The History of All Hallows Staining

All Hallows Staining, Mark Lane
All Hallows Staining, Mark Lane, 1831. Trustees of the British Museum

The church of All Hallows Staining first appeared in the historical record in 1177.  Although the reference to 'Staining' is unclear, the site may have belonged to the manor of Staines.  In the early seventeenth century, John Stowe’s Survey of London records that All Hallows Staining had been “repaired in many parts of it, and very nearly and decently beautified, at the cost of the Parishioners, in the yeere of our Lord 1630.”[1] Though the early fourteenth-century church survived the Great Fire of London of 1666, the main church building fell just five years later in 1671, undermined by the large number of burials accumulated over the centuries. The church was rebuilt shortly after.

The Early Nineteenth Century Parish

By 1833, Lancelot Sharpe reported to the bishop that the seventeenth-century church that replaced that damaged in 1671 included pews and a gallery, which together held 328 parishioners for a parish of 577 inhabitants.  One pew was held by the Ironmongers’ Company for four shillings; six additional pews belonged by right to the incumbent (then Sharpe), though he offered their use to parish families for no charge.[2] The church underwent substantial repairs in 1824 for just over £1228.  In addition to the rectory or parsonage at 9 Mark Lane, All Hallows also held two small tenements, located at 6 and 7 Mark Lane, the income of which was available for church repairs and other needs.[3]  For most of his incumbency, Sharpe elected to reside, not in the rectory, but at St. Savior’s School in Southwark, where he was headmaster.  He leased the rectory, which he described as “3 rooms on a floor besides a room on the ground floor, used as a Counting House, in good condition, commodious, and fit for occupation,” to William Aston for £70 per annum.[4]

The Mid-Nineteenth-Century Parish

By the 1850s and 60s, All Hallows Staining was part of a busy commercial district made up of madeira merchants, bread and biscuit makers, printers, continental agents, and even guano merchants near the intersection of Mark Lane and Fenchurch Street. [5] The parish church itself ministered to victuallers, clerks, bootmakers, tobacconists, tailors, messengers, cork cutters, shipmen, jewelers, housekeepers, and carpenters.  These and occasionally others of more illustrious social backgrounds from beyond the bounds of the parish – including a gentleman from Albion Street, Hyde Park and his own son, then Captain Francis George Stainforth visiting from the East Indies for the birth and baptism of his daughter, Kate Beatrice by her grandfather – resorted to All Hallows for baptisms and marriages.[6]

The population of the parish of All Hallows Staining, however, had declined from Sharpe’s estimate of 577 made in 1834 to Stainforth’s rough estimate of 300 made in 1862.[7] Stainforth noted that church attendance was low, a state he argued had been exacerbated by non-resident clergy, including his predecessor and other churchmen throughout the diocese. He suggested that “if clergy were residents the strength of the church would be more than doubled.”[8]  He reported an average of approximately 40 parishioners in the congregation on Sundays and weekdays and suggested that many resort to the country for fresh air; still others enjoyed more music that what he was able to provide, absent an organ.[9]  Though, by 1862, his estimate of the size of the congregation had risen to 50, the numbers still fell far short of a “fair proportion” of the population of the parish.[10]

The Parish Poor

It is at All Hallows Staining that we see evidence of the beliefs and ideals surrounding social reform of the Clapham Sect in the ministry of Francis Stainforth.  Social justice at a parish level appears in Francis Stainforth's responses to diocesan inquiries for the years 1858 and 1862 for All Hallows Staining, where the majority of the parishioners were of the working class.  By 1862, Stainforth records that there were six parishioners in the workhouse and sixteen who receive “out-door relief.”[11]  His notes to the Bishop of London describe church pews as freely available to persons of any class, occupied only by custom and at no charge, a departure from the centuries-old practices that persisted into the nineteenth century through which social stratification was often mirrored in parish church seating arrangements, with prime seating let for a fee.[12]  He further informed the bishop that he had abolished fees for baptism at All Hallows Staining, believing such charges to be illegal.[13]  Stainforth raised concern with the bishop, too, over the expenses his parishioners had been forced to incur following the passing of the Metropolitan Burial Act of 1852.  The Act closed all London churchyards to burial, necessitating subsequent interments in the city cemetery at Ilford, which had opened several years before, in 1856.[14]  By 1862, at the age of sixty-five and perhaps in declining health, Stainforth recorded that he distributed money to those “in want chiefly through the hands of [his] daughter.”[15]