Vic Keegan’s Lost London 272: All Hallows – a hidden church in the heart of the City

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 272: All Hallows – a hidden church in the heart of the City

The City of London prides itself on the peaceful co-existence of God and Mammon. Dozens of churches have survived in what became one of the most densely concentrated areas in the world dedicated to the worship of money. The most poignant example is at the junction of two of the City’s most iconic roads. One is Gracechurch Street, whose name is derived from preceding ones including, according to A Survey of London (1603) “because the Grasse market went downe that way”. The other is Lombard Street, named after Italian financiers from Lombardy who, in 1318, established goldsmith shops there, the forerunners of modern banks.

One of the most famous of those banks was Barclays, which for many years owned nearly all the properties where the two streets meet as its head office. This manifestation of Mammon well nigh smothered All Hallows church – not to be confused with the All Hallows of London Wall – which can trace its origins back to Christian worship on the site since 1053. But despite being obscured, it maintained its presence for centuries, being twice rebuilt and incorporating a stone porch taken from the priory of St John of Jerusalem in Clerkenwell after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century.

It did not escape the Great Fire of 1966, which destroyed the church completely. But 20 years later a completely new one was built by Christopher Wren on the same spot (main image), even though it couldn’t be seen from the street. In the 1830s, George Godwin, founder of that influential journal The Builder, commented that All Hallows was so hemmed in by other buildings, that “it is with difficulty discovered, even when looked for; it has in consequence been called ‘the invisible church’.”

It is now completely invisible on its original site in that it isn’t there anymore. In 1939 it was pulled down, though Wren’s tower and porch were preserved, dismantled and taken stone by stone to Twickenham to form part of another brand new All Hallows, which stands close to the famous rugby stadium there (see below). It also contains the pews and the pulpit from the City site and a stunning altarpiece, which is quite possibly the work of the eminent carver Grinling Gibbons, or his studio.

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All Hallows wasn’t the only London church to be demolished and re-erected elsewhere. St Andrew’s north of Oxford Street was moved 10 miles to Kingsbury, and St Mary, Aldermanbury, went all the way to Fulton, Missouri. Others, such as Christchurch Greyfriars and the lovely St Dunstan in the East, have been preserved as iconic public spaces on land worth many millions at today’s prices.

The wonder is that so many churches have survived during a period of soaring land prices. Most of them are still active, but you don’t have to be religious to marvel at the architecture and the buried history in each and every one of them. The New Testament may be right that you can’t serve God and Mammon, but the City of London appears to have found an acceptable compromise.

All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here and a book containing many of them can be bought here. Follow Vic on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, Lost London

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