Vic Keegan’s Lost London 18: All Hallows-by-the-Tower

by Victor Keegan

This church – All Hallows-by-the-Tower in Byward Street EC3, founded in 675 on Roman remains – helped shape America. One United States President, John Quincy Adams, was married there (to a local lass) and another, even more distinguished, man was baptised and schooled there. He was the extraordinary William Penn, who sailed to what is now America in 1682 to found the colony of Pennsylvania – named after him –  with land provided by Charles II, who owed his dad buckets.

Penn also established the city of Philadelphia and drafted a constitution for Pennsylvania that became a blueprint for that of the future USA. In the new colony he espoused freedom of conscience and equal rights for women, becoming one of the true champions of liberty in the new continent.

But before that Penn managed to be imprisoned both in the Tower of London and in the notorious Fleet debtors’ prison for his Quakerism. He railed against other religions calling the Catholic Church “the Whore of Babylon” and Puritans “hypocrites”. This made him no friends in the establishment and he was arrested several times for his religious tracts.

In a celebrated case of 1670, when the jury had found Penn not guilty of illegal assembly by preaching in the streets, the judge in the case – who happened to be Lord Mayor of the City as well – threw both Penn and the jury into gaol until the latter relented. In the end, the jury won the right to be free from the control of judges. This ruling helped to shape the subsequent course of American justice.

All Hallows has also played a part in major London historical events: Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London in 1666 from its tower; the Catholic martyr John Fisher was buried there after after being beheaded in the Tower; and the “Hanging Judge” Jeffreys was married there.

Interestingly, William Penn banned capital punishment in Pennsylvania for everything except murder and treason at a time when hundreds of petty crimes carried that punishment in England. Judge Jeffreys would not have approved.

All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London are here.

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