The Church With a Popular Neighbour
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
14/1/2014 01:40:22 am
We visited the church in September 2013, by chance after eating lunch at The Kitchen. We decided to call it the best hidden gem of our trip to London. It was not planned or known, but was truly magnificant. So glad we stumbled upon it. We had a very nice 45 minuite guided tour by one of the volunteers. Lovely!
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