The history of St Mary's Church

A church has been on the current site since the early years after the Norman Conquest. The original building was rebuilt in 1483 and then again in 1754 and 1956.

St Mary’s has seen many things during this time. During the Reformation, Islington was a flashpoint between traditionalists and reformers. Statues were taken from the church and smashed to pieces at Islington Green. When Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne and ordered all her subjects to attend Mass, forty people in Islington refused to obey the order. They were arrested and eventually burned at the stake.  

St Mary’s was also at the centre of controversy during the First Great Awakening in the 18 th century. John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed by the Holy Spirit in 1738. His brother, Charles Wesley was Curate at St Mary’s so John preached 10 times at St Mary’s over the following year. The churchwardens took offence at his message of salvation by grace alone through a personal faith in Christ and, together with his brother and George Whitfield, he was thrown out of the church. They went on to preach to thousands of people across the whole of the UK. This was St Mary’s first experience of Evangelical Christianity.

In 1824, Daniel Wilson became Vicar of St Mary’s. He was a dynamic Evangelical who transformed the church. After eight years he went on to become Bishop of Calcutta and his son was appointed Vicar and remained at St Mary’s for 54 years. Through their ministry St Mary’s grew and became a key Evangelical Parish throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century. The Islington Conference for Evangelical clergy in the Church of England was founded in 1827 and continued as a key focus for Evangelicalism until 1983.

On the third night of the Blitz in the Second World War, St Mary’s was hit by a bomb and the whole building apart from the spire was destroyed.

The church met in the Memorial Hall, until the new building was completed in 1956. Maurice Wood, an extraordinary Vicar oversaw this period of recovery and rebuilding. As the church was built so those attending St Mary’s grew rapidly due to his powerful evangelistic preaching. He later went on to become Bishop of Norwich.

The ensuing post-war years were quieter years for St. Mary's. Having said that, this period saw the building of the Neighbourhood Centre to minister to those in the local community and Nick Adams also built up a strong youth group that is still transforming the lives of young people today. David Sheppard, the cricketer and George Carey, later to be Archbishop of Canterbury were also Curates at St Mary’s during this time.

Simon Harvey, the current Vicar was appointed this year and is bringing energy and enthusiasm to the church as it seeks to build God’s kingdom in the 21st century. St Mary’s remains very much within the Evangelical tradition.