ch. Eden Grove (booklet supplied by par. priest).
  • 66. Old Roman Cath. Ch.: Hist. and Purpose (n.d., copy in Islington libr.); G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 63460.
  • 67. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 73749.
  • 68. Sunday Telegraph, 21 Mar. 1983, p. 3.
  • 69. The following abbreviations are used, in addition to those in the index: accn., accommodation; consec., consecrated; reg., registered.
  • 70. Cath. Dir. (1837); St. John the Evang. 1.
  • 71. St. John the Evang. 2-3; Lewis, Islington, 365; P.R.O., C 54/15673, no. 12; Cath. Dir. (1981).
  • 72. P.R.O., HO 129/10/2/1/19.
  • 73. Inf. from par. priest
  • 74. Jubilee of Sacred Heart Ch.
  • 75. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 8047.
  • 76. Ibid. no. 19836; Jubilee of Sacred Heart Ch.
  • 77. A. Rottmann, Lond. Cath. Chs. 214.
  • 78. Jubilee of Sacred Heart Ch..
  • 79. Inf. from par. priest.
  • 80. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 38; Souvenir of Consec. of St. Jos. 1932, 20; G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 8554.
  • 81. Souvenir of Consec. 21-4; V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 183.
  • 82. Rottmann, Lond. Cath. Chs. 216-18; Souvenir of Consec. 28.
  • 83. Rottmann, Lond. Cath. Chs. 213; inf. from par. priest.
  • 84. St. Joan of Arc, Highbury, 1920-62 (booklet in Islington libr.).
  • 85. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 47921.
  • 86. Souvenir of Consec. of St. Jos. 27.
  • 87. Westm. Year Bk. (1969), 201.
  • 88. Ibid.; Par. of St. Gabriel, Opening Souvenir (booklet [1967] in Islington libr.).
  • 89. Westm. Year Bk. (1969), 201.
  • 90. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 49682.
  • 91. Ibid. no. 50716; inf. from par. priest.
  • 92. Par. of St. Gabriel, Opening Souvenir; and see St. Gabriel's above.
  • 93. Inf. from par. priest; below, prot. nonconf., Congs.
  • 94. Inf. from par. priest; G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 69416.
  • 95. Inf. from sec. of Polish mission; R. Glass and others, Lond. Aspects of Change (1964), 326; G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 52462; below, prot. nonconf., New Jerusalem ch.
  • 96. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 41269; Reformatory and Refuge Union, Classified List of Child-Saving Institutions (1912 and later edns.).
  • 97. St. John the Evang. 12; P.F. Anson, Rel. Orders and Congs. of G.B. and Irel. (1949), 203; Westm. Year Bk. (1953); St. Joan of Arc, Highbury, 1-2.
  • 98. Anson, Rel. Orders, 162; Cath. Dir. (1981).
  • 99. Anson, Rel. Orders, 274; Westm. Year Bk. (1966).
  • 1. Westm. Year Bk. (1953 and later edns.).
  • 2. G.R.O. Worship Reg. no. 71656.
  • 3. Cath. Dir. (1979, 1981).