I have been a volunteer guide at All Hallows for over ten years and love taking visitors around the church.
The first church on this site, which was originally on land owned by Barking Abbey, is said to have been built in 675. The church used to be known as All Hallows Barking but 300 years after the first church was built the Tower of London was built next door and today the church styles itself as All Hallows by the Tower.
It has always been on the same site but whereas today it is located on the south side of Byward Street, a look at a medieval map will show that Byward Street didn’t exist and the church stood on the corner of Seething Lane to the west and Tower Street to the south.
The church was enlarged in the 15th century and in 1658 the church tower was rebuilt because of damage caused by a gunpowder explosion close by. The church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 but in December 1940 it wasn’t so lucky.
All Hallows was bombed twice in December 1940. On 29 December 1940, which was the worst night of the bombing in the City of London during the Blitz, incendiary bombs set the church alight and the damage was extensive.
The north and south walls survived as did the tower but the interior at ground level was gutted. The church was rebuilt after World War 2 and consecrated in 1957.
The bombing revealed a stone archway previously concealed behind walls.
All Hallows describe it as the oldest piece of standing structure in any City of London church and in the 1940s archaeologists dated the arch to the 7th century.
The section of the River Thames between Limehouse and London Bridge is known as the Pool of London and until the 19th century this was the hub of the Port of London.
For almost 200 years goods and people arriving in London and leaving London by ship arrived and left from here.
All Hallows was an important church serving the riverside community and many of the stained‐glass panels in the south aisle windows display the coats of arms of the many shipping companies located near to All Hallows.
There are models of ships displayed in the church, many of which were gifted by shipping companies.
In the Mariner’s Chapel in the south east corner of the church the British maritime Foundation maintain a memorial book of those who lost their lives at sea and have no known grave. It is here that you will also find a glass memorial panel in memory of those who have lost their lives in the River Thames.
In the 16th and 17th centuries All Hallows was the nearest church to the public execution site at Tower Hill. Today you can see the original site across Byward Street in Trinity Square Gardens. After beheadings, bodies were often first taken to All Hallows.
Bishop John Fisher ‐ a Catholic Bishop and Chancellor of Cambridge University. He refused to accept Henry V111 as Supreme Head of the Church of England and was beheaded in June 1535. His body was brought to All Hallows and he was buried outside the north porch.
Subsequently he was taken to the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincular, at the Tower of London and buried there. Alongside Thomas Moore.
Thomas Moore ‐ chancellor in the reign of Henry V111. He was executed two weeks after Bishop Fisher in July 1535 for refusing to recognise Henry VIII’s divorce and arguing against the split from Rome.
It is said that his body was also first brought into All Hallows but quickly moved to the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower of London which is where he is buried.
Archbishop Laud ‐ William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and had been an early favourite of Charles 1. Parliamentarians and Puritans became increasingly concerned about what they saw as Laud encouraging a revival of Catholic practices and manipulating the King. Laud was arrested and brought to trial in 1644.
The following year he was executed at Tower Hill and his body was brought into All Hallows. He was buried in the church but later his remains were exhumed, and he was reburied in the chapel of his old college St John’s Oxford.
Many other notable people have been associated with All Hallows.
Samuel Pepys ‐ known for the diary he kept between 1660 and 1669 when he lived and worked at the Navy Office in Seething Lane. Whilst there, he made his name as a very able Administrator.
His diary is a fascinating account of the life of a man who, living with his wife Elizabeth and their female servant, enjoyed his food, wine and female company.
He knew the King and many of those who wielded power and influence and was welcome at Court.
He left us one of the most complete eyewitness accounts of the Fire of London and it was this event that led him to All Hallows. The fire began in the early hours of Sunday 2 September 1666.
On the Wednesday, Pepys walked down Seething Lane, climbed the tower at All Hallows and surveyed the city which he described as the "the saddest sight of desolation".
William Penn ‐ on 23 October 1644 Admiral William Penn and his wife Margaret brought their new‐born son, also known as William, to All Hallows to be baptised. As a child young William was schooled in the schoolroom above the north porch of the church.
He became a Quaker and an advocate of religious freedom.
William’s father had loaned Charles 11 money for a rebuilding programme and after Admiral Penn’s death when his son asked for repayment of the loan, the king was unable to do so.
Instead he offered William land in America on condition it was named after Admiral Penn and so the state of Pennsylvania came into being.
The font in which young William was baptised is now situated in Christ Church Philadelphia, the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, and founded in 1695 as a condition of William Penn’s Charter.
John Quincy Adams ‐ son of the second President of the United States (John Adams) married Louisa Catherine at All Hallows on 26 July 1797.
Louisa, the daughter of an American father and an English mother, was a resident of the parish. John Quincy was aged 30 and Luisa 22. They had met when children in Nantes, France.
In 1825 John Quincy became the sixth President of the United States and his wife the first foreign born wife of a US President.
Reverend Phillip [Tubby] Clayton ‐ Tubby joined All Hallows as the vicar in 1922 and during World War 1 served as an Army Chaplain.
His name was widely known because in 1915, together with fellow Army Chaplain Neville Talbot, he set up Talbot House, also known as TOC H, which is a Christian rest and recreation centre in the town of Poperinge in Belgium.
Talbot House welcomed all soldiers, regardless of rank. After the war TOC H groups were set up in towns and cities worldwide, primarily in Britain and Commonwealth countries.
All Hallows became the TOC H church and, in the church, you can find an illuminated casket containing the lamp, the symbol of TOC H, which was presented toTubby by the then Prince of Wales in the 1920s. On the casket are shields of towns where TOC H groups were established.
Tubby had an international network and after the bombing of All Hallows in 1940, he was able to call on friends and supporters for help to rebuild the church.
His ashes lie in the columbarium at All Hallows and in the north aisle of the church is an effigy of Tubby with his dog Chippie at his feet.
All Hallows has been a place of Christian worship for over 1300 years and in 2019 the Bishop of London appointed The Revd Katherine Hedderly as the new Vicar of the church.
Katherine was previously an Associate Vicar for Ministry at the church of St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square.
A look at All Hallows calendar on the church website shows the regular services held each week as well as various other events held across the year.
A team of City of London guides offer free tours of All Hallows from the end of March to November.