Smiling water-babies at All Hallows-by-the-Tower

They are sculptures on gateposts leading to a terrace outside All Hallows-by-the-Tower. There are many stories to tell about the church, here is one.

The church gets its name because it is close to the Tower of London. It was the main church in City for mariners because below it is was the port of London on the river Thames . The sculptures are called The Sea and were unveiled in 1965.

I really like them for the way the children curl around each-other and look confidently outwards. Waves and dolphins play between them. There is something baroque about the composition but the children’s faces are definitely by a C20th artist.

Toc H Lamp CC BY NC 2.0 photo by tim ellis

A ruined warehouse at the east end of the church demolished to make way for the terrace where they stand. At the time it improved the view of Tower Bridge.  The Tower Hill Improvement Trust was responsible and its chairman, Sir Follett Holt is remembered in an inscription on the gatepost.

Behind the sculpted children is a plaque on the church wall with the image of a lamp. All the sculptures are by Cecil Thomas (1885-1976). As a young artists he made seals and later cameo portraits on gems for jewellers such as Fabergé. That led to a career in creating medals and coins including a new six penny piece in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth II.  He also sculpted tomb effigies. Two of them are inside the church. The first was for his friend, Lieutenant Alfred Forster who died in 1919 and the second for Philip Clayton. 

Toc H

CC BY SA 2.0 photo by John Salmon

Reverend Philip “Tubby” Clayton (1885-1972) was also a member of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust but he is best known as the founder of Toc H during WWI.

He was an army chaplain based in Belgium in 1915. He converted a rented hop warehouse in Poperinge into a place where soldiers passing through on the way to Ypres could relax. It was called Talbot House after Gilbert Talbot, the brother of his colleague who had been killed in action. The house became known as TH then Toc H. The soldiers could read and talk there. It was a respite from life in the trenches. Clayton also organised concerts. The aim of Toc H is to encourage friendship, fair mindedness, public service and reconciliation. It still exists. An oil lamp with the cross of Ypres called the Lamp of Maintenance became the Toc H symbol.

World War II

Clayton was vicar of All-Hallows-by the-Tower for 40 years from 1922-62. During WWII his church was very badly damaged by bombing and he campaigned to raise funds for its restoration. It looks very different today from the 1955 photo below. Most noticeable now is a green copper spire built on top of the church tower.

It is a wonderful church to visit. There is a blue plaque nearby on the house in Trinity Square which was the vicarage in his day. Check out the church website for more of what there is to see at https://ahbtt.org.uk

Do you know this church? If so what wowed you most about it. For me it is going downstairs to see the remains of Roman floor tiles in situe!!! Its amazing to think people would have walked here nearly 2000 years ago.

About the author: Gail Jones

Tourist Guide

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