An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile                                
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile

                                 
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All Hallows Barking by the Tower

   
          St Anthony of Egypt

                                 
         
Probably the busiest and most visited of all the City churches, and one of the City's largest. A daughter house to Barking Abbey in Essex, there was a church here by the end of the first millennium - thus, the church predates its huge neighbour, the Tower of London. The church was rebuilt over the centuries, the tower being replaced as late as the 1660s after a 1649 explosion in a nearby gunpowder warehouse had made the old one unsafe.

All Hallows seems to have been a fairly High Church parish which enthusiastically embraced the reforms of Archbishop Laud in the early 17th Century. This, of course, enraged the puritans, for whom the City of London was a power base. Elizabeth and Wayland Young recall that the churchwarden of All Hallows was accused of idolatry and popish practices because he allowed the presence of a statue of a Saint in the church. In his defence he is said to have replied that it stood there so many years, and had done no miracle, therefore we conceived it could not be a Saint. They had it burned anyway. Ironically, Laud himself would be briefly interred at All Hallows after his execution in the Tower, before being moved elsewhere in kinder and more gentle times.

In general, the late medieval Perpendicular church survived the Great Fire of 1666, the progress of which was watched from the top of the new tower by Samuel Pepys. The City Corporation checked the progress of the conflagration by blowing up surrounding houses to make firebreaks. The flames reached within a few feet of the church and scorched the porch, that was all.

The wealth of the Parish in the late 17th Century allowed for a rich refurnishing in the style of the day, including a font cover and probably a reredos by Grinling Gibbons, as well as a range of heraldic glass. There were several restorations in the Victorian era, but at the start of the 20th Century the writer AE Daniell could state that the general appearance of the interior has probably changed but little during the last two centuries and a half.

However, the church was completely gutted in the firestorm of the night of December 29th 1940. All that was left standing were the tower, parts of the arcades and the outer walls. The restoration proceeded after the War under the capable hands of Seely & Paget, and the church was rededicated in 1957. The result is a large, open space with a crisp, Festival of Britain freshness to it in a style that might be reasonably described as Concrete Perpendicular. Into this clean space the new furnishings have been added thoughtfully and sparingly. Some of them are old - the 17th Century pulpit was rescued from St Swithin, destroyed the same night. The shell-like sounding board by Seely & Paget above it is splendid - I think it looks like a scallop shell, but Simon Bradley in the revised Pevsner thought it a flat bracket fungus.

The reredos is by Brian Thomas, better known for his windows at St Vedast and St Sepulchre. The rich font cover by Grinling Gibbons had been put into storage and so survived the bombs. With its abundance of flowers and fruits, it is generally considered one of the very best examples of English carving of the period. Indeed, everything here is of the highest quality, and yet there was no attempt to create a homogeneous whole as at St Mary le Bow or St Bride. It is still possible to wander around here and be surprised.

And one of the surprises is the undercroft with its Saxon work revealed by the bombing and consequent restoration. You reach it by steps beneath the tower. This is a church to spend a leisurely hour in, and still be able to return and notice something you didn't spot before.

                         

Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Byward Street EC3R 5BJ - 4/001
status: parish church
access: open Monday to Friday, Sunday for services, sometimes on Saturday but often in use for events.

All Hallows Barking by the Tower All Hallows Barking by the Tower, 1911 All Hallows Barking by the Tower All Hallows Barking by the Tower (1907) All Hallows Barking by the Tower (1907) chancel chancel from the north-west All Hallows by the Tower Untitled All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower soldier's boots and St Dunstan Edward Grobbe and John Rolff angel and boat baptism by Keith New 15th Century London We Preach Christ Crucified war memorial All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower undercroft columbarium Lost with all hands in the River Plate All Hallows by the Tower baptistery Sea Scouts draped cross citizen and skinner Christopher Tennant, Bertie Tower and Wilfred Pepper Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water Sir Ernest Shackleton's crows nest her incomparable husband All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows by the Tower

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          home   index   map   latest   e-mail   about this site   resources   small print   simonknott.co.uk   norfolkchurches.co.uk   suffolkchurches.co.uk
     
An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile
                               
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile