A hidden garden in the City | The ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East
The bombed out ruins of a Christopher Wren church is now a public garden.
The City Of London is a bustling, noisy place, especially on weekdays. For hundreds of years, the City’s churches have always been a place of solitude for those seeking quiet and today that is no different. However, not all churches consist of four walls and a ceiling thanks to the damage ravaged by the Nazis during World War II. Located just north of Lower Thames Street is a hidden garden in the ruins of a former church. Although the steeple and tower and some of the walls now remain, the roof and interiors are long gone, having been replaced by a peaceful garden.
St Dunstan-in-the-East is located in the south-east corner of the City of London, a short walk from the Tower of London. The original St Dunstan church was originally built in 1100, but like many in the City, was damaged in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was given the responsibility of repairing and renovating the church. The building was patched up between 1668 and 1671 with Wren adding a needle spire during 1696 and 1701. Inside, the church contained carvings by Dutch-born carver Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721), whose work also features in St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.
In 1817, the church was in a sorry state so it was rebuilt in a perpendicular style to a design by architect David Laing (1774-1856), who designed the New Custom House and was a former apprentice of Sir John Soane. Laing was assisted by architect William Tite (1798–1873), who went on to design the Royal Exchange, West Norwood Cemetery and various train stations, including Vauxhall, Barnes, Chiswick and Kew Bridge. The heavy weight of the roof of the nave had been pushing the walls out seven inches, so it was decided the whole structure – bar Wren’s tower – should be rebuilt. The new design was built with Portland Stone, cost £36,000 and spanned 115 feet by 65 feet. The makeover was revealed to the congregation on January 1821 and could accommodate up to 600-700 parishioners. (For a photo of the church interior, click here or exterior in 1910, click here.)
However, Laing’s redesign was not to last either, with the Nazi bombing campaign of World War II wreaking havoc on St Dunstan’s 120 years later. On 10 May 1941, the bomb destroyed the nave and roof and blew out the stained glass windows. In 1960, St Dunstan was linked with All Hallows by the Tower. The City of London Corporation decided not to rebuild and instead turn the ruins into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The tower’s eight bells were transferred to the Sterling Winery in California’s Napa Valley.
Today, the garden contain lots of plants, trees, a fountain and benches, while the tower is home to a wellbeing foundation. Occasional religious services are held in the open air in the garden, such as Palm Sunday, organised by All Hallows.
- St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Dunstan’s Hill, off Lower Thames Street, City of London, EC3R 8DX. Nearest stations: Tower Hill or Monument.
Read more about Sir Christopher Wren’s churches and life:
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