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A baby, but no bath water

John Strype

Whilst rooting about in A Survey Of The Cities Of London and Westminster written by John Strype in the 1720s for some information, I came across a story by accident that is too good not to tell.

The story is set near to the Tower of London and centres around the Churchyard of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, at one time dedicated jointly to All Hallows (All Saints) and the Virgin Mary and was sometimes known as All Hallows Barking

All Hallows by the Tower

The church is situated very close to the River Thames and back in the 17th century there were several ships chandlers in the area.

One such was described as being situated alongside the wall of the churchyard in Tower Street. On the 4th of January 1649 about seven in the evening the chandlers had received a delivery of gun powder and the owner Robert Porter, had seven barrels stored in his house in Tower Street for the night and was in the process of breaking the consignment down into smaller quantities known as Barrelling. In the words of the report, ” it took Fire, and in the twinkling of an Eye blew up not only that, but all the Houses thereabouts, to the Number towards the Street and in back Alleys of 50 or 60“. It also caused a large fire that raged for several days and destroyed more properties in the vicinity.

During the gruesome task of clearing up after the explosion workman continually found Heads, Arms, Legs, and half Bodies miserably torn and scorched, and surprisingly many whole Bodies, with no marks upon them and not so much as their Clothes singed.

The place where the highest fatalities were recorded was the nearby Rose Tavern, said to always be full of company on any day, it was also the evening of the parish dinner, which the pub hosted. When workmen started to remove the debris, they found the dead Landlady and one of the barmen. The Landlady was seated at the serving area and the barman was standing next to her with a quart jug in his hand. Neither had a scratch on them and it is thought they died instantly from the blast-wave.

The church was badly damaged and the following day a team of workmen were sent to asses the extent of repairs needed to the roof. On the upper part of the knave roof a workman came across a baby’s cradle completely intact and inside he found a sleeping infant totally oblivious of what had befallen it. Apparently the child was never claimed and so was adopted by one of the local parishioners. The text says that the baby grew up to be a fine maiden and the writer met her some sixteen years after the explosion. It appears that her adopted father had a nice little sideline in soliciting free drinks from visitors by telling the story of the explosion and the baby and then introducing them to the young woman.

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