GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts
ST JAMES'S Church, Pentonville became famous through John O'Connor's much reproduced painting St Pancras Hotel and Station from Pentonville Road. It was the clowns' church until the 1950s when a new incumbent made it clear that he did not care for the circus funnymen.
This was the beginning of the end and in 1978 the church was declared redundant and eventually demolished leaving the tomb of the first clown, Joseph Grimaldi, exposed.
Recently passers-by have been shaken to see St James's back as a landmark on the hill. Islington Council made the erection of the replica frontage a planning condition for a new building. The Adamesque decoration discreetly features Grimaldi's face.
A few yards further up the hill is another surprise. The 172-yearold Claremont Chapel, abandoned 10 years ago, has had its neoclassical frontage beautifully restored. The Congregational chapel could seat as many as 1,500 worshippers and was for a time a central mission of the London Congregational Union with support from Queen Mary (she gave a religious picture and sent primroses from Sandringham for the poor) and Lloyd George.
This week Arts Minister Tim Renton re-opened the chapel as a new national centre for crafts. Just a year ago the Crafts Council faced the twin threat of abolition by the government and the end of its Waterloo Place lease. After a dormant period the council has won not only a reprieve and increased government funding but a purpose built centre behind an impressive frontage.
Craftspeople have been commissioned to design the interior. The flooring is by Jennie Moncur whose work is seen in the relaunched ICA Gallery while James Cox has provided unusual door handles.
But the information centre holds over 32,000 colour slides of work by craftspeople including items by the 500 outstanding names on the Crafts Council Index. The centre also houses a National Register of Makers with details of 3,500 craftspeople. Based in the building is the bimonthly Crafts Magazine and a crafts shop.
Even in the 1960s the chapel was not so much a Sunday worship centre as a weekday meeting place for the young and old who came for lunch and fellowship. (This work continues in nearby White Lion Street and includes crafts for pensioners.) But the old chapel, although now a national institution, could again find itself patronised by locals. Education Officer Sarah Mossop has plans for school courses and holiday hands-on sessions and later this year a cafe will open on the first floor making it a handy meeting place.