The history of All Hallows Church: From the Reformation to the present

Pages 34-51

Survey of London: Volume 12, the Parish of All Hallows Barking, Part I: the Church of All Hallows. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1929.

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In this section

13.—The Great Change

All Hallows church had an intimate and tragic connexion with the beginnings of the Reformation in England. One of the earliest of those who suffered death for conscience' sake was the aged bishop John Fisher, who was executed on Tower Hill, 22 July, 1535, for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church in England. His headless body was buried without ceremony "in the churchyerd of Barkyne by the northe dore"; a few days later Sir Thomas More was beheaded for the same offence. "Then was tane up the byshoppe agayne and both of them burryd within the tower." (fn. 1)

The chronicler who thus recorded these events continued: "that same yere beganne the new testament in Englych." The reading of the Bible in the vernacular, and dependence upon the Bible as a supreme source of theological truth, were essential parts of the Reformation in the English church as laid down by Henry VIII in 1536; yet William Tyndale, whose translation of the Bible has formed the basis of subsequent English versions, was in that very year an exile for his Zwinglian opinions, and later suffered martyrdom in the Low Countries. In 1537 there was buried in All Hallows churchyard one of Tyndale's former patrons, Alderman Humphrey Monmouth, who had taken a "fantasy" to the young scholar, but in 1528, finding himself in the Tower on suspicion of bringing heretical books from overseas, had asked whether he were to blame, if the chaplains and scholars whom he aided "turned as this priest had done." Monmouth was a draper trading overseas in Suffolk cloths, and had spread some of Tyndale's works, giving one to the abbess of Denny, getting another for a Greenwich friar, and "having no thought that they were not good," until the bishop of London preached at St. Paul's Cross and said that Tyndale had translated the New Testament "naughtily." (fn. 2) Monmouth's will, (fn. 3) however, proves his continued adherence to the reformers. He ordained that his burial should be without the ringing of bells or singing of dirges, and appointed as his executor Dr. Robert Barnes, who had been in exile for spreading the New Testament in England, until Thomas Cromwell had recalled him to support the doctrine of the royal supremacy. "Four godly ministers, Mr. Latimer, Dr. Barnes, Dr. Crome and Mr. Taylor" were to preach in Barking church four sermons a week till thirty sermons should be preached, in memory of Monmouth— instead of the former custom of providing thirty masses for the soul. The parishioners of All Hallows thus heard the reformed doctrines from some of their most notable exponents.


There is little record of the reception of the new opinions in the parish. In one or two earlier wills there are traces of reaction against extravagances, which had grown up around the doctrine of purgatory. For instance, Thomas Gilbert, a draper and merchant of the Staple of Calais, had in 1484 desired to be buried in the church and that his obit and mass should "not be done outrageously contrary to all reason for pomp and pride of this world . . . but to the laude and praysing of almightie god and to the helthe and comforte of my soule." (fn. 4) Whether from conviction, or from fear of the royal authority, the parishioners of All Hallows certainly ceased from about 1539 onwards to make in their wills those provisions for masses and prayers for the soul which accompany practically all their earlier bequests. The King's power was impressed upon them in 1546, when Henry, then on his deathbed, secured the execution of the soldier-poet, Earl of Surrey, whose kinship to the royal house threatened the royal plans for the succession. Surrey was beheaded on Tower Hill on the 19th of January, 1547, and his body rested in All Hallows churchyard until it was removed to his ancestral home at Framlingham in 1614. (fn. 5)

With the death of Henry VIII came the triumph of the more advanced party of the Reformation, who were responsible for sweeping away the chantries, images and other "superstitious" ornaments and uses. It has been seen how the royal chapel in the churchyard perished in 1547. A like fate fell upon the chantries within the church. Then were ousted the two chantry priests, John Rudde, a man of good learning who was drawing a salary of £27 odd from the lands of Thomas Pilkes, for whose soul he celebrated, and John Batman, a priest who sang for the soul of John Croke in the chapel of St. Nicholas, at a yearly wage of £7; and the yearly obits for Croke and for William Kyrfote came to an end. The royal commissioners not only seized the whole of these endowments, including those profits which went to the poor, but also the tenement in Seething Lane which Isabel Hurar had given in 1348 (fn. 6) to the fabric of the church, and the parish houses also in Seething Lane, which had come to the church from an unknown donor. (fn. 7)

The Vicar, William Dawes, presented in 1542, was left to carry on his work single-handed in a parish which was one of the very few city parishes numbering as many as 800 "houseling" people (i.e. communicants). He continued here through the various changes of the following years until his death in 1565, taking for his services £132 odd a year, and serving also the livings of Woodham Walter and Rivenhall in Essex. Thomas Pilkes' tenement, which was in Tower Street next the house and garden of his priest, John Rudd, had been let to one Nicholas Michell, a citizen and beerbrewer, for 66 years from 1st October, 1546, on which day Michell had also obtained a ninety-nine years' lease of the thirteen other tenements belonging to Pilkes' chantry and lying "upon the highway to the Towre Watergate." In May 1548, backed by John Yelde, a citizen and woodmonger, Michell bought all this property outright at eighteen years' purchase. An important part of the endowment of John Croke's chantry, viz. the great house in Mark Lane, which was occupied by William Denham on a fiftythree years' lease dating from 1541, together with two adjacent tenements and "shops cellars solars vaults and warehouses," was bought by Thomas Mildmay of Moulsham in Essex at fifteen years' purchase. The tenement called the "Sopehouse" in the parish, which was parish property, was sold at fourteen years' purchase to Thomas Reve and George Cotton in 1552. (fn. 8)

Nicholas Michell, the brewer, was apparently an active supporter of the Edwardian church policy, and as churchwarden with John Hancockes in 1547 sold the church plate, which has been described above, (fn. 9) for £77 odd, a sum as great as any made in that year by similar sales in London, expending £37 out of the proceeds "about the reparations of the church." Just before these changes, in 1546 there died William Thynne, who had been Master of the Household to Henry VIII, and in editing the works of Geoffrey Chaucer had included certain spurious tales attacking the medieval church. The brass to Thynne lies in the south-east aisle of the church, and both the terms of its inscription and the preamble to his will (fn. 10) breathe the new spirit of the Reformation.


The church records contain no indication of the effects of the Marian policy here. Philip Dennys, whose arms in brass remain upon the east wall of the north aisle, was buried in the church with something of the old ceremony in 1556. "The vj day of September was bered at Barking church in London master Phelype Dennys sqwyre, with cote [armour . . .] of armes, and ij whytt branchys and xij torchys, [iiij] grett tapurs, a ij dosen of skchochyons of armes; the wyche he was a goodly man of armes and [a great] juster." (fn. 11) The pluralist vicar, William Dawes, was then aided at All Hallows by a curate, Mr. Daniel, whom Dennys styled his "Ghostly Father." Of the Reformers who had preached Monmouth's memorial sermons in the church, Dr. Barnes had been burned at Smithfield in 1540, Dr. Crome saved his life, but not his liberty, by recanting in 1555, Bishop Latimer suffered martyrdom at Oxford that year and Bishop Taylor had forfeited his bishopric. And again the parishioners were eye-witnesses of the calamities which befell those who opposed Tudor authority. Lord Thomas Grey, whom ambition rather than any religious motive had involved in the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, was on 28th April, 1554, "heddyd on Towre hyll, betwyn IX and X of the cloke a-for none . . . and bered at Allalow's Barkyng." (fn. 12) In July 1556 Henry Peckham and John Danyell, conspirators who hoped to help seize the Exchequer and depose Philip and Mary in favour of Elizabeth, were hanged on the gallows on Tower Hill and afterwards beheaded, and their heads set upon London Bridge; but their bodies were buried in All Hallows church. (fn. 13)

It is possible that the injunctions of the Edwardian reformers had not been completely executed in the church, for the rood still remained in 1558, unless it had been restored during the reign of Mary. Apparently the five altars of St. Nicholas, Our Lady and St. Thomas, the Trinity, St. Anne and St. Stephen had been destroyed by the Edwardian reformers, and under Queen Mary two side altars only had been replaced.

Immediately after Elizabeth's accession, the rood was taken down, the side altars removed and the high altar replaced by a communion table. The churchwardens' account for 1559 (fn. 14) records these changes as follows:

Receipts]. Item solde the beame of the Roodelofte at 4d. the fote, 12 fote and a half a mounting to the some of 4s. 2d.
Item solde 5 smale peces of tymber that laye at the steppes of the alter at 3½d the foote mounting to 9 fote and a half some is 2s. 10d.
Item solde the 2 syde alter stones to Mr Fyssher 10s.
Item solde the stone of the highe alter to Thomas Garret and Nicholas Awgoure for 6s. 8d.
Item to a Carpenter for takinge downe of the Crucyfix, the Marye and John and alhallowes the patrone 20d.
To a workman for 3 daies worke for takinge down the alters 3s. 6d.
To 4 laborers for 3 daies worke at 10d. the daie 10s.
For the carying a waie of 6 lodes of rubbyshe 3s.
For a workeman to poole downe the Beame in the Rowdelofte and other thinges that was to do in the churche for twoo daies 2s. 4d.
For wasshinge the churche walles where the alters stode and 2 dosens of Spanish white at 8d. the dossen 16d.
This same account includes, also, the payments for setting up the Communion Table and buying the new service books.
Item for a Communion booke 2s. 8d.
Item for a Communion table 11s. 2d.
Item for a Service booke 5s. 4d.
Item for the booke of Iniunctions and articles 4d.
Item for putting upp the bill of articles 4d.
Item for other chardges at dynner at the putting in the said bill of articles 4s.
Item for the booke called the Homilie 16d.

In the year ending with Lady Day, 1574, the churchwardens bought the second "tome" of the Homilies and also the Homilies against rebellion for 2s. This account shows us that both morning and evening prayer were read by candle-light, and that the vicar, Richard Tyrwhit, who had succeeded William Dawes in 1565, was aided by a curate, Mr. Phillips. The churchwardens allowed Mr. Phillips 6s. 8d. a quarter for reading morning prayer. A hassock is also provided that year for the "lower pulpit." In 1580 the curate was receiving yearly 26s. 8d. Four new prayer-books were bought for the church in that year, and considerable sums were expended upon the making of the churchyard wall, repairs to the church doors and the paving of the "lane." The curate then was probably John Tailor, who had made answer to the visitation articles of Bishop Aylmer in 1579, reporting that divine service was said and the sacraments administered according to the Book of Common Prayer, except that the minister did not dip nor use the sign of the cross in baptism. He did not intermeddle in affairs of state in preaching, nor did any unlicensed persons preach in the parish. No private fasts were kept, and so far as was known no conventicles existed in the parish, nor did any vagrant ministers dwell there without sufficient livelihood. Thus we gather, that the reply to Aylmer's inquiries as to complete acceptance of the Elizabethan settlement in this parish was that all was well, save in regard to the forms of baptism. (fn. 15)

The vicar, Richard Tyrwhit, died in 1585 and Archbishop Whitgift presented a chaplain of his own, Richard Wood, who aided Whitgift by his answers to the Marprelate Tracts and resigned about 1591. He was succeeded by Thomas Ravis, also a zealous conformist, who afterwards became Bishop of Gloucester and of London. In 1604 he was appointed to translate a part of the New Testament for the Authorised Version of the Bible, a work with which All Hallows church had an honourable and close connection, for Dr. Robert Tighe, who was vicar of All Hallows from 1598 until 1616, was also employed in this translation, by reason of his excellence as a textuary and linguist. More notable still is the birth in the parish of the learned Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, whose name stands first upon the list of translators.

During Elizabeth's reign the church received into its keeping men of diverse shades of opinion. Here was buried in 1560 William Armar, citizen and clothworker, who had succeeded in retaining office in the royal household through the reigns of Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and whose brass with the motto "Lyve to Dye is ye Way to Life" remains upon a pillar in the south aisle. Here also was buried in 1583 an Italian parishioner, Hieronimus Benalius, (fn. 16) known to be a Papist, whose elaborate monument stands in the north aisle, and who ordained a mass to be said for his soul at his native town of Bergamo. It is to Elizabeth's reign also that may be ascribed the late brass to Roger James, brewer, who was buried in the chancel in 1591.

14.—Parish Government

During the changes in ecclesiastical doctrine and authority there were simultaneous developments in the form and extent of the parish government in regard to secular affairs. The "masters" of the parish who had bargained with the organ maker for his services in 1519 crystallised into a select vestry of thirty members, whose earliest minutes in 1629 claim that they had existed from time immemorial and who chose the churchwardens, appointed all other parish officers, assessed the church, and poor, rates and administered the church charities.

The earliest poor-rate (fn. 17) which exists for the parish dates from 1560 and shows the parishioners paying small sums ranging from 2d. to 12d. monthly, the vicar, however, paying 20d. quarterly, and eighteen persons receiving poor relief, while 51s. 10d. was paid that year to Christ's Hospital towards the relief of the poor harboured there. Thirteen vestrymen signed the assessment "coleckt in Vestery May the 23, 1562," some of them using their merchant-marks, thus Mr. Smyth expressed his agreement with a fine sketch of a tub. (fn. 18) The poor parishioners who received relief were known as pensioners, and the church papers include petitions addressed to the Masters, Churchwardens and parishioners by the aged who for many years had paid taxes, assesses and all church duties there and had fallen upon evil days. (fn. 19)

Much was expected of the parish even to the finding of suitable houses for the poor. So Faith Bland, a poor widow "destitut of a dwellinghouse" begged the churchwardens and assistants for the lease of one of the parish houses promising any rent that "in your grave wisdomes shall seeme meet in Consciens." (fn. 20) The condition of poor households in the parish was as scandalous in All Hallows parish as elsewhere in Elizabethan London. In 1579, whilst the curate and churchwardens were seeing to it that the parish had no unorthodox conventicles nor vagrant priests, the constable was making inquiry into sanitary conditions and, after stating with some pride that every house had a chimney, he had to admit that for 57 households, containing in all 85 people, in Tower Street, St. Katherine's Rents and the neighbouring alleys, there were in all only three privies. (fn. 21) This same report concerned itself also with "inmates" or lodgers, a constant source of trouble to the authorities under the Elizabethan poor law. To protect themselves from future responsibility the churchwardens would take securities from two men of property before allowing a stranger's child to be baptised in the church. So in 1602, two citizens, one a clothworker, the other a fruiterer, gave their bond in £40 to the churchwardens, that the parishioners should have no "costes charges troubles or expences whatsoever" by reason of the "mayden childe of Katheryne the wife of Tirlowe Bryan now resident . . . in the house of Richard Harmon . . . in Beare Yeard," which child the father Thurlow Bryan had recently made suit to the churchwardens to have baptised in the church (fn. 22). The expectant mother who was homeless was an even greater trouble to the parish, and the vestry did not scruple to pay her 6d. or 12d. to move on a little farther into the adjacent parish of St. Dunstan's. St. Dunstan's was also called upon in 1643 to contribute towards the relief of many poor in All Hallows parish. The orphans and poor foundlings were given a name by the upper churchwarden, who would often choose to call them "Towers," "Thomas Barkin," "Charles Parish" or "Mark Lane," and sometimes appointed "any beggar" and the grave-digger to stand as godparents in return for a pot of ale. The child was then brought up at the parish expense and as early as possible apprenticed to some master, who would agree to keep him in meat, drink, lodging, apparel and other necessaries, according to the custom of the City of London, and even in exceptional cases to make him free of the city company to which the master himself belonged. (fn. 23)

It was doubtless owing to these duties of the parish authorities that the church has come to possess several private inventories. For instance, it has the account of the household stuff of William Tyldesley which was valued in 1602, and included things of worth such as a "standing bedsted with greie vallance and Curtens," painted cloths in the chamber, and much child-linen, but also numbered several articles lent out to pawn, viz., a half kirtle and a "weding smock" with other things worth 12s., and a petticoat which had been redeemed from goodwife Hewett for 10s. The later church records also include a later redeemed pawn ticket for three shifts, a shirt and a sheet. (fn. 24)

The sudden and extensive fatalities from the plague, which were particularly numerous in the parish in 1563, 1593, 1625 and 1665, added to these responsibilities; but there is no obvious reason why the parish chest of All Hallows should include the inventory of the goods of William Giles, vicar of Aylesford in Kent, who with his wife and six children died of the "sickness" in 1593. The account shows his extreme poverty. His goods (excluding any beds, which presumably were alone considered to be infected) were worth £13 odd; his debts were assessed at £23 odd. His administrators had paid a poor woman to tend him, his wife and children 12d. a week for 21 weeks, and three others (two of whom seem to have died) for five weeks' attendance on the orphaned children till they died. (fn. 25)

There is evidence that the Easter offering in 1559 was devoted in part to the poor, for the churchwarden then accounted for 16s. 10d. "received for the paschall towardes the relief of the poore"; (fn. 26) but a regular collection was not made to supplement the poor rate until the Commonwealth period, (fn. 27) from which time it appears that the churchwardens and sidesmen stood at the doors and cried "pray remember the poor." The old custom of paying poor men to bear torches or say prayers at funerals survived also in the distribution of money at funerals or marriages which was common in the 17th century.

15.—Laudian All Hallows (fn. 28)

During the first half of the 17th century there was a definite movement towards beautifying and restoring the church. In 1613, Mr. John Burnell replaced the communion table, which had been bought cheap in 1559, with an oak table, doubtless given in memory of his young wife who had died in childbed in 1612. At the same time the parish set up pews and the present pulpit of oak; but the sounding board was too small, and was replaced by the present "pulpitt hedd" made by Mr. Laine in 1638.

In 1616 died the learned vicar, Dr. Robert Tighe, and Archbishop Abbott presented to the living a kinsman of his own, Edward Abbott, whose last years were spent in zealous exhortations and earnest work for the "reedifying, repaving and beautifying" of the church. In 1626, a silver flagon, weighing 42 oz. 12 dwt. (still in use), was given by Margery Covell, the widow of Francis Covell, citizen and skinner, whose monument remains on the south side of the church. In 1631, Thomas Crathorne gave a silvergilt cup and cover, and in 1633 Mr. Grimwade added a silver basin. In 1633 the parishioners sold the old plate and pewter, including a silver trencher weighing 6 oz., and the old silver-gilt chalice weighing 19 oz. They thus raised a little more than £7. Then they purchased from Walter Shute, the silversmith, (the present) silver-gilt chalice inscribed "All Hallowes Barking" and weighing 24 oz. 5 dwt. with a cover weighing between eight and nine ounces, and also a silver plate for the communion bread, the present square paten on 4 round knobs, which is said to be unique; they bought also three new pewter flagons, and a new plate "to set the silver flagons on." These included the new flagon given by Edmund Forster that same year.

At the same time, in accordance with a resolution in 1633, a restoration of the building itself began in April 1634. Money was raised by voluntary subscriptions and by gifts from the city companies, the farmers of the Customs and others. About £1400 was expended on these repairs, Mr. Goodwin "the mathematician" being called in as architect.

On Christmas Day, 1634, at the reopening of the church, Edward Abbott preached his "last sweet and swan-like sermon," before his death in March 1635. Thereupon, Archbishop Laud presented to the vicarage a nephew of his own, Edward Layfield, who succeeded in paying off the whole debt for the recent reconstruction of the church. Layfield's compliance with Laud's instructions brought him into conflict with the more Puritanical among his parishioners. In 1638, the Vestry agreed that the "communion Table shd. be sett up to the upper end of the chancell, and that the table shd. be raised one stepp according to order," and paid £52 towards the charges. A hood of black taffety and ten ells of holland for the vicar's surplice were also supplied this year. Next year the Vestry accepted a gift towards a new font from a private donor, and authorised the sale of the old armour (twelve old corselets and head-pieces) to supplement its purchase. This is the existing marble font, the cover of which was a later gift. The Puritans among the parishioners complained to the Bishop of London and to Parliament of these innovations, stating that Dr. Layfield had set the table altar-wise against the east wall of the church, had adorned the chancel with ten statues of saints to which he bowed on going to the altar, had placed a cross over the font and set up the letters I.H.S. in forty places within the church and had refused the sacrament to those who had tried to remove these things by force; for it appears from a later petition that the "little wooden angels" (apparently identical with some of the ten "saints" recited above) were sawn down from the corner of the rail before the communion table.

In December 1640 Laud was impeached of treason and imprisoned in the Tower; it was the turn of the Puritans to have the support of authority. They petitioned in 1642 for a lecturer to be "allowed the pulpit" on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings. The House of Commons ordered Dr. Layfield and his curate to permit certain learned orthodox divines (not necessarily in orders) to preach before the parishioners, so that they might choose a lecturer. On 1st December, 1642, the Puritan parishioners announced to the Commons their choice of Mr. George Cockayne. It follows almost without saying that Dr. Layfield was almost immediately (3rd Feb., 1643) deprived as a delinquent and pronounced incapable of any preferment in the church; his place was taken by Thomas Clendon, who was appointed by Parliament and signed the audit as vicar in 1643. Dr. Layfield refused to obey the order of deprivation without trial. He was dragged from the church while celebrating divine service, and forced to ride to prison in his surplice with the Book of Common Prayer tied round his neck. Up to the last he was trying to obtain preferment, claiming a canonry in St. Paul's in 1642; and he appears to have endeavoured to preserve the cathedral plate, for in 1654 he was said to have certain plate and goods of St. Paul's concealed in his house. It is said that at one time or another he was imprisoned in most of the jails about London, in Ely House and in the galleys on the Thames. (fn. 29)

16.—Puritan All Hallows

The parish, like the rest of the country, was divided into factions, but for the time being the Puritan Parliamentarians were in power. In January 1645, three of their enemies who were beheaded on Tower Hill were buried in All Hallows. The register for 1st and 2nd January records the burial of John Hotham, Esq., and Sir John Hotham, Knt., "beheaded for betraying [their] trust to the State," since both had held command in the Parliamentarian forces at Hull, and had plotted their betrayal. On 11th January, Archbishop Laud himself was "decently interred" in a vault beneath the Communion Table of All Hallows with the rites of the Church of England, although these had been abandoned in most of the London churches. He had been beheaded on Tower Hill on the previous day, but the Commons had given permission for the body to be delivered to his servants. One of these was his faithful steward George Snayth, who was buried in the north aisle in 1651. In 1663 Laud's remains were removed to St. John's College, Oxford, in conformity with his wishes. Meantime there had been buried in the chancel near him, the lawyer and soldier, Colonel Eusebius Andrews, who was executed as a Royalist on Tower Hill, 22nd August, 1650. His declaration of faith upon the scaffold shows that he was a close follower of Laud. (fn. 30)

The reign of utilitarianism was then in full swing. A "decent basin" for baptisms was bought for All Hallows church in 1645; but Dr. Layfield's "large font of marble stone" was soon restored to the church, for it stood in the middle aisle in 1659. The church became a centre of civil life; Benjamin Shepherd, appointed registrar in 1653, recorded (somewhat unsatisfactorily) births and deaths and the civil marriages performed before Justices of the Peace. The churchyard corner in Tower Street was chosen as a site for the new stocks and whipping-post in 1657. The pews behind the north door were removed in 1645 to make an engine house for Tower Ward. This part of the church long remained a fire-station for the neighbourhood. In the "engine room" in 1659 there stood "one engine marked abh with a brass pipe and materials belonging"; while along the north aisle were ranged twenty-four buckets marked "a.b. 1659."

The inventories of the church goods during the Commonwealth show us something of the interior of the church at that time. The communion table had again been moved table-wise and three "forms with backs" were set in the chancel, while another stood under a "turning desk," to which were chained the church books, Fox's Book of Martyrs, the works of Dr. Joseph Hall and those of William Perkins, afterwards relegated to the Vestry. One great Bible was left; but the three books of the service according to the Church of England had been "taken by Alderman Andrews." The communion table in 1647 had a new "carpet," or cover, of purple stuff, but the greatest efforts had been made to adorn the pulpit, which besides its red velvet cushion had a "new pulpit cloth and cover . . . with a cushion edged and fringed" of the gift of Mr. Robert Neale. There were nine other green cushions fringed. Prominent in the chancel stood the framed Covenant against Papacy and Prelacy. Yet, strangely enough, the "King's and Prince's" arms remained in the chancel in 1659, and in 1654 the Vestry had set up in one of the windows the arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and London. The church was lighted by sixteen candlesticks, "to set on the pews," and the pulpit by candles in "four joints of brass," possibly each holding four candles, as the inventory of 1634 includes the "great branch of brass containing 16 lights given by Mr. Fras. Covell deceased." Candlesticks were supplemented by lanterns, some of glass, some of horn. Congregations seem to have increased rather than diminished, even though the parishioners were divided as to matters of church discipline and doctrine, for a south gallery was added in 1657.

17.—The Explosion and Fire of January, 1649–50

The great parochial event of the Commonwealth was a disaster which befell both church and parish in 1649–50. Numerous accounts relating to this event remain among the church records and many details are included in the Churchwardens' Accounts and Vestry Minutes. At eight o'clock on the evening of Friday, 4th January, happened "a lamentable and fearful fire in a ship-chandler's house by gunpowder." The shopkeeper, Robert Porter, had seven barrels stored in his house in Tower Street for the night, and (fortunately for the parish) had removed twenty more on board ship. The house and four other "fair houses," including the Rose Tavern in Tower Street, were destroyed by the explosion. Ten houses "backward from the street" in Priests Alley were "quite blowne up." Twenty-six others were rendered uninhabitable by the explosion or by the fire which followed and continued until the Saturday morning. The "Vickeridge House" was much shattered. Much damage was done in Chitterling Alley and Beer Lane. The windows of the church "was wholly all broken and blowne out." The church tower was dangerously shaken; but this was not discovered until later.

This "wofull accydent of Powder and Fyer" killed sixty-seven persons or more; many others were badly burned, or left destitute. The landlady and the customers at the Rose were killed or injured, as they were "discoursing on business" at the inn. The landlord was absent and survived. The ship-chandler's family was wiped out. In Priests Alley twentyfour persons were missing.

The care of the destitute and the rebuilding or repair of church and houses were far beyond the means of the parish. The Keepers of the Liberty of England (being the Government of the day) by their Letters Patent allowed collections to be made in all London churches, and the money to be paid in the Vestry House on Tuesday or Thursday in the following week to nine trustees of whom one, William Deacon, a citizen and barber-surgeon, seems to have been particularly active. Two merchants, a gunsmith, a chandler and two "gentlemen" were also upon this committee which received and dispensed the funds for relieving sufferers "by that great blow." Their care in keeping the papers relating to this task, has preserved for us the briefs from more than a hundred city churches, which contributed sums varying from the nine shillings subscribed by the church of St. Andrew by the Wardrobe, to a generous gift of £20 8s. 6d. sent from St. Clement's, East Cheap. By this means £674 odd was collected. The "Honourable Parliament" voted another £200. Six of the city companies gave £41 odd.

These moneys were assigned to the relief of poor sufferers, each one receiving so much from the "Turkey Company Guift," so much from the "Skinners' guift," so much from the "Parliament guift," so much from the "Letters Pattent money," and so on. The sad tales of many of these pensioners have been preserved. Samuel Porter, a scrivener, had lately settled in a house next the Rose Tavern, and had just spent £50 or £60 upon it when it was blown up and the best of all his goods were lost. He was "constrained to betake himself to some Imployment at Sea in ye affaires of the Navy," and his wife, who earned her living by her needle, was "left with her three children to the wide world." Widow Pitts, who had nothing but what she earned by her daily labour, lost goods to the value of £3 4s. Jane Stephens, who lost her husband and child, was greatly concerned because by the former's death she lost all hope of much good which they had expected from a suit at law. Widow Wibourne was aged 100 years, and had lived in the parish for fifty, when the small goods she had left were impaired and spoiled by the disaster. William Knight, a plaisterer, who had lived many years in Chitterling Alley, had his house "utterly ruinated" by "that fatall blowe of gunpowder." Eleanor and Jacob Jezard received £12 10s. towards the loss of £231 odd, which they estimated as the value of their coals and beer, a "Blake Chamlet gowne last with a bone Last," a "blake Tammell gowne Last with 3 Lasses in a seme," a cloth suit with silver buttons, "a Blewe petticote and Schie Coller wascote," plate, pewter, 18 pairs of sheets, pewter brass candlesticks, "Leage horbe boles and other Constante novell waire," three fair looking-glasses and much else. These were of the wealthier sort who suffered. George Robert kept a shop and lost small things blown out of it, and canes "which cost him out of his owne purse at the first peney" £8, besides five gross of ink-horns and two dozen hour-glasses. Henry Thurgood, another shopkeeper, lost two dozen of "knottes and Roses," a dozen of "whited brown thredd" and a dozen of "black and brown." A poor chandler, Richard Prise, not only lost his butter, cheese, soap and candles, but was the worse by divers folk among his debtors who were burnt to death. Presumably Goody (Mary) Fillett, who lived in Priests Alley, also kept a shop, for it is not conceivable that the 24 shirts and smocks, the 11 green and white aprons, the 4 gowns, 14 petticoats and 8 waistcoats, which were destroyed in her house, were all for her own wearing, though the three Bibles and other books for which she sent in a claim may have been a fair allowance for one family. Agnes Hebson, who kept a kind of maternity home, keeping women in childbed for her maintenance, lost her livelihood by the destruction of her house in Beer Lane. Finally, Walter Wormewell, the landlord of the Rose Tavern, "their sad and discontented neighbour," petitioned the trustees to pay for the cure of his man; but some distrust must have been aroused by the chirurgeon's willingness to reduce his bill from £20 to £6, and Wormewell's discontent was not decreased by any allowance.

The parishioners themselves subscribed £110 for the "reperation of the Church much defaced by the blowe of Gunpowder." Throughout the spring bricklayers, carpenters, plaisterers, plumbers and labourers were at work, clearing the streets and the churchyard of rubbish, putting in 702 feet of glass on the north side of the church, mending the church door, altering pews and setting up rails on the north side of the church, making new leather buckets and repairing the old ones as a precaution against future fires, setting up the churchyard wall, and rebuilding the Vicarage. The opportunity was taken to cleanse the King's arms and the Prince's arms, the Lord's Prayer, Commandments and Belief. A new wall was built at the west end on the south side of the church. The parish tenements, mostly in Priests Alley, were repaired, and much was expended on quarrels of glass and on lead for the casements of the Audit House and other lesser buildings in the parish. For many years the surviving parishioners kept the fourth of January as a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance, collected "thanksgiving" money for the poor, and came together to hear a special sermon.

One bitter memory of the disaster lasted for several years in the acrimonious charges brought by the midwife Hester Shaw against the minister. Among the throngs who on the day following the explosion crowded Thomas Clendon's house in Tower Street, clamouring for their goods which had been brought in thither for safety, were messengers from Mistress Shaw, who came away discontented, feeling that Master Clendon had treated them with anger where they had sought sympathy. The distracted minister hesitated in handing over Mistress Shaw's bags of money, and apparently felt uncertain about the ownership of a certain "silver salt" which proved to be hers. Mistress Shaw frequented many prayer-meetings "in the way of her calling," and in spite of counsel from worthy and notable Puritan divines such as Master Calamy and Master Blackwell, she persisted in repeating her tale that the minister had kept back two bags of money and certain gold rolled in a quilt, and that his daughter had taken one of her new green aprons. Master Clendon attempted to clear himself by an oath taken before the Lord Mayor in 1653, and by publishing an apologia prefixed to a sermon upon "Justification Justified." This sermon had been preached in St. Gregory's church in 1652, and was itself too moderate to please the stricter and more "orthodox" divines. Mistress Shaw answered with "Innocency Restored," publishing sworn depositions in her support. Thus the parties tried out in the press a slander case, which under ordinary circumstances would have been heard in the ecclesiastical courts. (fn. 31)

In 1658, it became apparent that the church tower had been so greatly damaged by the explosion that it must either be rebuilt or repaired "for great danger [was] otherwise likely to ensue." In April of that year the Vestry decided to rebuild, accepting the plans of Samuel Twin, bricklayer. Five surveyors examined the old steeple that year; but work did not begin until March 1659, when the bells were taken down. George Lee, probably one of the workmen, was killed by a fall from the steeple, which was then being taken down by Mr. Brathwell. During this year the present brick tower was erected at the end of the nave, the "ould Saintes Bell" was replaced by a new one in the turret, the old peal of five bells was increased to six, and the old clock was replaced by a new one, flanked within the church by two figures of fretwork on each side the dial. Over £200 in voluntary gifts were collected towards this work; but its cost was considerably more, and the debt was only paid off after Dr. Layfield's return to the vicarage.

18.—The Later Growth of the Church and Parish

Dr. Layfield returned to his old parish shortly after the King came into his own again. His friends among the parishioners greeted him with a festive dinner on 20th October, 1662, and Thomas Clendon, who had supplanted him, retired to the small Essex living of Radminster, where he died.

In 1662 the vicar was once more provided with surplice and hood. But there remained a strong Puritan element among the Vestrymen, and his express wish that the communion table should be replaced altarwise at the east end of the church was only complied with in December 1662, upon an injunction from the Bishop. These were signs of the time. In 1663, the strict Puritans among the Vestrymen were faced with the need for resigning office unless they signed the Declaration of the Act of Uniformity, entailing not only acceptance of the revised Book of Common Prayer, but also renunciation of that Solemn League and Covenant which they had set in so proud a place in the chancel. Fifteen out of the thirty vestrymen declined to sign and may possibly have formed a nucleus for that conventicle of over forty persons, which met in David Austin's house in Tower Hamlet in 1686. (fn. 32) The resignation of just half the vestrymen as a result of the Fourth Act of Uniformity bears out the general impression, obtained from the details of the previous years, that the parishioners were about equally divided between zealous conformity and extreme Puritanism. The remaining fifteen vestrymen proceeded to choose others to bring their number up to thirty. They were faced with a great debt for the recent rebuilding of the church tower, and by difficulties in gathering the money in a divided parish. On Sunday, 23rd April, 1665, after evening prayers the greatest part of the substantial housekeepers with the Doctor [Layfield], churchwardens, and vestrymen appointed twelve persons to assess a rate towards discharging the debt. The churchwarden who ventured to demand the rate on Sir Richard Ford's house in Seething Lane spent an unhappy night in prison, although counsel's opinion was obtained that in the event of refusal the parish might distrain or take action in Court Christian or in the Lord Mayor's court. (fn. 33) Ford, however, who had been knighted for taking part in the city's address to Charles II at the Hague in 1660, was probably too powerful an opponent for this poor churchwarden.

The Great Fire, which began near London Bridge on the night of Saturday, 1st September, 1660, came roaring along Tower Street on the following Tuesday, "coming on in that narrow streete, on both sides, with infinite fury." By the end of the day it had destroyed the Dolphin Tavern, part of the church property; (fn. 34) but about here the blowing up of houses with gunpowder, and the help given by workmen from the King's Yards checked its progress. It was thus due to Sir William Penn, the distinguished admiral then in residence at the Navy Office, that All Hallows was saved from the fire, "it having burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and was there quenched." This was by the Wednesday, when Samuel Pepys went "up to the top of Barking steeple" . . . and thence watched the "great fires, oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning" until he "became afeared to stay there long and down again as fast as I could." (fn. 35) The church, indeed, had a very narrow escape, and the vicarage which stood against its south-west corner in Tower Street was destroyed, and was subsequently rebuilt by Dr. Layfield.

Pepys and Penn were not themselves parishioners of All Hallows, as they both lived at the Navy Office at the top of Seething Lane in St. Olave's parish. William Penn, the admiral's son and founder of Pennsylvania, had, however, been baptized at All Hallows in 1644. Pepys attended All Hallows only on special occasions. For instance, on 9th October, 1664, when the "wit of Cambridge," Mr. Fuller, preached "well and neatly" a sermon which must have had brevity as well as wit, for the Diarist was out in time for service at St. Olave's, and so was able to follow home from there "one of the prettiest women he ever saw." Pepys did not even attend the funeral of his "Morena," the "pretty black girl" Elizabeth Dekins, but listened in bed to the bells of All Hallows tolling for her burial on the night of 22nd October, 1662. (fn. 36) In 1667, Sarah Neesham was here married in a fit of generous gratitude by George Jeffreys, then a young lawyer, and destined to gain notoriety as a brutal judge and Lord Chancellor.

Towards the end of Charles II's reign, steps were taken to make the church and its services more beautiful. In 1675, Renatus Harris was employed to install an organ in the West Gallery, the old organ having probably disappeared during the Commonwealth. In the alterations which ensued the clock dial with its fretwork figures of Time and Death were moved into the church, and the figure which had stood between Time and Death was moved by the churchwarden (Mr. Clements) to the east end, where it was set up over the commandments. This was "a Great, Carved, Guilded Image, and about a yard and a half long, with great, broad, spreading wings, . . . the right Arm and Hand holding a Trumpet near to its mouth, the left . . . holding . . . a Label of Lead . . . on the Label Arise you dead, and come to judgment." Shortly afterwards one of the parishioners gave the church a rich "carpet" or frontal embroidered with a Glory and the letters I.H.S. About the same time, the lecturer, Mr. Jonathan Saunders, began to introduce more ceremony into his conduct of the services. These things gave offence to many coming as they did at a time when the popular mind, stirred to anti-Romanism by the intrigues of Titus Oates, converted all forms and ceremonies into Papistry. Presentments were made at the Old Bailey against this image "of St. Michael," and in 1681, the senior churchwarden, Edmund Sherman, having been indicted with others for allowing it to remain in the church, gave serious offence by his arbitrary actions, firstly by carrying off the image to the trial, secondly by pleading guilty contrary to the vicar's advice, and thirdly by making firewood of the figure for the vestry meetings. Meantime, the vicar, Dr. Hickes, had bound himself to traverse an indictment in the same matter at the sessions following; and the indictment was then quashed on the ground that offences violating the Edwardian Statute against images could not be tried save by Justices of Assize or of the Peace. The lecturer took up cudgels on behalf of the burned image, publishing two pamphlets on the "Apparitions" at Barking. Sherman's disrespect for the lecturer seems to have been compounded of a real disapproval of his novel ceremoniousness, and of jovial contempt for a neighbour with whom he had been "very merry at Tavern dinner last Election-day secundum usum Barkin." He answered the "Apparitions" in two clever but scurrilous pamphlets on "The Birth and Burning of St. Michael," and so the matter came to rest. (fn. 37)

The parishioners as a whole were evidently disinclined to support Sherman, and in 1686, the figure having been destroyed, Mr. John Richardson gave the present altar-piece, of classical design, with its pictures of Moses and Aaron and with the tables of the Commandments and the Lord's Prayer usual in the city churches rebuilt after the Great Fire. At the same time a new communion table was given by Major Richard Burdon. In the midst of the dispute, in 1682, Mr. James Foyle gave the present font-cover which has been ascribed to Grinling Gibbons, while Mr. George Crosley supplied the iron branch to support it. The cover cost £12; the branch £3.

The learned vicar who bore a dignified part in these contentions was Dr. George Hickes, who had recently been appointed to All Hallows, and resigned the living in 1686, being then Dean of Worcester. He afterwards lost all his preferments in 1689 upon refusing the oath of allegiance to William and Mary and turned physician to earn his daily bread; some years later he was one of the two Jacobean bishops consecrated at Enfield in order to continue the episcopal succession among non-jurors. Even before his appointment to All Hallows he had been connected with the neighbourhood, for in 1668 he had come courting a Mrs. Howell at the Navy Office and had preached at St. Olave's, Hart Street, a sermon which Samuel Pepys found "but dull." (fn. 38)

In 1695, All Hallows gave a resting-place to another famous nonjuror, the devout and learned John Kettlewell, who had been an intimate friend of George Hickes and was buried in the tomb that had been Arch bishop Laud's. The burial service was read by Bishop Ken himself, who (though a non-juror) officiated upon this occasion in episcopal vestments and prayed for the King and queens [sic]. (fn. 39)

During the last century or so parish life has undergone far-reaching changes. One of the greatest was the dwindling of the Vestry's power. At All Hallows the old "select" Vestry, whose records date back to 1629, readily accepted the new order of things, and at a meeting in the church in 1808 opened the election of its members to parishioners at large. It is to the Vestry's credit that this was done without the litigation which brought about the same changes elsewhere. The diversity of the church's duties in former days is reflected in its records. These include, for instance, the Workhouse Accounts, with a wealth of detailed expenditure upon Godfrey's cordial, Penny Royal, Juniper Berries and "Miselto," and also the rates for maintaining firecocks and the fire-engine, which was housed at the church. Later, in common with all parishes, the Vestry lost its civil duties, particularly the administration of poor relief, so that to-day its chief function is the choice of churchwardens.

The medieval "masters" of the parish managed secular and ecclesiastical business together, and never dreamed of severing them, for in their guilds and in their daily lives religion and trade were inextricably mingled. The modern Parochial Council, chosen by all enrolled communicants, has a more democratic constitution; but its business is more strictly limited to church matters. This is one result of the general tendency to separate religious from secular business, and this general tendency to segregate spiritual life has been intensified in city parishes, such as All Hallows, by the gradual replacement of crowded dwelling-houses by the office and the warehouse. In 1801 the parishioners numbered 2087; now there are barely 200.

More than once of late times, the large endowment of this important but sparsely-populated parish has been used for work of wider scope than that of a parish church. In 1884, All Hallows became the mission church of a small college of priests which was established in Trinity Square. In 1922, it became the Guild Church of Toc H, whose common ideals of service and comradeship are based upon memories of the Great War, and especially upon the social work then done by Talbot House in Poperinghe. The association of the church with this movement was confirmed in 1928 by the creation of an All Hallows Toc H Trust under a joint deed of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as patron, and the Corporation of Toc H. The Anglican padres were thereby given a special collegiate connexion, and a Collegiate House has been re-established (1929), at 42 Trinity Square. The increase in communicants from 1092 in 1922 to the present-day number of 7382 indicates the modern growth in the spiritual work of the church, which by means of Toc H is further extended throughout the Empire and beyond.


  • 1. Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London (Camden Soc.), 38.
  • 2. Letters & Papers Hen. VIII, iv. 4282.
  • 3. P.C.C., 12 Dyngeley.
  • 4. Ibid., 21 Logge.
  • 5. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 6. Sharpe, Cal. Husting Wills, i. 532
  • 7. Augm. Off., Chantry Cert. 34 (46).
  • 8. Ibid., Partrs. for Grants, 2114, 1780, 1899.
  • 9. See pp. 23, 24.
  • 10. "Firste I bequeathe my soul to my swete Saviour through Christ my only Redeemer, and to the whole holly companie of Heven, of which in faithe I believe to be one of them through the merytes of Christ's passion and no otherwise." (P.C.C., 17 Alen, cited by Maskell, Berkyngechirche (1864) 54).
  • 11. Diary of Henry Machyn (Camden Soc.), 113.
  • 12. Ibid., 61.
  • 13. Ibid., 109; Cal. S. P. Dom., 1547–80, pp. 81–84.
  • 14. Among the church records. The account is undated, but a comparison of the entries for burial fees with the register shows that it belongs to the year from Easter 1559 to Easter 1560.
  • 15. Church Deeds, Nos. 25, 26, 2.
  • 16. P.C.C., 36 Butts.
  • 17. Church Deeds, 64
  • 18. Church Deeds, 65.
  • 19. Ibid., 5, 79.
  • 20. Ibid., 27.
  • 21. Ibid., 77.
  • 22. Ibid., 73.
  • 23. Ibid., 10, 20, 74; Maskell, op. cit., p. 121.
  • 24. Ibid., 85.
  • 25. Ibid., 61.
  • 26. Ibid., 25.
  • 27. Vestry Min., 1647; cited by Maskell, op. cit., p. 115;
  • 28. Based mainly upon the Churchwardens' Accounts.
  • 29. Cal. S. P. Dom., 1641–3, p. 297; Cal. Com. for Advance of Money, 112; Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy (ed. Whittaker), 1863, p. 48.
  • 30. The religion I profess is that which passeth under the name of Protestant, though that be rather a name of distinction, than properly essential to the religion: but that Religion found out in the Reformation, purged from all the errors of Rome in the reign of Edw. 6, practised in the reign of Elizabeth, James and Charles. . . . that religion, before it was defaced, I am of, which I take to be Christ's catholic, though not the Roman catholic religion. (Cobbett, State Trials, V, 42.)
  • 31. Thomas Clendon, Justification justified . . in a sermon . . . 11 Dec., 1652. London, 1653; Hester Shaw, Mrs. Shaw's Innocency restored and Mr. Clendon's calumny retorted . . . London, 1653; and A plaine relation of my sufferings by that miserable combustion . . London, 1653.
  • 32. Conventicle Papers (Guildhall).
  • 33. Church Deed, 15.
  • 34. Ibid., 68.
  • 35. Diary (ed. Wheatley) V, 425, 426.
  • 36. Ibid., iv, 262; ii, 372.
  • 37. Edmund Sherman, The Birth and Burning of the Image called St. Michael. London, 1681.
  • 38. Diary, ed. Wheatley, viii, 108, 214.
  • 39. H. P. K. Skipton, The Non-jurors (1917), p. 33.