The Ruins of London – St Dunstan in the East
Continuing our series inspired by Tate Britain’s Ruin Lust exhibition. One of the Footprints guide’s favourites is the former church and now City garden St Dunstan in the East
St Dunstan in the East is a real symbol of how something beautiful can triumph out of the damage caused by war. The church was largely destroyed in World War Two, only Christopher Wren’s tower and some of the walls remaining intact. In 1971 the ruined church reopened as a public garden, and now provides a valuable place of calm amid the ever changing city.
St Dunstan in the East has had a difficult history. The church was originally built around 1100 but the Great Fire of London severely damaged, but not totally destroyed the building. The rebuilt church was one of Wren’s favourites. Brian Mcclory says “Wren was elderly by the time that it was built and his daughter did a lot of climbing up the steeple. When it was completed there were some doubts about its stability but she was so confident that she lay underneath it while the supports were removed.”
Dave Brown says “When a terrible storm hit London in 1702 Wren was told that all the church steeples had been damaged in the storm, Wren replied that he was sure St Dunstan’s would still be standing”
Ade Clarke points out that after what sounds like a rather saucy evening in Lambeth in April 1668, Samuel Pepys narrowly avoided getting mugged by two ‘rogues with clubs’ by the entrance into the ruins of St Dunstan and had to take a diversion to avoid them.
Dickens too was a fan, according to Mark Rowland “Dickens described St Dunstan as his best loved churchyard”
If you are visiting the garden look out for the “insect hotel” a set of pipes which encourage insects to visit – vital to pollinate the gardens of the City. And look out too for the bench dedicated to the memory of Paul Taylor, a City Guide who inspired many others to become guides themselves.