This is the oldest bit of church anywhere in central London.
It's an Anglo-Saxon arch dating to the 7th century. It was already getting on a bit when Alfred the Great was a kid. By the time the Tower of London was built, the arch could claim 400 birthdays. And look there at the top — those thin slabs are Roman tiles, scavenged from derelict buildings of still earlier centuries.
The arch was revealed during the second world war, when a direct hit on All-Hallows-by-the-Tower flattened most of the church walls, but brought this long-lost treasure back to light.
This astounding survival is just one reason to step inside All Hallows, the green-spired church close to the Tower of London.
Into the crypt
A motherlode of historic artefacts awaits in the small Crypt Museum, accessed by a narrow staircase. The first thing you notice, though, is the rumble of trains. The Circle line passes close by, on the north side of the crypt walls. It only adds to the atmosphere of this dimly lit space.
The star attractions are Roman. The church was built on an earlier Roman house, and numerous tessellated paving stones have been left in situ. The most eye-catching exhibit is probably the model of Roman London. It was assembled in the 1920s, and is itself somewhat historic. As the interpretation board says, subsequent archaeology has proved many of its features inaccurate.
American visitors will enjoy the middle section of the museum, which includes parish records for William Penn and John Quincy Adams who were respectively married and baptised in the church. An impressive plaque to Penn, damaged in the Blitz, is also on display.
Other exhibits in the museum include various bits of church plate, more Anglo-Saxon stonework and, perhaps most puzzlingly, the crow's nest from Ernest Shackleton's last Antarctic voyage. Be sure also to nip into the side-chapel. Here you can see a twisting stalactite of metal. This is another relic of the Blitz. Firebombs melted the lead roof, which melted and dripped down into the floors below.
When to visit All-Hallows-by-the-Tower
The church and its crypt museum tend to be open most days, including weekends, during reasonable hours. Entrance is free, and well worth the time if you're visiting the Tower of London or in that part of town for other reasons.