St Dunstan in the East church garden: Nature’s slice of the historical City
I was destined to fall in love with St Dunstan in the East church garden. Created from the ruins of a bombed-out church in one of the busiest areas in the City of London, the site now stands quietly and unassumingly below the chain hotels, banks and frenetic wine bars of the east side of the City.
Built in the 12th Century, the original church of St Dunstan has (literally) been in the wars in the 900 years since it was created. After being built around 1100, it had to be patched up in 1631; it then survived another 30 years before being damaged in the great fire of London in 1666.
And so poor St Dunstan was patched up again. Sometime between 1691 and 1701 it gained a new steeple and a tower courtesy of Sir Christopher Wren.
Less than 250 years later in 1941, the church was given a battering by The Blitz in World War II. While Wren’s steeple and tower survived, some of the oldest parts of the church including the roof and some of the walls were gone for good. The space was finally restored as a garden in 1670 and opened to the public in 1970.
Nowadays it’s a weird but wonderful mix of outside and in: enough of the original walls survive to appreciate what the church would have looked like in its heyday, but the garden has been cleverly curated with a unique mix of plants and trees, making maximum use of the space.
Everywhere you look you notice something different: the old gravestones still sit outside the exterior walls and you can sit in the original doorway. Even the arrangement of the benches ‘indoors’ hints at the space’s original use, but peer through the windows and you might be surprised to find a palm-like tree or two.
The garden has worn well over the years and now plays host to a not-insignificant portion of the financial district on its lunchbreak every weekday. So unlike most other places in London, it’s best to visit during the weekend to get the most out of it. It’s open daily from 8am until 7pm (or dusk, whichever is earlier).
There’s something really special about enjoying a space that has seen the best part of 1,000 years of quiet contemplation. To me, the fact that a space of such cultural and historical importance is entrusted to the public for free is a small sign that the world can’t be such a bad place after all.
Nearest Tube: Monument
More information: Visit The City of London website