About UsThe North of the Borough and Beyond:
The Highgate Circuit

In 1811 a Wesleyan society began to meet in a house on Hornsey Road and a chapel was built in 1821. At the time the area was mainly open fields and gardens, however the population of the area was growing so rapidly that a larger chapel was soon needed, and erected in 1858. In addition it was clear that a new chapel would need to be built for those who attended from the direction of Highgate.

It would appear that from 1859 Wesleyans were meeting for worship at a coffee house and dining rooms in Whittington Terrace, Upper Holloway. The society acquired its own premises when in 1864 a site was purchased in St John's Road and an iron building erected upon it. This was the site later occupied by the Archway Central Hall. In 1873 a far more substantial chapel was opened on the adjacent site - on the junction of five roads opposite the Archway Tavern, since Victorian times one of the busiest traffic centres in North London. Up to that point still part of the Islington (Liverpool Road) Circuit, Archway Road Chapel became the head of the newly formed Highgate Circuit (1873), which reached out to the new suburbs rapidly growing up on the Northern Heights.

The circuit grew as new churches were planted in Hornsey, Holly Park, Muswell Hill, Middle Lane, Hornsey and Jackson's Lane, Highgate. With the exception of Holly Park, these are beyond the boundaries of Islington and therefore outside the scope of this article.

Holly Park opened in 1875 as an iron chapel, replaced by a permanent church in 1881. Over the next few years the church was enlarged with the addition of school rooms, a clock tower and spire. In 1961 the Victorian church was replaced by a new building occupying part of the site, the rest used for a black of flats. The church also supported a mission at Weston Park, Hornsey.

While middle-class Wesleyans were moving into the new suburbs, conditions in the area around the original Hornsey Road Chapel were declining. In an attempt to address growing poverty in the neighbourhood, missions were established in Andover Road and Hampden Road. Hornsey Road Chapel was finally closed in 1940, and demolished in 1960 to make way for a police station.


Archway Wesleyan Chapel, 1932

Archway was one of no less than 85 Wesleyan chapels built in 1872. A cruciform Romanesque building of light yellow brick, it was described thus:

"The exterior is not without character, the interior is light, cheerful and displays more ornament than is common in Wesleyan chapels."

Archway Wesleyan Chapel, 1932

A Sunday School was established, and a library. Despite the decision to locate the church at such a busy junction, in 1875 the Trustees resolved that "a communication be forwarded to the Tramway Companies, with reference to the noise occasioned by their traffic on Sunday evenings". A wide range of activities included Bible classes, Band of Hope, Tract Society, Boys' and Girls' Brigades and a Mother's Meeting. A Guild was formed in 1897 and was soon reporting a membership of 165. There was also a programme of regular Saturday Night Concerts.

Revd. Charles HulbertIn 1932 it was decided to replace the crumbling, out of date building with a large Central Hall, to be set back from the busy and noisy Great North Road. It was to be the first central hall scheme initiated after Methodist Union and the last Central Hall built in London. Rev. Charles Hulbert was invited by the London Committee to take over this scheme, which he did with considerable energy and enthusiasm. The new premises, opened in 1934, incorporated an auditorium to seat 1300 people, a hall, prayer chapel, gymnasium and numerous class rooms and offices. The building also included a number of shops to let, which helped to support the running of the mission; for many years two of the shop units were occupied by the Archway Public Library.
Revd. Charles Hulbert

The broad range of activities in the old chapel was maintained and new ones added with an evangelistic purpose. For example, the auditorium was fitted with projection equipment and on a Saturday afternoon packed with children for the matinee cinema. Films were also a feature at the Saturday Night Celebrity Concerts. Archway became well known for the singing at Sunday worship, led by a choir of sixty. The result of this evangelistic endeavour was that in the first five years after the opening of the Central Hall membership increased from just over 300 to around 700.

The outbreak of war led to a reorganisation of church activities, though Sunday worship continued uninterrupted. The staff trained as Air Raid Wardens and a shelter was fitted out. Fortunately the premises suffered only minor damage and at war's end the full programme of activities resumed.

In retrospect, although the war was a challenging time for the Central Hall, its effect was not as significant as the major changes that took place in the 1960s. Within walking distance of the church three major re-housing schemes involved the demolition of many acres of housing and a number of families connected with the church moved away. Many of the new families moving into the area were immigrants from the West Indies and West Africa. New projects were developed to meet the needs of families in this time of change, including Holiday Schemes for 9-13 year olds and a pre-school group. The Youth Club thrived, with a membership at one point of 600, mostly Afro-Caribbean. However the Sunday congregations declined rapidly in number, particularly the evening service, which had historically been the better attended. From 1934 to 1984, the population of the catchment area around the church halved from some 80,000 to just over 40,000.

The Main Hall, 1979

Archway, Main Hall, 1979

The redevelopment also left the Central Hall premises on an island site, which raised concerns about access and increasing traffic noise.

In response to these changes, in 1970 the Main Hall was restructured to create a smaller worship centre under the balcony. Underused parts of the building were let to outside organisations, including at different times the Registrars of Births and Deaths, Social Services and a Youth Training Scheme.


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Last Updated: 9 March 2020