16 August 2022

All Hallows Church by the
Tower of London claims it is
London’s oldest Church

All Hallows by the Tower claims to be the oldest church in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us spent a few hours in the City of London one evening last week, and we found time to visit a number of City churches, including All Hallows by the Tower. This church claims to be the oldest church in the City of London, although recent research questions these claims.

The church was founded by the Abbey of Barking in the year 675, 300 years before the Tower of London was built. At one time it was dedicated jointly to All Hallows (All Saints) and the Virgin Mary and at times it was also known as All Hallows Barking.

The origin and early history of All Hallows-by-the-Tower are obscure. The Anglo-Saxon abbey in Barking was founded by Earconwald or Erkenwald, along with Chertsey Abbey, before he became Bishop of London in 675. It has been claimed that the land on which All Hallows stands was granted at the time to the abbey, under Abbess Ethelburga, Bishop Erkenwald’s sister.

A charter dated 687 lists properties belonging to Barking Abbey, including two pieces of land in or near London. Neither description, however, accurately describes the location of All Hallows’ Church, inside the wall of the Roman city on the eastern side.

An arch from the Saxon church can still be seen today. In the crypt beneath is a second century Roman pavement, discovered in 1926, evidence of city life on this site for almost 2,000 years.

The proximity of the church to the Tower of London gave it many royal connections (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

According to Domesday Book in 1086, Barking Abbey possessed ‘28 houses and half a church’ in London: although the church is not named, it is usually identified with All Hallows.

All Hallows’ Church was already known as ‘Berkyncherche’ in the 12th century. The church was expanded and rebuilt several times between the 11th and 15th centuries, with elements of the Norman, 13th century and 15th century constructions still visible today.

The proximity of the church to the Tower of London gave it many royal connections, and Edward IV made one of its chapels a royal chantry.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the church belonged to Barking Abbey.

The church become the temporary burial place for a number of distinguished people after their executions on Tower Hill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church became the location for the temporary burial of a number of distinguished people following their executions on Tower Hill, including Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and Archbishop William Laud. Archbishop William Laud remained buried in a vault in the chapel for over 20 years until his body was moved after the Caroline Restoration to Saint John’s College, Oxford.

The church was badly damaged by an explosion in 1650, caused when some barrels of gunpowder stored in a warehouse beside the church exploded. The west tower and 50 nearby houses were destroyed, and there were many deaths.

The tower was rebuilt in 1658, the only example of work carried out on a church during the Commonwealth era of 1649-1660.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 started in Pudding Lane, a few hundred metres from the church. All Hallows survived through the efforts of Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn of Pennsylvania. Penn and his friend Samuel Pepys, watched London burn from the tower of the church. Samuel Pepys described it as ‘the saddest sight of desolation.’

The church was rebuilt after World War II and was rededicated in 1957 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church was restored once more in the late 19th century, but it suffered extensive bomb damage during World War II and only the tower and the walls remained.

The vicar at the time (1922-1962) was the Revd Philip TB ‘Tubby’ Clayton, founder of the Toc H movement, and the church is still the guild church of Toc H.

Clearance work after the bombing revealed an archway built of reused Roman tiles and stonework, set in a surviving wall of the mediaeval church. The reuse of Roman building materials, and comparison with arches in an early Anglo-Saxon church at Brixworth, Northamptonshire, suggested that the All Hallows arch was very early in date, and that an earlier church could have been built as early as the seventh century.

Fragments of three 11th-century stone crosses were also found during archaeological work in the 1930s.

The church was rebuilt after the war. It was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950 and was rededicated in 1957.

Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from the tower of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Many portions of the old church survived World War II and have been sympathetically restored. The outer walls are 15th-century, with the Saxon arch doorway surviving from the original church.

Many brasses remain in the interior. Three outstanding wooden statues of saints dating from the 15th and 16th centuries can also be found in the church. The Baptismal font cover was carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons for £12, and is one of the finest pieces of carving in London.

The reredos at the High Altar reredos is a post-war mural by Brian Thomas.

The church museum in the crypt displays portions of a Roman pavement and many artefacts discovered below the church in 1926-1927. The exhibits include Saxon and religious artefacts and the 17th century church plate.

The altar in the crypt is of plain stone from the castle of Richard I at Athlit in the Holy Land.

Many prominent people are associated with All Hallows’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Prominent people associated with All Hallows’ Church include:

• Cardinal John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, beheaded at the Tower, buried 1535
• Sir Thomas More, beheaded at the Tower, 1535
• Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Caroline divine, baptised, 1555
• William Penn, Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, baptised on 23 October 1644
• Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury, beheaded at the Tower, buried 1645
• Samuel Pepys, watched the Great Fire of London from the church tower, 1666
• Judge Jeffreys, notorious ‘hanging judge’, married 1667
• John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the US, and Louisa Catherine Johnson married 1797
• Albert Schweitzer recorded organ music at All Hallows
• Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton, founder of Toc H, Vicar 1922-1962
• Cecil Jackson-Cole, founder of Help the Aged, Action Aid, co-founder of Oxfam

All Hallows has connections with many city livery companies (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

All Hallows has connections with many livery companies and the Vicar, the Revd Katherine Hedderly, is chaplain to:

• The Worshipful Company of Bakers, with a history dating back over 800 years, holds its annual Thanksgiving Service and Carol Service at All Hallows.

• The Company of Watermen and Lightermen, established in 1555 to regulate watermen and wherrymen carrying passengers on the River Thames. The company organises an annual race on the Thames, and holds its annual installation service and its Carol Service at All Hallows.

• The Worshipful Company of World Traders, one of the modern Livery Companies, was granted livery status in 2000. The company’s annual Thanksgiving Service and Christmas Carol service are held in the church.

All Hallows by the Tower, together with Saint Olave’s Hart Street, is the Ward Church of the Tower Ward of the City of London.

The Knollys Rose Ceremony, held annually in June, starts at the church and processes to the Mansion House, where a single rose is presented to the Lord Mayor as a ‘quit rent.’ The parish annual Beating of the Bounds ceremony includes a boat trip to the middle of the Thames to ‘beat’ the water that forms the southern boundary.

The Revd Katherine Hedderly is the Vicar of All Hallows. She has been an Associate Vicar for Ministry at Saint Martin in the Fields. She has a background in the film and television business. She is also Area Dean to the City, chairing the Deanery Synod.

The Parish Eucharist is celebrated in All Hallows’ Church at 11 am each Sunday, and services are held in the church throughout the week.

All Hallows by the Tower claims to be the oldest church in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Tuesday 16 August 2022

Trinity Street, Cambridge, on a quiet Sunday afternoon … Vaughan Williams was an undergraduate and AE Housman a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Sheffield, where I have a consultation later today (16 August) with the Steretactic Radiosurgery Team at Royal Hallamshire Hospital. This follows my stroke five months ago (18 March 2022) and, hopefully, is in advance of a procedure in the weeks ahead.

But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19: 24) … camels on a mountain track near Fethiye in Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist this morning in the Lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Matthew 19: 23-30 (NRSVA):

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

27 Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ 28 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

Wilderhope Manor, on Wenlock Edge, Shropshire … here I was first introduced to the music of Vaughan Williams (Photograph: Graham Taylor. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s reflection: ‘From far, from eve and morning’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

Throughout this week, I am listening to On Wenlock Edge, a setting by Vaughan Williams of six poems from AE Housman’s Shropshire Lad.

I was recalling yesterday [15 August 2022] that I was first introduced to the music of Vaughan Williams when I was a 19-year-old and I was staying in Wilderhope Manor on Wenlock Edge in Shropshire in what became my first memorable introduction to the great English composers.

I spent some time on Wenlock Edge and in the neighbouring villages before hitch-hiking back to Lichfield – a journey of about 50 miles. Back in Lichfield, I experienced a self-defining moment in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and was invited for the first time to the Folk Masses in the Dominican Retreat Centre at Spode House, near Rugeley, about six miles north of Lichfield.

Ever since, the music of Vaughan Williams, especially his setting in On Welock Edge, have been associated with my understanding of spiritual growth and development.

This morning [16 August 2022], I am listening to ‘From far, from eve and morning,’ the second of the six settings by Vaughan Williams of these poems by AE Housman (1859-1936), published in 1896.

In reacting to the Boer War, in which his brother Herbert was killed, Housman powerfully anticipated the horror and futility of World War I, and his poems would find fresh relevance of with the outbreak of World War I.

His landscape is a mythical, idealised Shropshire, similar to the Wessex of the novels of Thomas Hardy. His dominant themes are love, and a post-industrial pastoral nostalgia, infused with expressions of disillusionment at the sacrifice of the young soldiers going to war, never to return.

Vaughan Williams composed On Wenlock Edge – a cycle of six songs for tenor, piano and string quartet – in 1909, a year after he had spent three months in Paris studying under Maurice Ravel, a composer three years younger than him. The first performance took place in the Aeolian Hall, London, later that year.

In the 1920s, Vaughan Williams made an arrangement of On Wenlock Edge for full orchestra that was first performed on 24 January 1924 by John Booth, with the composer conducting. Vaughan Williams preferred this version to his original.

The second of these songs, ‘From far, from eve and morning,’ is No 32 in Housman’s original sequence. The late Trevor Hold of Leicester University (Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-composers, 2002) describes this song as one of Vaughan Williams’s ‘finest achievements.’

Here, after the elaborate accompaniment of the opening song, ‘On Wenlock Edge,’ Vaughan Williams turns to what he describes as ‘utmost simplicity: wide-spreading piano chords underpin a vocal line that never strays far from its home note (B natural) …’

2, From far, from eve and morning

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.

Now – for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart –
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What you have in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.

‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19: 24) … a camel near the Goreme Open Air Museum and the rock-cut churches of Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Tuesday 16 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Human Trafficking in Durgapur.’ This them was introduced on Sunday by Raja Moses, Project Co-ordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project, Diocese of Durgapur, Church of North India.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the work of the Anti-Human Trafficking Project in the Diocese of Durgapur. May we support this initiative to identify human trafficking and support victims of human trafficking.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org