All Hallows Barking

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City, despite a number having been closed down during the Reformation. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113.



All Hallows Barking (“Barkyng” on sixteenth-century “Agas” Map/Map of Early Modern London) , also known as All Hallows-by-the-Tower, was originally built by Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking and sister of Bishop Erkenwald, in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the later Medieval and post-Medieval.

The church was   undamaged in the Great  Fire, thanks to the action of Admiral William Penn,  who ordered  his men to blow up some  surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak; although nonetheless partially rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.  Incidentally,  Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644, and went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

However, it was gutted in the Blitz, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.


A Saxon stone arch possibly as old as the late seventh century, c. 675, incorporating Roman tiles, survives in the nave, …



… together with  two Saxon stone crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, in the crypt, the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Saxon Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts, a characteristic of “Dark Age” iconography (also in the crypt, incidentally, is an in situ section of Roman tessellated pavement).

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In one of the chapels leading off the crypt is a so-called “Pluteus Stone” featuring two Peacocks drinking from the Fountain of Life, thought to have come from an Eastern Orthodox Church in the  Byzantine region, and tentatively dated to sometime in the late eleventh century   (the “East-West Schism” took place in 1054).  There is an almost identical one in the iconostasis in the church of Santa Maria dell’Assunta, otherwise known as Torcello Cathedral, on the island of Torcello in the Veneto in Italy.


Among the  many surviving – later – Medieval to post-Medieval features in the church are an undercroft  chapel   and   an altar table of stone salvaged by the Knights Templar from the thirteenth-century Crusaders’ castle at At(h)lit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land (note also that the trials of certain Knights Templar took place in the church in 1311); …




… numerous monuments, including brasses to William Tong (d. 1389) and John Bacon (d. 1437), and a canopied tomb to John Croke (d. 1477); …


… a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one  of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire (noting in his diary entry for Wednesday 5th September, “I up to the top of Barkinge steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw”).

Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, dating to 1678; …


… and the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682.



On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London).




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