All Hallows by the Tower review (Feb 2016)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
People pass by this church without giving it a second thought, but please don't be one of them, because there's something very special in the basement that will make it worth a visit.
You'll find the church a short stroll from the Tower of London, directly opposite Tower Hill. That's where they used to set up the gallows every Saturday afternoon to give the crowd a bit of rowdy entertainment four hundred years ago. They gathered around here in their thousands to watch them stretch a few necks on the end of a noose, before the lifeless bodies were carted over to this church so their loved ones could weep in peace and carry them away, to wherever it was they dug their muddy hole.
So there's a lot of history attached to this place. It might not look it from the outside, but it's actually the oldest church still standing in the City of London. Samuel Pepys is supposed to have watched the Great Fire of London raging out of control from the steeple upstairs, and parts of the crypt are even older than the Tower of London next-door. Unfortunately it's also the unluckiest church in England because it's been blown up, burnt down and bombed, and only the tower and two of the exterior walls survive from olden times. The rest of it got obliterated by those damned Nazis in World War II.
At the back of the church is a very narrow flight of stairs down to the crypt, where you'll find the holy of holies: a piece of tessellated Roman pavement that is still lying in the exact same spot where the Romans were standing 1,800 years ago. And that's not all, because the cramped little passage runs all the way under the church to a sunken chapel at the back.
It is the most unexpected thing that you can ever imagine. The whole thing is dimly lit and lined with Saxon stonework in the walls. They've got old roman bowls down there, ancient needles and keys, and silver and gold goblets from the 17th-century. There are a few interesting old pictures of London as well, plus some intricate little models of the church before it got damaged. They've even got an old crow's nest from one of Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expeditions!
I'm not religious in the slightest, but this secret museum is one of the reasons why I love visiting London's churches.
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