Open House Festival

La Sainte Union Catholic School


Unknown, 1723

Highgate Road, NW5 1RP

Founded in 1861 by a group of French nuns, La Sainte Union has a rich history. See the original Georgian site, chapel and its 142-year-old organ, plus modern stained glass windows by Patrick Pollen, LSU’s own orchard and the 60s extension.

Getting there


Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, Archway


Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Upper Holloway


C11, 88, 214

Additional travel info

Walking distance from Hampstead Heath




History of the main building

The earliest date mentioned of LSU's Highgate site is in London County Council's 1938 edition of the 'Survey of London: Volume 19, the Parish of St Pancras Part 2: Old St Pancras and Kentish Town.' This document shows that the great house was already in existence by 1723: 'The Convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary now occupies the site of these houses, the frontage of which, enclosed from the waste, was owned by John Burchett at the time of his death in 1723.' In the early 1800s, the house was then owned by Sir Henry Bessemer, the inventor of Bessemer steel who named the house "Charlton House" from the name of his birthplace in Hertfordshire. After initially renting the premises, the sisters of La Sainte Union purchased the property on 8 May 1864 where generations of girls continue to be educated to this day.

The organ

The organ in the school chapel is an instrument of historic importance. It was built by Pierre Schyven et Cie, organ-builders of Brussels. The organ was constructed in c.1880 for a convent in Belgium and transferred, by boat, then horse and cart, to the school chapel in 1901. It is 142 years old and is a smaller-scale replica of Pierre's most notable work in Antwerp Cathedral in Belgium.

The stained glass

The window of the Annunciation by Patrick Pollen is situated in the corridor beside the chapel. There is a plaque denoting the artwork given for the Centenary of the Convent (1861–1961) by Mother Philomena who was Superior General of the Order at the time. Patrick Pollen is notable as a designer of stained glass windows and worked predominantly in Ireland.

LSU also has some notable stained glass by Keith New, the pioneering British modernist stained glass artist, whose work for the nave of Coventry Cathedral at the beginning of his career marked him out as an innovator in stained glass through his use of colour and glass appliqué.

The work at La Sainte Union School was commissioned in 1965 when the newly built Our Lady of Zion Girls’ Grammar School on the same site as LSU were creating a small chapel off the large assembly hall. The work is of leaded coloured glass, flashed glass and textured glass with some small appliqué circles applied over it and was installed in 1966 as the building was completed.

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