All Hallows by the Tower –
a church and its connection to Richard III
Today, 1 November, is All Hallows (or All Saints) Day. From this comes our Halloween (= All Hallows Eve, 31 October). On this day all saints, who have attained heaven, are commemorated. It was a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning the faithful were obliged to attend mass. Growing up in a traditionally Catholic area in Germany, I can remember our Catholic neighbours decorating the graves of their family members with candles the evening before. And of course it was a public holiday, which meant a welcome day off school!
This day is therefore a perfect opportunity to talk about All Hallows by the Tower, a church in Byward Street next to the Tower in London, which was also known as All Hallows Barking. The curious second part of its name reflects its history: The Benedictine nunnery of Barking in Essex held the advowson of the parish church .
The church was founded in 675 by Erkenwald, king of the Angles and later bishop of London . An arch from this original Saxon church remains. Beneath the arch is a Roman pavement, discovered in 1926, which shows that the site had been used in one way or another for a long time . This makes it the oldest church in the City of London .
Richard I built a chapel on the north side dedicated to St Mary, starting a long royal association with the chapel. Edward I was later to maintain in a letter to the pope that Richard’s heart was buried under the high altar, though this seems to be incorrect .
Edward I added a statue of St Mary after experiencing a vision in a dream. According to this vision he had to visit it five times each year and maintain the chapel and then he would “be victorious over all nations, be king of England when his father died, and subduer of the Welsh and all Scotland”. This statue became very famous and brought the church many rich offerings . Edward was also assured that the same success was promised to every just English monarch who continued these observances. In addition he asked the pope to grant an indulgence of 40 days to everyone who made a pilgrimage to the chapel or contributed to its fabric – as long as they also prayed for King Richard I .
All Hallows by the Tower was one of a number of churches supported by Richard III. During his time, the founding of chantries or collegiate churches was very fashionable among the aristocracy, and he followed the fashion enthusiastically, by founding ten chantries or collegiate churches and giving strong financial support to many religious houses. Though this has later been interpreted as just another measure to improve his image, we have to remember that most of his generosity to religious houses belongs to the period before he became king .
Among all the other horror stories in John Rous’ post-Richard III History of the Kings of England (which is in stark contrast to his Ricardian era The Rous Roll, which is full of praise), he says that Richard “founded another [chantry] in the church of St. Mary of Barking, by the Tower of London” .
This is not quite correct, as it was actually Edward IV, who in 1465 had founded a chantry at All Hallows consisting of two chaplains, who were to pray for the King, his mother, his brothers and their souls after their death as well as the souls of his father and brother Edmund and all the faithful departed. He endowed it with a manor and the advowson of Streatham (Sussex). There was a guild of St Mary, founded in 1442, with strong court as well as urban connections. At the time of the foundation of the chantry the master was John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester.
This strong Yorkist association together with its long royal connections probably was the reason for Richard III’s special interest in the chapel. He wanted to transform it into a royal free chapel and in March 1485 he arranged with Barking Nunnery to give the advowson of the parish church to the chapel in exchange for an annual fee. The chapel was to be collegiate with a dean and six canons (which incidentally is the same complement as his collegiate church at Middleham). Richard’s treasurer of the chamber, Edmund Chaderton, was to be its first dean .
The Literary Gazette from 1837 tells the whole story in such a lovely way: “King Richard III, whose memory, from a variety of causes, has been rendered so entirely infamous, that we can hardly recognise him as connected with any act save one of blood, rebuilt the chapel, and founded therein a college, consisting of a dean and six canons” . We don’t know how much of the rebuilding work, that was planned by Richard, was actually carried out before he fell at Bosworth .
Richard gave two very generous land grants to “St Mary, Barking” . Among many others Charles Ross assumed that Richard “gave the vast sum of lands … annually to the Benedictine nunnery of St Mary at Barking in Essex”, but can’t really explain why . Rosemary Horrox, however, suggests that it is much more likely that the beneficiary was not the Esssex nunnery, but St Mary’s Chapel at All Hallows Barking. The two grants together come to £592 4s 3d, and Horrox argues rather than two separate grants being applied at the same time, it was more a situation of either one or the other, to come to a total of £250, which would be in keeping with the grants to the college at Middleham (£200).
Unfortunately, Richard’s college of St Mary at All Hallows did not survive him for long. His land grant was cancelled by Henry Tudor. The chapel though survived until the Reformation. And even if Richard’s college only operated for a short time, prayers continued to be said for him at the chapel until its end: the guild of St Mary secured confirmation of Edward IV’s endowment from both Henry VII and Henry VIII, so that his chantry remained – with prayers for Richard, duke of Gloucester . By now, however, he seems to have been largely forgotten, as a list of “Historic Connections” does not include him (in March 2015). Maybe after all the headlines of finding and reburying his remains, it is time to reconsider that list?
During the Reformation in 1548, the chapel was demolished. Initially, the ground was used as a garden and later a “store-house of merchants’ goods” was built on the spot .
All Hallows church contains three outstanding wooden statues of saints dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. According to one source, one of them is a statue of St James of Compostella from 1484 , which would indicate a connection to Richard, but I could find no further reference to this.
According to some sources, Thomas More was buried here after his execution at the Tower . It is certainly ironic to think that Thomas More should be buried in the church that was so closely linked to the man whom he had slandered in his infamous History of King Richard III.
A connection of sorts with Richard III remains to this day: Jacquie Binns, who made the beautiful funeral pall which covered Richard III’s coffin before his reinterment, has also made various commissions for All Hallows by the Tower, for instance the Phoenix Altar Frontal and the Tower Hill Madonna, a Mother and Child sculpture.
- ‘All Saints’ Day’, Catholic Online. URL: http://www.catholic.org/saints/allsaints/ [last accessed 1 Nov. 2015]
- Horrox, R., “Richard III and Allhallows Barking by the Tower”, The Ricardian, Vol.VI, No.77, June 1982, p.38
- ‘Review of the Churches of London & c, by George Godwin jun.’, The Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c., 21. London, 1837, p.494
- “1300 years of faith on Tower Hill”, All Hallows by the Tower
- “Welcome to All Hallows by the Tower”, All Hallows by the Tower. URL: http://www.allhallowsbythetower.org.uk/ [last accessed 1 Nov. 2015]
- Horrox, R., p.38
- The Literary Gazette
- Horrox, R., p.38
- Ross, C., Richard III. Yale English Monarchs, Yale University Press, 1999, Reprinted 2005, p.130
- Rous, J., History of the Kings of England; quoted in Potter, J., Good King Richard? An Account of Richard III and his Reputation. Constable Books, London/GB, 1996, p.88
- Horrox, pp.38-39
- The Literary Gazette
- Horrox, p.39
- Horrox, p.38
- Ross, p.130
- Horrox, pp.38-40
- The Literary Gazette
- Sacred Destinations, URL: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/london-all-hallows-by-the-tower [last accessed 1 Nov. 2015]
- Sacred Destinations; ‘Notable people associated with the history of All Hallows’, All Hallows by the Tower
Update, 5 November 2015:
You can listen to the ‘Dean’s Discussion’ with Jacquie Binns about the coffin pall here.