The Bombed Out Church St Dunstan-in-the-East

An alley back in time

The best aspect of living in London is the secret passages and historical gems you will discover amongst modern structures of chrome and steel.  On this occasion I knew exactly where I was going but had I not been looking for it, it is possible that I would have wondered right past this alley way and not walked up St Dunstan’s Lane to the bombed out ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East. 

Be sure to click on all of the images below for enlargements.

St Dunstan in the East exterior

As you approach St Dunstan-in-the-East, it might look like a particularly overgrown or derelict church but it is not.  St Dunstan-in-the-East was one of several churches that was destroyed during the Blitz of 1941.  Originally built in Saxon times, refurbished in the 17th century, it was severely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666.  It was repaired and a Sir Christopher Wren-designed tower and steeple was added at the beginning of the 18th century. 

St Dunstan in the East Garden

All was quiet for more than a century until severe structural damage was discovered at the beginning of the 19th century and the entire church, except for Wren’s tower, was rebuilt.  Again, there was calm for another century until the Second World War.

St Dunstan's College

All that remained after the terrible damage of the Blitz was the four exterior walls plus the tower and steeple. St Dunstan-in-the-East was designated a grade I listed building in 1950 and in 1967 the Anglican church made the decision not to rebuild the church but to turn it into a public garden.

Wren's Tower and Steeple

(I’m really sorry that the photo above didn’t come out so well.  I was playing around with manual focus and did not realise it was out of focus until I got home).

Civic Trust Award St Dunstan in the East

I was all alone in the garden for the longest time and I found the experience quite profound.  I had wanted to visit St Dunstan-in-the-East for several years but it was more than that.  It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon and it was absolutely silent in the ruins.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a parishioner at this church but all that I came away with was the incredible sense of loss they must have felt when the church was destroyed.

St Dunstan in the East

Many of us spent so long listening to the stories of our grandparents about that time but (to their credit) those were often tales of bravery, strength and overcoming incredible adversity. We rarely heard about the pain, fear and loss; the experience of wondering around the neighbourhood and coming to terms with the sheer scale of the loss to life and property.

Welcome to St Dunstan in the East

"A church was first built on the site of this garden in Saxon times. It was restored by St Dunstan in 950AD and then rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire in 1697.  Only the tower of the Wren church survives.  The garden was laid out following severe damage to the church in the blitz, and opened as a public space in 1967”.

St Dunstan in the East steeple

How incredible is it that our parents managed to bring us up feeling safe and secure in the world when they did not experience that when they were growing up?  That our grandparents showered us with gifts when they could not supply their own families with basic goods because of rationing and shortages?

City of London benches in St Dunstan in the East

This is what wandered through my mind as I explored the gardens.  It really is such a beautiful, peaceful space.

St Dunstans in the East Garden

St Dunstan-in-the-East is my new favourite place in the whole of London and I am quite determined to make it up there in my lunch hours.  It is less than a mile from my work so would take me 16 minutes to walk there and back, leaving me 16 minutes to relax and it would absolutely be worth the exercise.

Looking into St Dunstan in the East from the outside

What is your favourite hidden or secret location in London?

St Dunstan-in-the-East
St Dunstan's Hill
Nearest postcode: EC3R 5DD

Royal Arcade, Norwich

Royal Arcade Norwich exterior detail

When we visited Norwich in December, I was enamoured by the stunning Victorian design of the Royal Arcade.  As beautiful as it had been while the sun was shining, that was nothing compared to how it came alive when we passed through in the twilight.

Royal Arcade Norwich entrance

In the photos above, you can see the exquisite stained glass window. From the mosaics and mosaic-making website The Joy of Shards:

…this masterpiece of late Victorian design has "opus sectile" stained glass and splendid Doulton tiles, amongst other features. The window over the western entrance consists of shaped pieces of coloured glass (rather than painted glass) and so is very much like a mosaic.

The Joys of Shards website goes on to note the beautiful motifs in the stone flooring but I did not notice the floor as I was too busy looking up!

Royal Arcade Norwich interior mall

I loved the art nouveau tiling and ceramic letters on the exterior.  I was also really taken with this lighting and the arches and decorative tiles of the first floor windows.  This was such a pretty shopping centre and I felt like I had been transported back in time a hundred years to 1902.

Royal Arcade Norwich lighting detail

The Royal Arcade in Norwich was designed by architect George Skipper in 1899. Based in Norwich, he is also famous for designing the Jarrolds department store and Norwich Union buildings in Norwich.

Royal Arcade Norwich clock and vaulting

We visited at Christmas time, as is evident from the decorations but I imagine that the Royal Arcade manages to look quite spectacular throughout the year without all of the decorations.  I wish there were more buildings like this around.

A Walk Through London’s West End at Night

Centre PointCentre Point

Catch a tube from Tottenham Court Road to Charing Cross? You could walk that! So said Mela and Greg but I scoffed at the suggestion of walking.  It was cold and dark outside and besides, I had walked up from Charing Cross to Goodge Street that morning.

That was until I got to Tottenham Court Road and realised I had no change left.  Not wanting to pay £2 by card, I decided to take an impromptu photo walk back to Charing Cross. 

Corner Shaftsbury Avenue and Bloomsbury StreetCorner Shaftsbury Avenue and Bloomsbury Street

Murdock London, Monmouth StreetMurdock London, Monmouth Street

Pop Boutique, Monmouth StreetPop Boutique and Hotel Chocolat, Monmouth Street

Traditional English Sweets, Earlham StreetTraditional English Sweets, Earlham Street

Warm winter clothing, Earlham StreetAppropriately warm winter clothing for sale, Earlham Street

The Coliseum, St Martins Lane

The Coliseum, St Martins LaneThe Coliseum, St Martins Lane

Nelsons Column Trafalgar SquareNelson's Column, Trafalgar Square

Despite being bright and sunny earlier in the morning, it had been a bitterly cold day but it was quite pleasant as I walked down the streets and lanes.  This really has been the mildest winter I have experienced in England and it has been great!

I see from my photos that it looks like the streets were deserted.  They really weren’t! The streets were packed with people going to the theatre, clubs or restaurants, or just sight-seeing like me.  Nelson’s Column looked so magical all lit up with a Chinese dragon – I just wish I had been able to capture a better shot of it!  My camera can get quite stubborn when it believes there is nothing to capture!

These photos were taken on the day that we went to Ping Pong Dim Sum, saw the BT Tower and went to the British Museum.

Valentines in London

Valentines Day in London

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Or, as we like to say in South Africa, Happy Wellington’s Day*

I caught these two models in a City of London alley last Saturday morning.  It was freezing as it was the day before the snow finally came and I felt really sorry for them!


* Thank you, Raj 1 and Raj 2 and the South African Corsa Lite adverts.  I wish I could find the original Valentine’s Day adverts where they coined the term ‘Wellington’s Day’.  They were hilarious.  “Corsa Lite, the light side of life!”

St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds

Eastern face of St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Throughout our exploration of The Ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund, we could see St Edmundsbury Cathedral in the near distance.  Like the houses I showed you at the end of the post on the ruins, the cathedral stands right alongside them.  An important destination for pilgrims from the 11th to the 16th century, all that remains of the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, the wealthiest and most powerful Benedictine monastery in England, is St Edmundsbury Cathedral, St Mary’s Church and the Abbey Gate and Norman Tower.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

The story of St Edmundsbury Cathedral is really fascinating.  The part of the cathedral that most captured my imagination, both inside and out was the Millennium Tower but as you can judge from the name, it is the most recent addition to the cathedral, completed only in 2005.  In truth, the construction of the church was never completed and it remained incomplete for 450 years.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral 2

When St James's Church was merely a parish church located in the complex of the majestic Abbey of St Edmund, it was deemed unnecessary to add another tower.  The Victorians began restoring cathedrals but never cast their eye on this parish church.  When St James's Church became the Cathedral Church of the Anglican Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in 1914, it became clear that the cathedral would need to be completely restored.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral 3

The upheaval and financial strain of the First and Second World Wars meant that work only began in earnest in 1959.  Stephen Dykes Bower had been appointed architect in 1943 and when he died in 1994, he left £2 million to a Trust for the completion of the cathedral.  They also received another boost in 1997 when the Millennium Commission granted £5.15 million.  It seems that the cathedral would finally be completed after 450 years and construction of the tower began in 2001.

Tower at St Edmundsbury Cathedral

I stood looking at the tower for a very, very long time.  A local couple could obviously see my interest in it because they came over to me to chat.  They must have read my wondering mind because they confirmed that the  weather veins are solid gold.  They also pointed out that you can see the letter E (for St Edmund) on the face of the tower, just below the battlements.  It is in gothic uncial script, which was popular in medieval England, and is endowed with a crown.

I really love that they remained so faithful to the medieval gothic style when building the tower.  In fact, they clad the outside of the tower with the distinctive stone from Barnack and Clipsham to ensure that it blended in with the rest of the building.

South West Tower of St Edmunds Abbey

In the background of the photo above, you can see the post-medieval houses that were built into the remains of the south west tower and walls of St Edmunds Abbey.  I find that quite mercenary and opportunistic, even for the English whose history can be quite gruesome and horrible at times!

Monument to the Protestant Martyrs

Just before we went inside the cathedral, we noticed the Martyr’s Monument.  You will find these memorials located around England to remember the protestant martyrs who were killed during the reign of Queen Mary I for their protestant beliefs.  Mary I wanted to return England to Roman Catholicism and her gruesome campaign earned her the name of Bloody Mary.

Martyrs Monument Detail

This monument remembers 17 protestant martyrs from Bury St Edmunds who died between 1555 and 1558.  The monument was paid for by public subscriptions and was only erected in 1903.  It seems like many of the martyr’s monuments were erected during Victorian times.  I wonder why it took them so long but also why it seemed important to them at that time, four centuries later?

Snow! At Last!

So, the long anticipated English winter finally arrived this week. On Tuesday, we experienced our first sub-zero temperatures and although we had some stunning blue skies this week, it was really cold!  Despite the cold, I was absolutely, 100% convinced that it was not going to snow.  Call it denial but I honestly thought that the snow wouldn’t fall in my little corner of south east England.

The First Snow

I was wrong.  It began snowing at about 9pm last night and must have snowed through the night because we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning.

Waking up to a world of snow

Actually, that is not strictly true.  I woke up to the sounds of my neighbour shovelling snow from his driveway.  Now I have never heard that in my life before!  The snow isn’t usually bad enough for that in England but I expect that his wife had struggled to leave for work this morning. Anyway, it was weird.  

A Snow Tetraptych

The next thing I heard was Stephen having an earnest conversation with our cat.  “No really, you don’t want to go outside… I told you you didn’t want to go outside!”

Playing in the snow

Later on in the morning my neighbours came out to play on their snowboards.  It was so cute as all I could hear was “Squeal! Giggle, giggle, giggle”.

I have no doubt that the snow is going to be less of a novelty or source of amusement tomorrow when I don my cow-print wellies and walk to the rail station in the snow, but it was pretty cool today.

Glimpses of the British Museum

Lion British Museum

After lunch last Saturday afternoon, Greg, Mela, Jen, Melissa and I went through to the British Museum.  It feels almost criminal to admit this but I think it has been over three years since I last visited the British Museum!!

The British Museum

We entered the museum through the Montague Place entrance and I got to see the beautiful lion sculptures for the first time.  The problem with coming through that entrance is it is not immediately as impressive as the main entrance.  Suffice to say, we quickly made our way through to the Great Court to see the exquisite glass ceiling.

Ceiling in British Museum

Room 40: Medieval Europe

When I suggested to the expats and bloggers that I wanted to visit the British Museum, my main interest was to see their collection on the Byzantine Empire (in part due to its influence on Orthodox Christianity but also compounded by The Borgias!).  I duly dragged everyone along with me to room 40 to see what we could find.  I was a tiny bit disappointed to see such a small collection but I guess that just means I will have to make a pilgrimage to Istanbul one day to see the Hagia Sofia.

The Royal Gold Cup

Byzantine art

Room 70: Roman Empire

Ancient Rome

It is strange to think that five years ago, I knew next to nothing about the Roman Empire and would have waltzed through this room without paying attention. 

Since then, I have visited Ephesus in Turkey, seen glimpses of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland, visited Anglesey in Wales where the Romans brutally supressed the Druids, and just last week discovered that I have worked on what was once Watling Street for the past four years. It is really interesting to see history come alive through my travels.

Hadrian and Antinous

This is Hadrian and his one true love, Antinous… 

Letter from Hadrian to Ephesus

… and this is a letter from Hadrian to the council of Ephesus endorsing the services of Lucius Erastus, a boat owner.

It seems fitting that under this ancient letter and communication, we gathered around to discuss the various blogging platforms and the superiority of Wordpress over Blogger. 

Room 72: Ancient Cyprus

Ancient Cyprus

This is the upper part of a colossal limestone statue of a bearded man.  It dates back to ancient Cyprus in about 500-480BC.  I just loved his beard detail and marvelled that it had survived intact for 2,500 years!

Rooms 62-63: Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies

Ancient Egypt

The sections on Ancient Egypt are my favourites which usually means that I head straight for them on arrival and only emerge several hours later.  It was good to see some other sections for a change.

We only spent an hour in the museum on this visit.  It was nice to leave without feeling completely exhausted but it did leave me with a desire to return as soon as possible! Perhaps I’ll go after work one Friday evening.

I have booked a place on the Camera Settings Workshop with the London Photo School & Club on the 25th February. This is a great workshop that teaches you about those complicated settings on your camera and I actually attended one back two years ago (see my post: Weekend Snapshots ~ 2: London).

Now that I have a new camera with completely different settings (and being that I did not practice what I learned at the last workshop and therefore forgot it), I have decided to attend again. I'm hoping to get some photos of the ruins of the bombed-out church of St Dunstan-in-the-East so please join me if you're interested in that type of thing! The workshop is £45 and includes tuition, practice and feedback.

British Museum
Great Russell Street