They've been a staple diet of the Middle East and North Africa since time immemorial.
I imagine they first became popular in the UK with the arrival of Hummus; even then, I don't suppose many associated Hummus with actual Chickpeas. It was a while until tinned Chickpeas appeared on our shelves.
The more I eat them, the more I like them. Not only do I make my own Hummus (below), but otherwise they always appear in my Moroccan Tagines, and in my Chana Masala, which is one of the most common vegetarian curries in all of India; basically Chickpeas and Tomatoes with spices.
Dried Chickpeas will last for years. When reconstituted and cooked they make a highly nourishing meal; add some unleavened bread and you have all you need.