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London may seem crowded and expensive but even in the biggest tourist hot spots you can turn a corner into a side street and discover the little known. This is very true of Tower Hill, as right beside the Tower of London is a small church All Hallows by the Tower which pre-dates larger and more famous neighbour by four centuries. This little church may not be overly ornate like some of the Wren City Churches but has a particularity fascination history and houses within its walls a treasure trove of items. All Hallows by the Tower (also known as All Hallows Barking) is a real survivor. The church was founded by Saint Erkanwald and Ethelburga in 675, as a satellite church of the then powerful Abbey at barking (hence the alternate name). It was one of only a handful of medieval churches in the city of London to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666 due to its location on the eastern fringes. It was from the vantage point of church's tower that the famous diarist Samuel Pepy's surveyed the devastation , as the fire engulfed the city around him. However disaster struck nearly 300 years later in December 1940 when a bomb hit the church destroying the exterior of the building. Only the tower and the 15th century north and south walls remained. The modern building has been sensitively restore to blend in with the older features of the architecture including a Saxon arch from the original church only revealed after the World War Two bomb. I found All Hallows by the Tower to be one of the most accessible churches in the City of London. It is ultra easy to find due to its location on Byward Street right next to the Tower of London. The nearest tube is Tower hill on the Circle and District line and its on the number 100 and 15 bus routes. The church is open daily but times may vary especially if there are services on. There maybe guided tours in the afternoon during the but I was happy enough just to wander round the church on my own. All Hallows has got the right balance of information o appreciate the church to its fullest extent whilst keeping the atmosphere of a working church which can be a very difficult balance to achieve. On the day I visited there were a handful of other visitor so had space to fully enjoy All Hallows. On entering the church I bought a small pamphlet for 20 pence to guide myself round the church. There's also a larger guidebook for those who want more detail about th artefact's and the history of the church. However neither are particularly necessary, as there is a small exhibition at the West end of the church and there are information labels next to the key sights. The church is manned by volunteers. I found the lady on duty during my visit was helpful and keen to answer any questions I had about the church. I was keen to see the Saxon arch which incorporates roman tiles near he top of th arch. The other thing that was of particular inters was the font and its intricately carved Grindling Gibbons (Surely one of the best names ever) font cover. It was in the original font that William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) was baptised. Its not the original font , a the original one is now in America . That's not the only American connection the church has, as the sixth President of the United States John Quincy Adams was married here in 1797. Nnear the main altar is the medieval Lady Chapel. I was particularly fascinated by the altar tomb of John Croke an Alderman at the church in the 15th century. This tomb was shattered by the 1940 bomb but was again painstakingly reconstructed of its original glory. Next to it is the Tate Panel dating from about the sameperiod and painted by a Flemish artist,. This did not interest me, as much as I've seen so much Flemish art on my travels round Belgium and I'm not that fond of religious art really. The old is juxtaposed with then new effectively in All Hallows. There's a lovely modern brass sculpture of a mother helping her young children to walk alongside a striking modern sculpture near the alter. Like St Brides All Hallows has a fascinating crypt museum with artefact's spanning its entire history. The first thing you come to is a very complete stretch of Roman pavement again only revealed due to th 1940 bomb. Other items of interest to me were the parish records of the church from the 16th century onwards and Saxon and Roman gravestones. Th only trouble is it is quite narrow and low so those much taller than my5.7 will definitely have to bend down in places. If you have a spare half an hour and want to escape from the hoards in the tower I would really recommend All Hallows by the Tower with its fascinating past spanning the whole of London's History. Byward Street, London EC3R 5BJ 020 7481 2928 ahbtt.org.uk admission free but charges for brass rubbing. I'd highly recommend a donation ao to keep this church open weekdays.
This is London's oldest church and still serving the community.