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Hackney's oldest surviving structure


Clock Mechanism
Views over East London
A single tower is all that's left of the parish church of St. Augustine. It was built in the 13th century when Hackney was just a village, before London swallowed it up. After a few centuries of regular use, the place got a bit too popular for its own good. By the 1780s the congregation was too big to fit into the building - so they knocked it down. The very same stone was used in the construction of a new, bigger church: St-John-at-Hackney. It stands just next door, in the same grounds. At that time the land was owned by a military religious order called the Knight Hospitaller, who preferred St. John to St. Augustine - hence the name change.
The tower was due to be demolished at the same time as its church. It survived, simply as a storage place for the bells. These valuable pieces of metal couldn't be moved, as they were too heavy for St. John's new steeple! It took half a century for that problem to be corrected.

Watercolour of the tower c1750
Between then and now the tower has been used as both a mortuary and tool shed. It wasn't until recently that the place was restored to a usable state. It's now open on the final Sunday of each month, so visitors have a chance to look around. If you want to get to the top you'll have to conquer 135 steps. Along the way you'll see the clock mechanism, which still works after all this time. Upon reaching the summit, you'll be greeted with magnificent views across all of East London.

The clock mechanism
Photo Matt From London
St. Augustine's is still an important part of the community's identity. It's the borough's oldest building, and its only surviving medieval structure. Its image still appears on the cover of the local newspaper, and in Hackney's coat of arms.

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