One castle a day – A trip to London Part 1

Hello, hello!

Welcome dear travelers! What a busy period of time we have had! The February is here already, UK is enjoying a spring-like treatment and Mal is having a stormy weather in Malta with loads of hailstorms, torrential rainfalls and cold winds. After the wettest winter in living history (or in the last 250 years), United Kingdom is enjoying some well deserved break and it seems that Malta has packed her bags and sailed away to visit some relatives near The Puget Sound 🙂 (if you didn’t know, Malta is twinned with the beautiful Bain Bridge Island in Seattle!)

Cherry blossom tree in early March - classic Gothic spring
Cherry blossom tree in early March – classic Gothic spring

We are trilled to tell you that the travel series entitled “One castle a day” proved to be a real hit! Two-part review of our recent visit to Brecon Cathedral brought a lot of traffic to our little shrine. We are now seriously considering updating this series on a monthly basis – there’s so much we have seen and we desperately want to share our voyages with you. You can expect reports on Tintern Abbey, Worcester, Brockhampton Estate, Chepstow Castle and many more in the next weeks to come so don’t be lazy and visit Vanadian Avenue as quickly as you can!

Inspired by our success, Malicia checked our archives and started looking for some fascinating stories we could tell you straight away. Our visitors seems to like cathedrals, old churches, medieval effigies and thrilling tales filled with blood, murder, rivalry, plots or tragedies. We have asked ourselves a question – is there a place near us that could have it all? Of course there is! The answer was so obvious that for a moment, we felt silly that we have never thought of it before. London, the capital of Great Britain, is one of the most beloved cities on the planet. Millions of people travel half the world just to spend a couple of days there.  On the other hand, some visitors say that London seems to be completely deprived of mystery and romance. It is so well known, that literally almost every attraction can be seen online from every angle. All tourist friendly places have been reviewed so many times by so many people, that it’s really hard to find something new.

All Hallows By The Tower Roman portal
All Hallows By The Tower Roman portal

Still, Londinium remains very special to us. We might not be the most original bloggers on the World Wide Web, but we have to add our two pounds to the existing blogosphere about the capitol. Don’t you worry, we will not take you on a tour around the Buckingham Palace (maybe not yet but we certainly plan to go there one day!). We have chosen something dark and sinister, especially for your enjoyment. Believe us, there are still places in London that can scare the living daylight out of you and blow the socks off your feet – like Tower Hill. We traveled to London quite some time ago, in 2009 but the memories are still alive. If you love Doctor Who, this enthralling but a bit creepy atmosphere, like something bad is about to happen, then you will love this review as well.  So, lets take a walk around a place where heads rolled by a dozen.

1. All Hallows-By-The-Tower

In middle ages, All Hallows-by-the-Tower was known as All Hallows Barking. The name was taken from the Saxon Abbey at Barking where the church was first established in 675 AD. Before the church was constructed, the place has been carefully picked up by the builders – there is some historic evidence that an earlier building once stood at the top of the hill that now overlooks the Tower of London. The archaeologists discovered house foundation dating back to 4th century in the church’s crypt, but we are not sure if the building was a place of worship or maybe just a small Roman fort. Whatever has been built before the church, the perfect location made it difficult to be conquered and allowed the inhabitants to scan the surrounding area for any possible threats.

All Hallows By The Tower gates
All Hallows By The Tower gates

The crypt is worth visiting as it serves now as a museum and bears the name of The Undercroft Gallery. You can find there a nice (but rather small) collection of Roman pottery, artifacts and religious objects, complete collection of church registrars, remains of beautiful Saxon cross from the 7th Century and model of Roman Londinium. The registrars are worth taking a closer look at as they go back to 1558 and include the baptism documents of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania (from 1644), marriage certificate of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of United States and Louisa Johnson (from 1797) and the burial of poor William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (who has been beheaded in the Tower in 1645 and laid to rest in the church for more than 20 years. His body has been then moved to St. John’s College in Oxford). Accountants will be delighted to find a rich collection of annual accounting books, ledgers, journals and churchwardens’ notes dating back to 1628 – those document along with church administration books (from 1629) are giving us a good insight into parochial and secular affairs during the turbulent times of Tudor Dynasty.

 Angel relief on the exterior of All-Hallows-By-The-Tower church
Angel relief on the exterior of All-Hallows-By-The-Tower church

Two smaller chambers: St Francis Chapel and Oratory of St Clare are also available for viewing. Please be mindful of others during your exploration as both chapels are open for private prayers and many Londoners are using them. If you are alone, don’t forget to look for three Saxon coffins and an impressive stone altar that according to legends has been bought from Richard I’s Castle Athlit in Palestine by Crusaders sometime in 12th or 13th century.

We could spend hours describing all the wonderful things that the church has to offer. Apart form the crypts and the museum, visitors are encouraged to see the 7th century Saxon arch doorway with unique Roman tiles that once formed a pavement, 16th century effigy and tomb of an Italian merchant named Hieronimus Benalius (he died in 1583), brilliant Tate Altar Panel from 1500, collection of 17 medieval memorial brasses, Mariner chapel (with ships of different sizes and shapes donated by church goers) and the priceless baptismal front cover carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons for £12 (a fortune by 17th century standards!)

Back view of All-Hallows-At-The-Tower
Back view of All-Hallows-At-The-Tower

All Hallows-By-The-Tower is not only a true pearl among the London’s churches, but it also has a fascinating history to match its extraordinary interiors. Located near the infamous Tower of London, the church has long been associated with the Crown. Kings and Queens of United Kingdom came to the church for services; one of the chapels even became a royal chantry during the reign of Edward IV. The bloodiest link between the church and the Royals has been established during the 16th and 17th centuries. The bodies of people tortured and murdered in the Tower were usually stored and prepared for temporary rest in the main crypt. Among almost 40 brutally murdered individuals, we  can find famous writer and philosopher Thomas More (beheaded for refusing to sign Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy and buried in 1535), John Fisher (Catholic Bishop and Chancellor of Oxford University) and the mentioned earlier William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

And another beautiful shots of the church
And another beautiful shots of the church

The church has miraculously survived two accidents that nearly destroyed the whole neighborhood.  In 1650, several barrels of gunpowder stored in the churchyard were set of fire and exploded destroying the church west tower and more than 50 houses around. Sixteen years later, The Great Fire of London threatened the church and admiral William Penn had to  sacrifice several row of houses to create a firebreaks. During the WWII, All Hallows sustained heavy damage from German bombardment of London, but even the Blitz was not enough to destroy the building. Renovated to the highest standards in 1950’s, All Hallows-By-The-Tower is enthralling each visitor. To see the church in all its splendid, you have to came and see for yourself.

Official website:
Official Facebook:

2.Malta Siege Memorial

Continuing our journey around the Tower Hill, we discovered a small memorial dedicated to Maltese nation. Again, just like the church, this simple stone monument is sadly overlooked by tourists despite its huge historical significance. Luckily for us, Malicia has been living on Malta since 2006 and everything related to this lovely Mediterranean island is quickly picked up on her natural radar.  The monument is officially known as the Malta Siege Memorial and has been built to commemorate the sacrifice and bravery of Maltese women and men.

Malta Siege Memorial
Malta Siege Memorial

A short reminder to those who have slept through WWII history lessons in high school: Malta, one of the smallest countries in Europe and a member of the Commonwealth, survived the longest and most brutal bombardment of WWII. The naval and aerial battle between The Allies (UK, America and their partners) and The Axis (Nazi Germany/Fascist Italy and satellite states) is now known as the Siege of Malta. The constant bombardment started on January 1st and ended on 24th of July 1942. There was only one period of just 24 hours when the bombs were not falling down. In total, Malta had to endure astonishing 154 continuous day and night time bombings. The results of the prolonged siege were catastrophic: nearly 7000 civilians were killed and 30.000 buildings were destroyed including many architectonic gems like medieval palazzos, theaters and museums. Hundreds of churches and works of art were damaged or lost.  If you weren’t aware, Malta in its entirety is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected for future generations. The bombardment may have shattered buildings and flattened the landscape but could not break the nation. In April 1942, the people of Malta have been honored with the award of the George Cross by King George VI.

The memories of those terrible times inspired a group of retired Navy officers to share their experiences with young people of Malta and Great Britain. In July 1987, Capt. E.A.S Bailey and Navy officer Fred Plenty founded the George Cross Island Association. The organization quickly became internationally known and other former soldiers joined in. Soon GCIA included members of The Navy, British and Maltese Army, Air Force, Merchant Navy, nursing and Civil Defense personnel. Nowadays, the organization has several branches around the world and holds an annual meeting on Malta and In London. The current President of the GCIA is Judge Dr.Joseph Galea Debono B.A., L.L.D.

Second  plague on the Memorial with description of the bombardment in 1942
Second plague on the Memorial with description of the bombardment in 1942

Malta Siege Memorial on Tower Hill has been inaugurated on August 15th 2005 in the presence of then President of Malta, Edward Fenech Adami, Prince Philip and nearly 500 invited guests. The monument is 3 meters tall and has been carved from a stone from Gozo, as Maltese lime stone was too soft to withstand the rainy English weather.  Each of the four sides has a carved slate slab: two first give information about the Siege of Malta, the third side contains details about the George Cross award and the tribute by President Roosevelt and the fourth side contains a map showing the theater of operations in the Mediterranean.

Malta Siege Memorial  - the frontal description and the Cross
Malta Siege Memorial – the frontal description and the Cross

The Front of the memorial reads:

“Malta G.C. The Siege of 1940-43. In 1940 the sinister shadow of Fascism spilled across Europe and into North Africa. Malta, under the protection of Great Britain, found herself alone in a hostile Mediterranean 800 miles from her nearest allies in Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besieged by enemies Malta became a fulcrum on which the fate of the war balanced for the next three years. If Malta fell the rest of North Africa would follow. Opening the door to the oil fields of the Middle East and for the Axis Powers to join in Asia and threaten India. The allies knew this. So did the Axis Powers. Malta, besieged, became and remains the most bombed place in the history of War. Supplied only by Sea, at great cost, Malta was defended not only by her own people but by forces drawn from the whole free world. Fighter aircraft delivered by the American and Royal Navies were piloted by Britons, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. Convoys crewed by British, American and Commonwealth seamen were supported by the free forces of Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland. Free Norwegians added their merchant fleet to the Allied cause. In April 1942 King George VI awarded to the People of Malta the George Cross, the highest decoration for civilian courage and heroism. By summer 1942 only weeks of food remained and the Allies mounted operation Pedestal as a last attempt to save Malta. After a five-day running battle the Convoy’s four remaining merchant vessels and the immortal Tanker Ohio, all that was left of the fourteen that set out, entered the Grand Harbour. The date was 15th August, 1942, the feast of Santa Maria. The siege was broken; within months North Africa was retaken and the first steps of European liberation begun. This stone taken from Malta was presented by the Maltese Government on the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War to commemorate all who participated in the siege and defence of Malta, 1940-43. Placed by the George Cross Island Association, 15th, August 2005.”

Map of Mediterranean during WWII
Map of Mediterranean during WWII

A sister monument, known as The Siege Bell, guards the entrance to the Great Harbour in Valletta.  It was erected on 29th of May 1992 thanks to generous donation from Maltese and British governments, private donors and all GCIA branches. The memorial has been designed and sculpted from Gozo stone by artist Michael Sandle and has a form of a classical open temple. The heavy bell that hangs inside was cast in United Kingdom and its chimes were donated by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.  We have visited the Siege Bell in April 2011 to pay our own tribute to those affected by war.

Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta, Malta
Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta, Malta

Official site:

3. Baron Soper Memorial Plague

Socialists of the world, unite! We have something a tiny bit more entertaining now for you dear readers. Tower Hill is not only about the atrocities of war or terrors at the Tower of London. Boys and girls, if you haven’t heard about Baron Soapbox, you have yet much to learn!

Donald Oliver Soper, Baron Soper was a legendary street preacher, Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist. And when we say legendary, we truly mean it. This extraordinary man took preaching from the dusted parochial meeting rooms into the big wide open and turned it into spectacle of wit, humor with a huge dose of controversy. Equally loved and hated for his sharp tongue, Baron Soper left no soul feeling passive or neutral. You either agreed with the man wholeheartedly or rejected everything he said. There was no middle ground and Lord Soper knew it well.

Born on 31st of January 1903 and educated at Cambridge and London School of Economics, Lord Baron was genuinely trying to make the world a better place. As a minister, he was actively helping those marginalized by the big city: single mothers, runaways, homeless or alcoholics. A vivid supporter and member of the Labour Party, he harshly criticized the conservative politics in 1980, calling Margaret Thatcher as “inherently incompatible with Christianity”. During the WWII, he joined the Peace Pledge Union and preached pacifism so effectively that the BBC Council has banned him form broadcasting!

The Memorial dedicated to Lord Donald Soper
The Memorial dedicated to Lord Donald Soper

He is probably the best known for his 70 year tenure as an outdoor preacher on Tower Hill and Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. Standing on an old soapbox, he would lecture the crowds about Christian values, importance of being true to yourself, taking care of others, social justice and many other issues he considered to be of great importance to the society. Even after becoming seriously ill and bound to wheelchair, he would still arrive to preach, meet with London youths and have a laugh (or an argument!)
Lord Soper passed away on 22nd of December 1998 at the advanced age of 95. He will be missed for many, many generations to come. A commemorative plague has been placed on Tower Hill to inform the passer-byes of his contribution to democracy.

You can find more information about Lord Soper here:

Well, we have reach the end of the first part of our review. Please return quickly as we have more to tell you about the dreadful Tower of London itself!
Take care  and see you around.
Rita and Malicia

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