History of St Augustine’s Tower Hackney

Little remains of the original 16th century parish church that once stood in Hackney and served the local population’s religious needs for centuries. But, luckily, its historic church tower has been preserved even though the church itself was demolished in 1798.

If you find yourself in the Hackney area on a day when it is open to the public, it gives you the perfect chance to take a look around a Grade I listed church tower with some exceptional 16th century features and a fantastic panoramic view over London. This is the oldest building in Hackney; the historical significance of this landmark tower can be seen in its depiction in the borough’s coat of arms.

The history of St Augustine’s Tower

The original parish church in Hackney was built in the 13th century when the parish became a sinecure rectory with permission to have a vicar and a rector. At this point Hackney was a small village on the outskirts of London. The church was originally dedicated to St Augustine, although in the 17th century it was re-dedicated to St John, becoming known as St John-at-Hackney. The tower is, however, still called the St Augustine’s Tower.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the church was developed and extended to meet the needs of the growing local population. The church could count some significant figures in its congregation including Henry VIII’S right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, and his protégée, Sir Ralph Sadleir. Sadleir lived in Hackney and was responsible for building another of the area’s best known and most historic buildings, Sutton House.

The church reached its peak during the 18th century when it was able to hold a congregation of around 1,000 people; however, this capacity was still not big enough for local needs and a decision was made to rebuild the main church completely. The original buildings were therefore pulled down in 1798. The original plan was to also demolish the tower that still stands today, however the new church was not capable of holding bells at this point. So, the tower was left in place with its bells to serve the new church until it could hold its own bells.

The tower remained under threat of demolition, especially after the new church solved its problems with bells. It was used for various purposes during this time. At one point, it became a local public mortuary and was also used as a tool storage area for the gardeners working on the new church’s gardens. It remained in a state of flux until 1929.

At this point, the tower was purchased by the local council who decided it should not be pulled down but should be preserved for its historical significance. Over the years, some minor renovations and repairs were carried out; however, the main renovation work did not really start in earnest until the 1980s.

It took until the 2000s for full renovations to be completed. This ultimately restored the original clock and made the inside of the building safe to access. There is now a permanent exhibition in the tower and visitors can look round it and climb to its roof at certain times.

The clock at St Augustine’s Tower

The tower is not the only think to look at when you visit — the clock at St Augustine’s is interesting in itself. It is thought to have been put in place in the 16th or 17th centuries and is a fine example of a church clock of the period. It needed to be wound by hand for over 400 years and played a pivotal role in the lives of local residents for many centuries. When it was put in place, it was the only way for the public to tell the time in Hackney village. There are four floors in St Augustine’s Tower and three of them house part of the clock and its workings.

Visiting St Augustine’s Tower

The public can access the tower once a month on the last Sunday of the month. It is also sometimes open on other special days, such as London Open House days. It opens from 2pm to 4.30pm. Going up the tower does involve climbing a fair few steps in its narrow spiral staircase, so you do need to be comfortable climbing in a confined space if you want to go to the roof.

If you prefer, you can stay on the ground floor where there is an interactive kiosk where you can view a virtual reality panorama view as it is seen from the top of the tower. The interior of the tower has been fully restored and is well worth a visit in its own right. The view from the top of the tower gives you a great vista over Hackney and the East End of London.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • Stan Bunting on East London, a History of BowDoes anyone know of william Crawley the pawnbroker of Bow, who traded during the latter part of the 1800s. he was also the landlord of over 30 addresses on Bow
  • Adrian Walker on History of The East London CockneyThanks. I was born within the sound but before the bells were replaced in late 61. Hopefully I can still consider myself a true Cockney.
  • Adrian Walker on History of The East London CockneyI was born 2 miles west of St Mary le Bow in Dec 61. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered I am not a Cockney as the bells were not
  • Lloyd Unstead on Saddlers Hall Cheapside | WW2 PhotosWould like to see you , please give time and place
  • Marion James on History of Poplar East LondonIngrid I am currently researching Poplar as I'm looking for information about the Old Poplar Police Station and came across this website - by looking up your surname on the
  • maureen Perry on Saddlers Hall Cheapside | WW2 PhotosHi Lloyd, would love to meet up with you. we used to go to cemeteries and there are a few hidden ones in Brentwood where I live.....would love to see
  • maureen Perry on Saddlers Hall Cheapside | WW2 PhotosHi Lloyd, would love to meet up with you. we used to go to cemeteries and there are a few hidden ones in Brentwood where I live.....would love to see
  • C on History of The East London CockneyMy husband and his family spoke backslang fluently, As did my mum. It was usually used by tradesmen, shopkeepers etc who didn’t want their customers to know what they were
  • Wendy Linge on The History of Beckton Gas WorksMy grandparents lived in 74 Winsor Terrace. They lived there from 1915 when they got married. My father was born there in 1916. My father went to Winsor school, then
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonJoe , sorry to hear about mum hope she’s gets well soon , the Bell pub is good for me , see you soon , Charlie.
  • Joe Clarke on History of Canning Town East LondonMy apologies Charlie i found my mother collapsed at home (Bernard's sister) so nursing her back to health. Give me a while and we can arrange something maybe at The
  • Ingrid on History of Poplar East LondonUnfortunately I don't have any info regarding comments. Interesting site. My great aunt's family ran a baker shop from Upper North Street, Poplar. The 1901 the census shows that they
  • chris savory on The East End in the 1950shi jean i was born in st andrews hosp - devons rd in 1950. i did exactly what yoy described what memories eh? COYI.
  • chris savory on V1 and V2 Rocket Attacks in East Londonhi there does anyone have knowledge of a v1 /v2 that hit knapp rd bromley-by-bow?
  • chris savory on East London Foodhi there does anyone remember the p& m shop in bow rd?

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 196 other subscribers.

Top