Our stories

You'll find a history of our church and parish on Wikipedia.

Through ten centuries, St Mary's has responded to the hopes, fears, needs and aspirations of local people by expressing the gospel of Jesus Christ in fresh ways.

The area which is now Upper Street has been settled for over a thousand years. A church was recorded as standing on the current site not long after the Norman Conquest. The original building was rebuilt in 1483 and then again in 1754 and 1956.

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 and continued to meet in the fields around the church to read the Prayer Book together. They were arrested, tried and seven of their number were eventually burned at the stake.

St Mary’s was also at the centre of controversy during the First Great Awakening in the 18th century. Recovering from illness in 1738, Charles Wesley found new depths of faith and began to worship at St Mary's. He was soon invited to join the vicar in preaching and ministry at the church. Along with George Whitefield, his preaching thrilled hundreds of people but was uncomfortable for many in the church. In a dramatic moment in 1739, Wesley was barred from climbing the steps of St Mary's to preach and he was ejected.

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 fifty four years. Through their ministry St Mary’s grew and planted over twenty new churches inside the old parish to serve a rapidly growing population. The Islington Conference for Evangelical clergy in the Church of England was founded in 1827 and continued for over one hundred and fifty years.

On 9 September 1940, the third night of the Blitz, St Mary’s was hit by a bomb and the main part of the building was destroyed, leaving the tower and portico still standing. Church services were held in the Memorial Hall, until the new building was completed in 1956. The Revd Maurice Wood oversaw this period of recovery and rebuilding and St Mary's grew rapidly again.

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.