After visiting Sutton House, I accidentally stumbled across a medieval tower (don’t you just love it when that happens?) – St. Augustine’s Tower. I decided to check out this late medieval building smack in the middle of Hackney so I climbed to the top to get a spectacular view of London. I’m not a fan of heights or small spaces and this was both, so I must admit, there were a few occasions in the climb where I was a wee bit unsettled but I plowed on and made it all the way to the top. The view I was rewarded with was well worth my initial discomfort.
The History of the Tower
The tower has a fascinating history. St. Augustine’s tower is the oldest building in the borough of Hackney. It has survived through the centuries well after the original church was demolished in 1798. The tower was once a part of the church of St. Augustine which was built in the thirteenth century. At the time, Hackney was a village separate from London. The church at one point was owned by the Knights Templar and changed names to St. John because after their order was suppressed, their land and estates passed to the order of St. John, Hospitaller. Once the Order of St. John ceased to exist after the Reformation, the tower was passed around to various owners. A sixteenth century clock was placed on the third floor of the tower and has remained there since 1608 but the clock maker is unknown.It was manually wound for four hundred years and has recently been repaired to preserve its mechanism.
The tower was rebuilt in the sixteenth century as part of a church renovation project. During the Tudor period, the church was used by such famous people as Sir Ralph Sadleir, the first owner of nearby Sutton House, and Thomas Cromwell. After the medieval church was pulled down in the late eighteenth century, the tower was left standing to house the eight bells of Hackney. The bells were removed in 1854 and since then, the tower has been used for a slew of different things: a mortuary, a gardening shed, a safe, and a location for art exhibits!
The tower has several landings. The first floor is the entrance level with a small stairway to your left, leading to where you begin your climb. The climb up gradually narrows to an uncomfortable degree. You can’t pass people once in the stairwell so you have to call out to let them know you’re coming up or down, otherwise, you have to wait at one of the landings to let people pass. You have to watch your footing because the steps are uneven and slippery. On the first landing, there is a room with a the pendulum case, on the second landing, the clock room and on the final landing, the bell room. You continue up and come out to the roof to a lovely view of London. It’s really worth the climb! I had especially good luck in that it was a warm and sunny day and there were many people up on the rooftop. It’s not a long climb but definitely something fun to do while in Hackney taking in the local history.
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