In October 2016, the two United Reformed Church congregations in Islington amalgamated to become Islington United Reformed Church. Both churches had long and distinguished histories.
The former Harecourt URC
The story of Harecourt goes back to 1648 when George Cokayn was minister of Pancras Church, in the City of London. He gathered a congregation which shared his ‘independent churchmanship’ and included leading men and women of the Commonwealth period. But when the monarchy was restored and Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in 1662, which compelled clergy to accept the authority of the Church of England, Cockayn left Pancras Church with most of the congregation.
They met for worship in various halls and private houses and John Milton and John Bunyan were connected to the congregation. When it became possible for congregations like theirs to have buildings of their own, the church settled in 1691 at Hare Court (2 words) near Aldersgate Street.
By 1855 however, people had moved out of the City and the church followed – to this site in ‘leafy Islington’, bringing its name with it. The move was successful and soon the church was regularly filled with over 1000 worshippers. It was rich and influential. It planted a number of other churches and missions. And it was served by a number of distinguished ministers.
Among them was the hymn writer Rev Howell Elvet Lewis, President of the Congregational Union and Chairman of the London Missionary Society. He befriended Harold Moody, a young Jamaican medical student worshiping at Harecourt, who became an important leader of the UK’s black community.
The large membership, the Boys & Girls Brigade and the other activities which made the church a hub for the community continued well into the twentieth century. But by 1982, numbers were down to 19 and, at Christmas that year, the church building, including its precious organ, was destroyed by fire.
The congregation had to worship in 2 houses belonging to the church on Harecourt Road – until it moved to a Day Centre, to enable the houses to be sold and the church to be rebuilt. This present building was opened in 1992.
In the years since the fire, the church was kept going under the leadership of the Revds Paul Whittle, Peter Colwell and Tim Clarke, Local Leader Adrian West, Church Secretary Doris Powell and the Elders.
More recently, during the ministry of Revd Vaughan Jones (2012-2016) the premises were upgraded, numbers at worship have increased and relationships with the other church groups and choirs, which use the premises are being developed.
The former Claremont URC
Claremont is a church that has been true to its rebirth in 1902 as a Central Mission Hall, which both proclaims the Gospel and addresses the needs of the people around. Numbers at an earlier Congregational Chapel (established 1819) had dwindled as the prosperous middle classes moved further out of London and more and more parts of Islington became slums. In 1899 the congregation was formally dissolved and the chapel placed under the ‘guidance and control’ of the London Congregational Union. This suggested the setting up of Mission Centres in those areas of London where church work along traditional lines was no longer working – and Claremont Chapel was chosen to be the first one.
Apart from Sunday worship, Bible study and various Christian organisations, a wide range of activities was offered – for men, for women, for children and for people with a disability. Some were for wholesome entertainment, some were educational & some were for sport while others were of a social work nature. There were free meals for children, a clothing store, a coal club, a Penny Bank, a workroom for women, a Poor Man’s Lawyer and a nurse. In 1904, the church bought houses at the back of the chapel on White Lion Street and demolished them to build ‘The Claremont Institute’ to cope with growing numbers. For example, the Women’s Own had 1350 members in 1906: the Poor Man’s Lawyer gave 1000 interviews a year and there were 635 members of the Penny Bank.
In the 1960s the church building on Pentonville Road was leased out commercially, so only the White Lion Street premises was used for worship and for community work. In 1978 Claremont amalgamated with Islington chapel (URC) and became a URC congregation. In 1998 its community work was re-organised to become a new charity: The Claremont Project. This is provides opportunities for people, particularly those over 60 and those who are isolated, to shine and live happier, healthier, more connected lives. It is about people mattering. Dance, craft, art, Keep Fit and Yoga classes, a book club and concerts are among the activities provided. Islington URC continues its relationship with the Claremont Project.