All Hallows by the Tower is not the most well-known landmark in London, but it is certainly one of the most interesting. Built on a hill just to the west of the Tower of London, All Hallows was founded 400 years before its tourist-trap neighbor. The building is a microcosm of London history: Roman floor tiles line the basement, laid down when London was still Londinium, a major outpost of the Roman Empire. An arch from Saxon times—when the church was officially founded—stands as a reminder of Rome’s eventual collapse. Thomas More paid a visit here in 1535; unfortunately, it was after he had been beheaded at the nearby Tower. One hundred years later, Samuel Pepys sat in its tower as the Great Fire raged just beyond its hallowed ground. The church was unable to dodge calamity a second time, though, as the 1940 Blitz left it nearly destroyed.
It has unusual ties to America, too: Pennsylvania founder William Penn was baptized here in 1644, 38 years before the Quaker paid his first visit to the English colonies. John Quincy Adams married his English bride—the only US First Lady to be born outside of America—at the church in 1797. Their marriage registry is on display, our sixth president’s name in a foreign land.
Few people visit London’s oldest church, and there are frequently only one or two people on its daily guided tours. It’s not popular. It’s not well known. And you can see highlight’s from London’s 2000-year history within its walls. Save yourself the Tower’s £22 admission fee and swing by All Hallows instead.