Monthly Archives: October 2016

St Dunstan In The West And An Honest Solicitor

The church of St Dunstan in the West can be found in Fleet Street on the edge of the City. The current church is not that old having been built between 1830 and 1833, however a church has been here for many centuries.

The original church was dismantled as part of the widening of Fleet Street and the land available for the replacement church was slightly further back and with limited space available, the design and layout of the church is somewhat unusual.

Walking up Fleet Street and heading towards the Strand, the tower of St Dunstan in the West still stands clear of the surrounding buildings.

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Indeed not that much has changed in the past 100 years:

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The first mention of a church on the site was around the year 1170 and the core of the medieval church survived the Great Fire and was demolished as part of the widening of Fleet Street when the new church was built further back as a replacement.

The church was built by John Shaw between the years 1830 and 1832. John Shaw senior died in 1832 and his son, also a John, completed the church. Various books claim that the tower and octagonal lantern were modelled on either St Botolph’s in Boston or All Souls Pavement in York – both are similar and we will probably never know which was the real inspiration.

The church was damaged during the last war, but was fully restored in 1950.

Just to the right of the tower is the clock which was made by Thomas Harris in 1671 for the original church. It was saved by Lord Hertford in 1828 just before the original church was demolished, who then installed it on his villa in Regent’s Park. It was returned to the church in 1935. In a recess behind the clock are two figures either side of a pair of bells.

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To the right of the clock, further back from the road is the oldest statue of Queen Elizabeth I. Made probably around 1586 and therefore during the reign of Elizabeth I, the statue was originally on the Ludgate, one of the gated entrances to the City. The plaque below the statue reads:

“This statue of Queen Elizabeth formerly stood on the West side of LUDGATE. That gate being taken down in 1760 to open the Street, was given by the City to Sir Francis Gosling, Alderman of this Ward who caused it to be placed here”.

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Outside the front of the church is also the Northcliffe Memorial from 1930, who arranged the return of the clock.

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The Book “Fleet Street in Seven Centuries”, by Walter G. Bell. published in 1912 provides an insight into how St. Dunstan’s in the West featured in the life of the city, along with the types of incidents that troubled the lives of those who lived in the area.

The earliest example is from the early years of the reign of Richard II (1377 – 1399) and tells the story of one William Hughlot who, within Temple Bar, in the parish of St Dunstan’s West, Fletestrete entered a shop owned by John Elyngham, a barber and by force of arms, William Hughlot drew his dagger and wounded, beat and maltreated the luckless barber.

Whilst this attack was taking place, the barber’s wife made a great outcry which attracted the attention of John Rote, Alderman who tried to stop the attack, however Hughlot then started to attack the Alderman who would have been killed had not the Alderman “manfully defended himself”.

John Wilman, a constable of Fletestrete seeing Hughnot trying to kill the Alderman arrested Hughnot but was also wounded in the process.

The attack on a city Alderman was classed as “a greater offence against the City’s dignity than would have been a massacre of princes”.

At trial, the judgement was that Hughlot should have his right hand, with which he first drew the dagger and afterwards drew his sword upon the Alderman cut off. This was described as the least punishment befitting such an offence. The sentence was about to be carried out, however the Alderman John Rote “in reverence for our lord the King and at the request of divers lords who entreated for the said William, begged of the Mayor and Alderman that execution of the judgement aforesaid might be remitted unto him”

After nine days of imprisonment Hughlot was released, but had to “carry from the Guildhall, through Chepe and Fletestrete, a lighted wax candle of three pounds weight to the Church of St. Dunstan, and there make offering of the same. And he was to find sureties for good behavior.”

In the 17th century, the church is described as having “gathered a little outlying colony of booksellers, who had their shops in the churchyard”,

During much of the 16th and 17th centuries the wardmote for the southside of the ward of Farringdon Without would meet at St Dunstan’s on St. Thomas’s Day when a grand jury and petty jury would consider local affairs. Example of the affairs brought to the wardmote were:

  • Thomas Smythe, a waterman dwelling in Chancery Lane, resorted to the Temple Stairs and the Whitefriars Bridge to wash his clothes. For that he was presented to the Court of Alderman in 1559 as a common annoyer of all citizens.
  • James Dalton suffered apprentices to play at dice and lose their master’s money and was also judged a common annoyer.
  • In 1560, Hugh Barett, apprentice to Miles Fawcett, cloth worker was whipped, for that he had in a vile manner did hang a cord full of horns at the door of Henry Ewart, an officer of this City and the same on the Church door, the day the said officer was married.
  • A Masterman kept a cellar under the house of Richard Blackman in Fleet Street, “wherein is much figytings, quarrelinge, and other great disorders to the great disquiet of his neighbours”.
  • In 1603 there was presented Joan Spronoy, a woman given to slanderings, scoldings, and babbling, to the great disturbance of her neighbours and others
  • In 1642, Widd Moody from Fleet Street was presented  as she was found to keep a disorderly house, and for that in her widdhood she hath had as is credibly reported two children, and still doth do incontinently

Such was daily life in the area around St. Dunstan in the West.

The church of St Dunstan in the West escaped destruction during the Great Fire of London but was quickly put into good use when it was found to have escaped unharmed as it was soon stacked high with household contents from the houses that had been destroyed by the fire. The year preceding the Great Fire was not a good one in St. Dunstan as in 1665, out of 856 burials, 568 in only three months are marked “P” for Plague.

The following two prints show the original church. The only feature that was carried to the new design that we see now is the clock and the alcove above the clock with the two figures striking bells.

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, the area around St Dunstan was known for publishers and booksellers. Among these was John Smethwicke who had premises “under the diall” of St. Dunstan’s Church and who published “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Richard Marriot, a St. Dunstan’s bookseller published Isaak Walton’s “Complete Angler” and Matthias Walker was one of the publishers of John Milton’s “The Paradise Lost”.

The following print from 1832 titled “New church of St Dunstan in the West” shows the new church when almost complete. There is a queue of people running to the left from the entrance to the church, possibly for the first opening of the new building.

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Time to leave Fleet Street and walk into the church. Immediately on entering the church is a plaque to the memory of the architect of the church, John Shaw. The plaque reads:

“The foundation stone of this Church was laid on the 27th day of July 1831 and consecrated to the worship of Almighty God on the 31st day of January 1833: John Shaw, Architect who died July 30th 1832, the 12th day after its external completion, and in the 57th year of his age. To his memory this tablet is here placed by the Inhabitants of this Parish.”

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Once inside the church, the unusual layout can be seen. With the widening of Fleet Street, there was limited space to build a traditional style of church with a long nave, so an octagonal shape was used to maximise use of the space available and to provide alcoves around the edge of the church for uses such as individual chapels.

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Along the walls of the church are a number of memorials and tablets including the following to Hobson Judkin – The Honest Solicitor.

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Hobson Judkin was a solicitor at the nearby Clifford’s Inn and as well as recording his honesty, the tablet also probably tells us more about how other solicitors of the time were seen if it was significant to record the honesty of one individual. I found the last will and testament of Hobson Judkin in the National Archives, however it was written over two pages of very condensed script and to my untrained eye only the occasional words were legible. I will have to work on this more.

The closing sentence “Go reader and imitate Hobson Judkin” has to be one of the best epitaphs – who would not want to be remembered in this way?

Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London mentions that in the record of the parish written by a Mr Noble, there is a remark on the extraordinary longevity attained by the incumbents of St. Dunstan. Dr. White held the living for 49 years, Dr. Grant for 59, the Rev. Joseph Williamson for 41 and the Rev. William Romaine for 46. Thornbury makes the telling remark that “the solution of the problem probably is that a good and secure income is the best promoter of longevity”. Then as ever, poverty does not result in a long life.

St Dunstan in the West is an Anglican Guild Church, and is also home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London and has a superb altar screen that was brought to the church from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966.

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The monument to Cuthbert Fetherston who died on the 10th December 1615, aged 78. Underneath is a plaque recording that his wife Katharine Fetherston was buried nearby in 1622 – “Who as they lived piously in wedlock more than forty years. So at their death desired to be intered together”.

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The magnificent roof of the church, above eight identical windows.

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The premises of the bank of C. Hoare and Co have been opposite the church since 1690 and the bank has had a long association with the church. Several members of the Hoare family are buried in the church, and the bank donated the stained glass windows behind the high altar.

The bank opposite still has the sign of “the golden bottle” hanging outside the entrance – a reminder of when buildings did not use numbers and some visible symbol was used to mark the location of specific people and businesses.

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My visit to the church was on the day when the Friends of City Churches host visitors and I am grateful to the very knowledgeable team who provided considerable information on the history of the church.

I also used a number of books to research the history of St. Dunstan in the West, including the excellent Fleet Street in Seven Centuries by Walter G. Bell. Churches provide a tangible link with Londoners, but so can books.

My copy of Fleet Street in Seven Centuries was originally owned by Enid F. L. Goodall who received the book as a present from her mother in February 1918. Inscribed on the inside cover of the book is “In memory of February 1918 E.F.S.G, C.E.G.G, F. Ln. G in Fleet Street” (the last set of initials were those of Enid’s mother).

On the top of the cover page of the book, Enid has written her name and the date Feb 25th 1918.

Finding the names of previous owners written in books is very common, however what was unusual about Enid is that she used her two middle initials so I wondered if I could track her down.

Enid was born on the 11th January 1890 in Dulwich. In the 1891 census her father Arthur was listed as a Photographer. In the 1939 census she had moved to Lowestoft in Suffolk where she is living with Hilda Allerton (a widow) and Georgina Unwin. Both Enid and Hilda are listed as being of Private Means whilst Georgina is listed as being in Domestic Service. Enid apparently stayed in Suffolk for the rest of her life as her death is recorded in Waveney in 1990, shortly after her 100th birthday. An article and photograph of her 100th birthday is in the Lowestoft Journal, I found the record but not the actual page which is held in the Suffolk Record Office.

So many millions of people have passed through the streets of London over the centuries and every so often it is possible to get a glimpse of an individual. It would be fascinating to know why Fleet Street on the 25th February 1918 was so memorable to Enid Goodall.

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Warehouses And Barges In The Heart Of The City

I have been travelling and working outside of the country for some of the last two weeks, so my apologies that this is a rather brief post.

Long before the docks running east along the River Thames from Tower Bridge were built, the docks of London lined the river in the heart of the City. Large ships could only travel as far as London Bridge, so to get to the warehouses further west along the river, goods had to be moved onto barges which could then travel underneath the bridges.

As the size of ships and the number visiting London grew, the London Docks, West India Docks, Royal Victoria Docks etc. diverted trade from the centre of the City, however the warehouses along the river west from Tower Bridge continued on until gradually closing during the last decades of the 20th century.

There were a large number of warehouses lining the river between Southwark and Blackfriars Bridges and some of my father’s photos show one of these warehouses in action.

This was the view, looking west from Southwark Bridge. The Vinter’s Company Hall is on the extreme right of the photo and just past this is a barge being unloaded with sacks being carried by crane into the warehouse.

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To save space, the cranes were generally mounted on the side of the warehouse. Barges would be taken alongside and goods transferred to and from the barge. If you look to the top right, the control cabin of the crane can be seen along with a man in what appears to be a white shirt operating the crane.

This is the same scene today. The riverside facade of the Vinter’s Hall was rebuilt in the 1990’s. In the distance, the curved Unilever House can be seen on the right and on the left, Shell Mex House.

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This is a wider view of the river. The Oxo Tower is standing clear on the south bank of the river.

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This is the same view today. The Oxo Tower is still there, but is hidden behind the developments on the south bank.

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My father walked a bit further along Southwark Bridge and took the following view looking back at the warehouse. This shows the way cranes were installed on the edge of the buildings. The length of the boom was needed to reach barges moored in front of the warehouse and to reach the top floors of the warehouse. This avoided the need to transport goods between floors within the warehouse.

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The same view today.

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Although very little is left of the old warehouses that once covered so much of the banks of the river, if you look down on the river edge at low tide, you can often see large areas of white chalk. To provide a stable and flat surface on which the barges could settle at low tide whilst moored alongside the warehouse, chalk was compacted into the surface of the river bank.

Reading accounts of the river during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is hard to believe that the river was once so busy. A couple of prints from the British Museum show an amazing number of vessels and considerable activity on the river. It was the high number of ships, growth in the size of ships and lack of warehouse and mooring space along the river in the heart of the city that resulted in the development of the large docks east of Tower Bridge in the 19th century.

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This print from 1841 shows London Bridge with Southwark Cathedral on the left and the Monument on the right.

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A few weeks ago I was contacted by David Smith whose mother had taken a number of photos in London during the early 1960s.

They are all in colour and provide some fascinating views of the city and I am very grateful to David for letting me publish some of them.

The following photo is of the warehouses just a bit further along the river towards Blackfriars Bridge. In the background is St. Paul’s Cathedral with the dome covered in scaffolding – I have not seen a photo of this before.

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The warehouse on the left with the four red cranes and red doors and windows is the Sunlight Wharf of the LEP Company and LEP Transport Ltd.

When the LEP warehouses were redeveloped in the 1980s, the LEP Group published a fascinating history of the area on which the warehouse had been built. The book provides an insight into the operation of the warehouse:

“The four swinging cranes at Sunlight Wharf served an incessant queue of barges maneuvering for a position at the wharf. Cargoes varied from animal pelts to Polish onions, which were unloaded straight out of the barges into hinged flaps outside the doors of the appropriate floor of the warehouse. The fifth floor of the warehouse remained exclusively offices, the other floors were used for storage and as a Bond warehouse. After the Second World War the scene changed, the number of barges diminished and the ten ton Butters crane replaced the four swinging cranes. This could cope with a greater load and could unload straight from a barge into a waiting vehicle. It was for many years the only – and the last – working crane on the City’s riverfront. It was dismantled in January 1983, defeated by containerisation. Likewise Sunlight Wharf had the distinction of being the last wharf operating as such in the City.”

The Butters crane is the one immediately to the left of the LEP Sunlight Wharf buildings.

I took the following photo of the crane and Sunlight Wharf buildings just before demolition. I was walking along the new White Lion Hill which had been constructed as part of the development of the area to lead down from Queen Victoria Street to the Embankment. See here for the full post and photos of the area and excavations of Baynard’s castle.

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Included in the photos that David sent was the following taken from Tower Bridge. Note the cranes along the southern bank of the river and the large ship docked on the right of London Bridge.

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And the following view from London Bridge. The cranes on the right are along the warehouses that backed onto Pickle Herring Street.

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Another view, again showing the size of ship that would moor in this stretch of the river, alongside the warehouses at Pickle Herring Street.

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The cranes along this stretch of the river have long gone. Some of the old warehouse buildings still survive, but now serve other purposes. The majority of the docks east of Tower Bridge have also closed apart from Tilbury Docks as the size of ships continued to grow along with the large areas of land needed for container storage. I hope to cover the London Docks in far more detail in the future.

My thanks again to David Smith for letting me see and publish some of his mother’s photos.

I mentioned at the start, that this is a brief post as I have been travelling for work over the last few weeks. I flew back into Heathrow one evening last week and had a window seat on the right side of the plane as the route was over the south of London providing a fantastic view of the city on a clear night.

Flying over London provides a wonderful opportunity to see the layout of the city, the river, rail tracks, buildings etc. and at night the city looks fantastic. Whilst the majority of other passengers seemed oblivious to the view of London, I had my eyes and phone pressed against the window taking photos as the plane flew over south London, and consolidated the photos into the following video.

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The view starts with the river and Tower Bridge as well as the dark thin line of the very straight rail track into London Bridge station, flying to the west and the red lit London Eye and ending with Chelsea Bridge and the dark of the park in front of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

In centuries past, travelers to London from abroad would have traveled up the Thames and landed at one of the many steps along the river. Now they fly over the city and land to the west.

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The Roman Wall On Tower Hill

Tower Hill is one of the best places to see remnants from London’s early history. A couple of weeks ago I featured the church of All Hallows by the Tower with the Saxon arch and Roman floor, this week it is the turn of the Roman Wall on Tower Hill.

This is my father’s photo from 1947 showing a length of Roman wall on Tower Hill.

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It was easy to locate this length of wall, the cut out section at the end of the wall is a clear marker of which side of the wall is the subject of the photo. My father took the photo in the afternoon as the sun was shining directly onto the wall. When I visited, I made the mistake of being there in the morning when the sun was just over the eastern edge of the wall and caused problems trying to get the same photo, so I took the following slightly edge on, still with some impact from the sun, however it clearly shows the same cut out section and has the benefit of positioning the location of the wall by showing the Tower of London in the background.

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Today, this length of wall stands in isolation, however this area of Tower Hill was once full of buildings and as can be seen from my father’s photo there is a building at the end of the wall and parts of the roof of a building on the other side of the wall can just be seen.

The wall today is just outside Tower Hill Station, however in 1947 the station did not exist. An earlier Tower Hill Station had closed in 1884 and Mark Lane Station (located opposite All Hallows by the Tower) had served the area. Mark Lane Station (more on this in a future post) closed in 1967 when the present Tower Hill Station opened.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London shows the route of the underground (the black and white line) with Mark Lane Station clearly marked in the centre of the map opposite the church, and no mention of Tower Hill Station, as it did not exist at this time.

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One of my books on London is a little publication with the title “London Wall Through Eighteen Centuries”. Published in 1937 for the Council for Tower Hill Improvement, the book is a detailed history and survey of the London Wall with articles on the history of the wall in Roman, Medieval, Tudor and later times, and a detailed guide of where to find the wall (one of my many future projects is to use this book as a guide to walking the wall today to see how the wall, its visibility, condition and the route has changed since 1937).

One of the photos in the book is the same section of the wall as my father photographed with the same cut out section at the end of the wall and the same markings on the wall. I will have to return one afternoon and get a better photo with the sun in the right position.

The photo shows how the wall was part of the surrounding buildings – very different to today.

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My father also photographed parts of a Roman tombstone which had been found on Tower Hill. Two parts of the tombstone were found, with the first top section in 1852 and the lower section during construction of an electricity substation at Tower Hill in 1935. The following photo shows these parts, which I believe are the originals inserted in a surrounding stone with the missing lettering added to the smooth stone on the top block.

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The words Dis Manibvs confirm this to be a tombstone as they mean “to the shades of the dead”. The middle section is missing, however the tombstone appears to be to Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, the procurator of the province of Britain after Boudica’s revolt, so very early in the Roman occupation of Britain. The tombstone was set up by his wife, Julia Pacata Indiana.

If the stones in my father’s photo are the originals, I believe they have since been moved to the British Museum and today a modern replica exists at Tower Hill. I have not had time to check, but if you know if the originals are at the British Museum, or another location I would be interested to know.

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There is a small park area on the opposite side of the wall, this was occupied by buildings in the earlier photos above.

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There is another large section of wall on Tower Hill, although not so visible. This sections runs further back from the above section between offices on the right and the CitizenM hotel on the left.

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The book “London Wall Through Eighteen Centuries” has another photo of the wall at Tower Hill, but of a section that does not now exist. The following photo is captioned “The Roman Wall at Trinity Place, Tower Hill, being destroyed when that part of the Inner Circle Railway was constructed in 1882. The east side of the wall showing the foundations, external plinth and one bonding course.”

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I assume that this part of the wall needed to be destroyed due to the cut and cover technique of building this section of the underground.

The book provides more detail on the wall at Tower Hill. In the section titled “Where to find the wall” by Walter G. Bell, he writes about the Tower Hill section:

“It is built into Barber’s Bonded Warehouses, which you enter from Cooper’s Row, Trinity Square – or, more truthfully, I might say this part of the wide-spreading vaults and floors is added to the old City Wall. Long ago, when Barber’s premises were about to rise under scaffolding, the builder found the City Wall there standing, and I picture him gazing at it, lost in thought, in puzzling wonder what he should do. To destroy it with pickaxe and shovel would be a herculean and costly task. It is immensely thick, and hard as iron. How long ago that was I cannot tell, but the partner of Messrs. Joseph Barber & Co. who showed me the wall, with lamp held at the end of a lath and lighted that I might explore its intricacies, mentioned to me his great-grandfather as having been a member of the firm owning these vaults.

Why waste a good wall? The question had only to be asked to be answered, and with a few shallow windows added at the bulwark level and a course or two of brick, the warehouse roof was sprung from the top. So the structure continues to do good service, as it has done eighteen or more centuries ago, and to the builders happy inspiration (with the added savour of economy) is owning the preservation of the most complete fragment of the City Wall today, and one may hope for all time, now that the Corporation are beginning to realise the value of the City’s historical antiquities.”

These paragraphs by Walter G. Bell tell us so much about how London’s wall has survived and the attitude to the wall. Those sections that still remain are there because they could serve some purpose over the centuries. They are there as they could provide a wall without the need to build a new one, they are there as sometimes they would have cost more to destroy. Written in 1937, it was only then that the historic value of the wall was starting to be considered.

It is the Barbour’s Warehouse Buildings that be seen in my father’s photo and the photo from the book with the roof above the Roman Wall and at the end of the wall.

There is one final intriguing photo in the book on the wall at Tower Hill. The following photo is captioned “A medieval window in the Wall in Barbour’s Warehouse, Cooper’s Row, Tower Hill, November 1936”.

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Coopers Row is shown in the 1940 map above, to the right of Trinity Square. I believe this may be in the section running back past the CitizenM hotel, but I could not get close enough to check, but again it demonstrates how the wall has been incorporated in other buildings over the centuries.

The book “London Wall Through Eighteen Centuries” provided a complete survey of the wall as it was in 1937, just as the importance of preserving antiquities such as the wall was starting to be understood.

Hopefully, one day I will get the time to explore the full length of the London Wall using the 1937 book as my guide, but until then I will try and get back to Tower Hill and take a better photo with the right lighting of this lovely remaining section, now standing free of Barber’s Bonded Warehouses.

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St. Pancras Old Church, Purchese Street, Gas And Coal Works

In my father’s photo collection, there are a series showing a rather misty location in London, looking over the remains of a bombed square. These are some of the earliest photos and the negatives are not in the best condition and were probably from the winter of 1946/47.

I must admit I had not studied these in detail, there was no obvious feature and I included one of the photos in a post covering mystery locations and this was about the only one that was not identified.

I looked at these again recently and the location should have been really obvious – it was my own fault for not looking close enough.

Firstly, let me set the scene. The following map shows the location today. The station in the middle of the map is St. Pancras Station. The green space to the left of the rail tracks at the top is the location of St. Pancras Old Church. Pancras Road runs to the left of the church down towards the station and to the left of this is Purchese Street.

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The same area from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London. St. Pancras Station is without the recent extensions for the Eurostar trains to the Channel Tunnel. There is a Gas Works between the rail tracks leading into both St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations. Between Pancras Road and Purchese Street is an L.M.S. Coal Depot.

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Having set the scene today and in 1940, here are the photos.

The first is the photo that enabled me to identify the location. On the right of the photo in the distance, behind the trees is a church. The distinctive tower of the church is that of St. Pancras Old Church. Look closely at the church and the results of wartime bombing can be seen with the  damaged roof.

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I took the following photo from Purchese Road, and the lack of a view across to the church today makes it impossible to get to the exact same spot however the view is from roughly the same spot today.

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I believe my father then turned towards St. Pancras Station and took the following photo. The gas holders that are shown in the 1940 map can be seen. The wall running from the right to just left of centre is I believe the wall of the L.M.S. Coal Depot. This is the black line running between Purchese Street and Pancras Road in the 1940 map.

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I am not sure when the L.M.S. Coal Depot was built, but it was after 1895 as the Ordnance Survey map from 1895 shows the area occupied by houses. This also shows the Gas Works along with an example of the many street name changes that have taken place in London across the years, In 1895 it appears that Purchese Street did not exist. Goldington Street and Brill Street were the names allocated to this length of street and in the 1940 map, part of Goldington Street and Brill Street appear to have become Purchese Street. This area went through significant change between 1895 and 1940 with the construction of the Coal Depot and further down the L.M.S. Goods Depot.

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A slightly different view to the above, looking towards the Coal Depot. There are signs on each side of the square on the left, it would be really interesting to know what was written on these signs, unfortunately my father did not take a photo of these.

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Again, impossible to place the exact location, however the photo below shows the view along Purchese Road looking towards where the L.M.S. Coal Depot would have been.

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The following photo was taken looking towards Pancras Road with the wall of the Coal Depot on the right.

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Another view similar to the above, but looking at the Coal Depot wall. The area on the left of the above and below photos shows the state in which cleared bomb sites were left.

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After Purchese Street, i walked over to St. Pancras Old Church. This is the view from the churchyard looking across Pancras Road to the area in my father’s photos. Now very different.

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The site of St. Pancras Old Church is very old. The website of the church states that although difficult to verify, it is believed that it first became a site of Christian worship in 313AD. The book St. Pancras Through The Centuries published in 1935 includes a chapter on the church which explains that the church was built on the site of a pagan “compita” – a rural shrine erected at cross roads in villages.

The site of the church is on a raised area of ground. The River Fleet, (or Holeburne or Holbourne as this tributary of the Fleet was once known) once flowed along the western edge of Pancras Road which would have been at the base of the raised area on which the church was built.

In 313AD, the right of religious freedom was restored in the Roman world which may be why the church website attributes this year to the possible earliest Christian church on the site. There is very little to verify the history of the church in these centuries however a 7th century altar stone has been found in the church and when the old tower was pulled down during rebuilding of the church in 1847-8, Roman bricks and tiles were found in the base of the tower and the lowest courses of the church walls.

The Rev. J. Carter Rendell describes some finds in his book “Story of St. Pancras Old Church” – “When the old tower of the church was taken down in 1847-8 a stone was found buried under it that had once been part of an altar. It is marked with five crosses, and is made of Kentish rag stone hollowed out under for the relics of a saint which are now missing. The form of the crosses is unlike any other but that on the tomb of Ethne who was the mother of St. Columba (died 597). So here is a relic of an altar made in the year 625.” 

It is easy to believe that this is an ancient site when standing looking up at the church on the mound and imagining the River Fleet running along the base of the mound.

The church and tower – a much clearer view than in my father’s post war photo from Purchese Street.

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For centuries, St. Pancras Old Church was in a very rural location. The following prints (©Trustees of the British Museum) from the 18th and 19th centuries show the church surrounded by countryside. This print is “A View of St. Pancras Church” from 1752.

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A closer view of the church showing the ground sloping away towards what is now Pancras Road – “A South View of the Church of St. Pancras in the County of Middlesex” from 1790.

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And finally, highlighting the history to be found in the area to the south of the church, St. Pancras Wells with the church in the background from 1853. The new railway would soon be changing this view significantly

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The isolation of St. Pancras Old Church is illustrated by the following description of the church in John Norden’s Speculum Britanniae from 1593. “Pancras Church standeth all alone as utterly forsaken, old, and weatherbeaten, which for the antiquitie thereof, it is thought not to yield to Paules in London; about this church have bin manie buildings, now decaied, leaving poore Pancras without companie or comfort; yet it is now and then visited with Kentish towne and Highgate which are members thereof; but they seldome come there, for that they have chappels of ease within themselves, but when there is a corps to be interred, they are forced to leave the same in this forsaken church or churchyard, where (no doubt) it resteth as secure against the day of resurrection as if it laie in stately Paules.”

The reference to Kentish Town and Highgate refers to mass being held in these locations for the majority of Sundays in the month with only one Sunday a month in St. Pancras.

The church does not feel very isolated today with trains running close by, to and from St. Pancras Station, a busy road at the base of the mound leading up to the church and housing estates now occupying the areas where the Coal and Goods Yards once stood.

Close to the entrance to the church is the splendid gothic style Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial. Designed by George Highton of Brixton it was unveiled in 1879 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts.

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Baroness Burdett-Coutts was the youngest granddaughter of Thomas Coutts, one of the partners of Coutts Bank. When Thomas died his estate passed to his wife, Harriot and when she died in 1837, the interest from a Trust and a 50% share of Coutts Bank passed to Angela Burdett with the condition that she also take the name Coutts, so at the age of 23 she became Angela Burdett-Coutts and also the richest woman in the country, with the title of Baroness coming later.

Burdett-Coutts gave a considerable amount of her time and money to philanthropic activities aimed at helping the poor. This included the building of the Columbia Road Market in Bethnal Green which helped support small traders and provided the poor of the area with a place where they could buy food at reasonable prices.

She funded the construction of the memorial sundial in the churchyard to record the names of many of those who had been buried in the area of the churchyard that was being used for the railway.

Burdett-Coutts died in 1906 at the age of 92 and is buried in Westminster Abbey – a fitting place as she had given away some £3 million of her money (this was the value in the 19th century, it would be a considerably higher sum now).

The majority of the old churchyard is now grass following work in the 19th century to turn the churchyard into gardens. A few memorials remain including the one shown in the following photo. This is the mausoleum of the architect Sir John Soane and his family.

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Sir John Soane was the architect of the Bank of England and Holy Trinity Church on Marylebone Road. The mausoleum was built in 1816 following the death of his wife in 1815. The design of the central feature of the mausoleum influenced Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in his design of the K2 telephone box. The mausoleum is now Grade I listed, such is its importance.

The original large churchyard around the church served St. Pancras and St. Giles-in-the-Fields. It must have been the burial-place for many tens of thousands over the centuries but was closed in 1854. Soon after, a large part of the churchyard was taken over for the construction of railway lines into St. Pancras Station. This involved the exhumation of many old burials and removal of the gravestones and tombs.

The supervision of much of this work was carried out by the author Thomas Hardy. This was before he had started writing full-time and was when he studied architecture under a Mr Arthur Blomfileld of Covent Garden between 1862 and 1867.

This work involved the removal of bodies, headstones and tombs and some of the headstones were placed in the remaining part of the churchyard where an Ash tree has since grown in amongst the headstone.

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The church was damaged during the war and restored in 1948 with a later restoration between 1978 and 1980. The view on entering the church.

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The full view looking down towards the altar.

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The Grey Monument.

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The monument is from the 16th century, possibly around 1530. The outlines on the rear of the monument were occupied by brass inlays which are now missing. They are believed to have shown the figure of a woman and her two husbands, her two sons and five daughters by one husband and three sons and three daughters by the second husband.

Other monuments in the church include the Offley family monument from the 1680s and includes their 18 children, a monument to Daniel Clarke from 1626 who was Master cooke to Queen Elizabeth and King James and an early 17th century stone curtained recess that reveals an Elizabethan woman with a baby.

View of the church looking down towards the entrance.

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St. Pancras Old Church is possibly one of the earliest sites of Christianity in the country with a much earlier history as a pagan / Roman shrine. Surviving through centuries of isolation, the church has now to contend with the encroachment of roads and railways, but is still an atmospheric and lovely place to visit. As with my last week’s post on All Hallows by the Tower, I was the only visitor.

As I walked back to St. Pancras Station, I passed the new building of the Francis Crick Institute which had only just opened.

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In this small area there is one of the earliest church sites in the country which may also be on the site of a much earlier pagan shrine, a new building housing the very latest in biomedical research, close to the British Library, all next to the magnificent architecture of St. Pancras Station which is also the terminal of a train service running under the channel to Europe – this continual development and diversity, but with very deep historic roots is why I continue to find London so fascinating.

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All Hallows By The Tower

There are a few locations in London where it is possible to feel very close to the earliest days of the City, one of these is the subject of today’s post, the church of All Hallows by the Tower.

All Hallows by the Tower, or All Hallows Barking as it was known due to the original association with the Abbey of Barking in Essex who owned the land on which the first church was built-in the late 7th century, is to be found at the top of Tower Hill alongside Byward Street.

The area between Byward Street and the River Thames suffered very badly in the last war and All Hallows by the Tower suffered a direct hit, along with the impact of nearby explosive and incendiary bombs. By the end of the war, the church was an empty shell.

My father took the following photo of the church in 1947.

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The photo was probably taken from Beer Lane, a street that once ran from just in front of the church down to Lower Thames Street. The old Port of London Authority building is in the background and the buildings that once ran along the edge of Tower Hill are on the right.

Beer Lane does not exist now, and the area to the south of All Hallows by the Tower is occupied by the recent development, Tower Place. Trying to take a comparison photo of the church is the only time I have been stopped taking a photo in London.

Tower Place consists of two buildings forming the two sides of a V shape. In between the two buildings is a large glass atrium that looks to be part of the open space in front of the church. Walking into this atrium I was swiftly told by the security people who appear to be permanently wandering around the area, that I could not take photos (despite explaining what I was doing and also that the photos were not of Tower Place).

Tower Place (and if I remember correctly the building that was here before the Tower Place development) is an example of how streets such as Beer Lane disappear and become private space.

I wanted to get the old Port of London Authority building in the background, however as I could not get far enough back from the church, the following photo is the best I could get to compare with my father’s photo.

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Only the outer walls of the church along with the tower survived the war. The restored church was reopened in 1957 and although the construction of the church appears traditional, reinforced concrete beams were used to carry the roof. The 17th century tower was capped by a ‘renaissance’ style steeple.

An earlier tower to the one we see today was badly damaged in an explosion caused by gunpowder being stored in some nearby buildings in 1649. The current tower was completed in 1659 and is the only surviving feature on a City church dating from the Commonwealth period after the Civil War. It is this tower from which Pepys watched the Fire of London. His diary entry for the 3rd of September 1666 reads “I up to the top of Barking steeple and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw”.

So many interior features was lost during the blitz, including the original pulpit (1613), reredos (1685), altar table (1636) and a chancel screen from 1705 which had been a gift from the Hanseatic League.

The restoration of the church created the interior we see today. It is remarkable that everything in the photo below is part of the post war restoration with the exception of the exterior wall.

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Whilst my father’s photo shows the view from the outside, it does not fully convey the level of damage within the church. The following photo is from the 1947 publication “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and shows that apart from the tower and the external walls, there is nothing left of the church.

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The original font was destroyed in the war. The new font was carved by a Sicilian prisoner of war known only by the name of Tulipani in 1944 using limestone from Gibraltar and is a memorial to the tunnelers of the Royal Engineers who excavated tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar during the war.

The font cover is attributed to Grinling Gibbons and from 1682. It is one of the finest of the period.

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The pre-war font. Whilst the font was destroyed in the blitz, the font cover had been moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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The proximity of the church to the Tower of London and the execution place on Tower Hill meant that many of those who were executed were then carried into the church. This includes Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and 26 years later his son, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Lord Thomas Grey (the uncle of Lady Jane Grey), Cardinal Fisher and Archbishop Laud.

The Calendar of State Papers from June 2nd 1572 records the fate of Thomas Howard:

“His head being off, his body was put into a coffin belonging to Barking Church and the burying cloth of the same Church laid on him. He was carried into the Chapel of the Tower by four of the Lieutenant’s men and there buried by the Dean of St. Paul’s, he saying the service according to the Queen’s book without any other preaching.”

The church was also used as a temporary resting place following execution. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury was executed on the 10th January 1645 and the body was buried in a leaden coffin at All Hallows Barking by the Tower of London. Twenty years later, on July 24th he was then laid in a vault at St. John’s College, Oxford at 10 pm, having been “the day before taken from London, where he was buried.”

All Hallows by the Tower has numerous nautical associations and reminders of these can be seen throughout the church, including some superb model ships.

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The pulpit. This was originally in the church of St. Swithin in Cannon Street and is dated to around 1682. St. Swithin was one of the City churches destroyed by bombing and not rebuilt.

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Looking down the length of the church towards the organ. Remarkable that everything in this photo is from the post war reconstruction. After the war the church was an empty shell with nothing between the outer walls.

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In the Lady Chapel is the following tomb of Alderman John Croke from 1477. It was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt and restored from the remaining fragments.

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The 16th century monument to the Italian merchant Hieronimus Benalius who lived in nearby Seething Lane and died in 1583 and left instructions for Mass to be said for his soul.

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A niche in the wall holds a 17th century wooden statue of St. Antony of Egypt.

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Ornate Sword Rest:

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At the west end of the church is the Saxon arch that was uncovered during the last war by the bomb damage to the church. The date of the arch is variously given as the 7th, 8th and 11th century. The Bradley and Pevsner Guide to City Churches states that an 11th century date is preferred.

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Although I suspect the arch will never be accurately dated, the key point is that the arch is pre-Norman and highlights the antiquity of the church. Also interesting to see Roman bricks within the arch – reuse of building material from much earlier London buildings.

Beneath the church is the Crypt Museum. This is a remarkable place, not just for the exhibits, but for the sense that here, below ground level, we are close to the early years of London.

I was in the Crypt Museum for about 15 minutes and during this time there was no other visitor. This solitude enhanced the sense of the antiquity of the crypt, but it is a real shame as both the church and the crypt museum are superb and deserve support and visitors.

On climbing down the steps from inside the church, this is the view along the crypt museum. On the floor in the foreground is the tessellated pavement from a 3rd or 4th century Roman house. Although this has been recently relaid, there is an in-situ Roman pavement which I will come to later.

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The crypt museum has on display many of the artifacts that have been discovered in and around the church.

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There are also recent exhibits which tell of the history of the church during the 20th century including the remains of the north door, constructed in 1884, but damaged during incendiary bombing on the night of the 29th December 1940.

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Along with the plaque that records the baptism of William Penn, the founder of the US state of Pennsylvania in the church on the 23rd October 1644.

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In addition to the relaid Roman pavement shown above, the Crypt also has an in-place, perfectly preserved floor of a 2nd or 3rd century domestic house. The gully in the centre is thought to be the location of a wall and traces of plaster have been found on the edge. The pavement is cut across by one of the walls of the original Saxon church.

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There are many places in London where Roman remains can be seen, however, looking on at this Roman floor, in its original setting, in a quiet and empty crypt has to be my favourite – those early Londoners who would have walked across this floor feel very close.

Standing here also shows the layers that have built up London. The original Roman floor, the Saxon foundations, wall and arch, elements of the Medieval church which can be found above, along with the 17th century church tower which looked down on and survived the Great Fire, 20th century destruction and restoration – almost 2,000 years of London history in one place.

As well as the Saxon arch, damage during the blitz also revealed a number of other pre-Norman remains that had been embedded in the fabric of the church.

The Rev. P.B. Clayton describes the finds:

“Out of the wall adjacent to the arch great fragments fell, which had for at least 800 years been embedded as the capstones in the strong Norman pillars of that date. Some of these stones were most remarkable. The Keeper of the Medieval Department of the British Museum announced them to be unparalleled. The pillar has preserved them to this age intact, unique, alone and unexampled. They represent a school of craftsmanship whereof we have no other evidence. They form a portion of a noble Cross which once upreared its head on Tower Hill, before the Norman William conquered London.”

The photo below is of the upper half of an original Saxon cross. Dated to the early 10th century. The inscription around the edge reads “Thelvar had this stone set up over here….” the rest of the inscription would have carried on around the missing lower half.

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Part of the shaft of a Saxon cross stands in one of the alcoves. One piece of the shaft was found during clearing of the lower chapels in 1925-27 and the rest of the shaft was found in the rubble of the Nave Pillars following the blitz as described above by the Rev. P.B. Clayton. The shaft includes Anglo-Saxon knot designs along with St. Peter and St. Paul on the side panel. The shaft has an inscription which may read “Werhenworrth”.

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At the end of the Crypt Museum is the Undercroft Chapel. At the far end of the chapel, above the altar can be seen the rough wall of the 14th century church. The altar stones are from Castle Athlit on the coast of what is now Israel. Castle Athlit was a Crusader castle which fell in 1291.

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An unusual relic in the crypt is the original crows nest from Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Quest. A ship that was not well suited to Antarctic exploration, the ship took Shackleton to South Georgia where he died in January 1922. Taking a route via the eastern Antarctic and Cape Town, the Quest finally returned to Plymouth on the 16th September 1922.

It is not known how the Crows Nest came to be in the possession of All Hallows, however the Rev P.B. Clayton used the Crows Nest in his fund-raising activities so he must have acquired it by some means. The Rev P.B. Clayton (who also wrote the earlier extract on finding the Saxon stones) was Vicar of All Hallows for 40 years from 1922 to 1962.

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Ending my visit to the Crypt, I walked back up through the church and outside. I took the following photo of the church from Tower Hill which was as busy as usual with visitors to the Tower of London and to the river boat piers on the Thames. It is really surprising that despite being this close to Tower Hill there were so few visitors to All Hallows and that I had so long in the Crypt on my own.

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View from the east of the church.

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All Hallows by the Tower from across Byward Street, during a brief gap in traffic.

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All Hallows by the Tower encapsulates London’s history, from the earliest Roman times to the destruction of the mid 20th century and the restoration that followed. Well worth a visit, and perhaps one day I will get to take a photo of the church from under Tower Place’s atrium.

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