The first in a series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …
The church of All Hallows Barking, also known as All Hallows-by-the-Tower, was originally built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the later Medieval and post-Medieval. It 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 it was nonetheless partially rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.
It was then 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 arch of around 675 survives in the nave; together with two Saxon crosses, of 900 and 1000, in the crypt. The cross of 900 bears a Saxon Runic inscription. The one of 1000 features on one of its faces a depiction of Christ trampling beasts, a common motif in Dark Age iconography.
Among the many surviving Medieval – to Post-Medieval – features are an altar table of stone from the thirteenth-century Crusaders’ castle at At(h)lit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; 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.
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).
(*) Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644. Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.