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

25 comments on "The Bombed Out Church St Dunstan-in-the-East"
  1. Just wow! Next time I'm back in town, I'm definitely taking some time to go to St Dunstan-in-the-East. What a long and interesting history the place has had. I think it might become my new favourite place in London too. :)

  2. Since you are being so reflective and spiritual, I hate to say that my favourite tucked away location in London is related to The Good Life. But I will :)

    Decades ago I was wandering aimlessly near Piccadilly and found Burlington Arcade by accident. The Arcade was built in 1816 and it still looks fantastic - the architecture is splendid, the ceilings let the light flood in and the shop windows are an art form in their own right.

  3. I'm surprised that such treasures still exist.I would have thought all the ruins from the blitz would have been torn down and rebuilt.

  4. I'm glad they have left some of these structures as they were after the Blitz. Otherwise eventually no one would remember the terrible times that you poignantly evoke, Em.

  5. It is incredible how you were able to find such a secluded place in the middle of London. It is interesting this place is "hidden" beyond the narrow alley.

  6. very nice to discover such surprises in the city you live!
    to be honest, I would be scared a bit to stay alone in a park-too many crime novels read, I guess:)

    Life and travelling

  7. Beautiful place...

    This just made me recall how I once tried to get into Battersea power station after the first time I held the Pink Floyd album "Animals" in my hands and realised that it was the same station. Security everywhere... couldn't get in... last thing I heard about the place is that some investor is planning to turn it into a theme park.

    Anyway, here's my reply to your comment:
    There are so many good causes you can get involved in. At some point, I would like to take part in the Sar-El volunteer program of the Israel Defense Forces. If I recall correctly, you can do up to three months of non-combative work.
    I don't usually talk about it, because some people still act oddly when I do, but the Apartheid - part of South African history is, in a few ways, similar to what has happened in Germany some 80 years ago, so you know what I'm talking about... anyway, my mum's family is, to some extent, of Jewish descent. They got out of Germany before it was too late, and my grandma's older sister stayed in the U.S., returning only for one visit - she had married an American and had children by the time the war was over. Every Jew is allowed to live in Israel even if they don't have Israeli citizenship. If there is ever peace in that region, I might move there when I'm retired. Warm climate, the Mediterranean Sea, good food, ... That's my connection to Israel, it's why I want to visit the country so badly, and it's why I'm concerned about the situation over there.
    When I was younger, I thought that it'd be nice working for one of the many NGOs, like Amnesty or WWF or whatever comes to mind, but I don't agree with all of the things they do and the finances etc.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments, and I'm glad you liked those pics. Those shipwrecks aren't that amazing. They're just the only ones around here. The National Geographic has a gallery of breathtaking photographs of shipwrecks...

    Have a great day!

  8. That reminded me the Trinity Church in NYC. It's hiding in between shinny skyscrapers. Old and new next to each other :)

  9. Wow!! I am in love with this space..the quiet garden I would love to sit and write or read or meditate or do yoga there..just beautiful! Thankyou for showing me such magical spaces i will never get to see! hugs..fabulous post!

  10. What an interesting place! I wasn't aware something like this even existed in London. I guess London is full of such gems and as such a perfect place for wandering around with your camera.

  11. I'd love to sit and study here!

  12. London is really a beautiful place and this St. Dunstan-in-the-East Church is one of the best sites to visit...

  13. Thank goodness you told me about this place in time for spring!

  14. What a beautiful, peaceful place. Amazing photos!

  15. So pretty. The history makes it even more special.

  16. I can not answer your question, but I can tell you that this pictures is great! Especially the first one is very special with the reflection. And I always like your way to snap in different angles. Good work. And I would love to visit this place and church.

    Hope you have a blessed weekend:-)

  17. can't answer either
    have to come look at what you photographed
    have a great weekend

  18. What a beautiful, tranquil place. I can't believe you were alone in there! If it was me, I would have my lunch there vey often, especially if I worked close by.

  19. such a beautiful discovery. I would love to spend some time there but not alone.

  20. @ Wendy: Well, be sure to let me know and perhaps we can meet up there for a packed lunch!

    @ Hels: ha! I think I needed a bit of the Good Life after all of that reflection! I have not been to Burlington Arcade yet but will definitely go on your advice.

    @ Mike: London was so devastated after the war. It was over 25 years later in 1967 that they made the decision not to rebuild it. That tells me that they were in fact still tearing down ruins and rebuilding them up until the late 1960s. Can you imagine trying to voercome that scale of devastation?

    @ Kathy: Indeed. On the one hand London (and Great Britain) needed to pick up and recover after the war but on the other hand, we need to remember.

    @ AVCr8teur: That area of London is full of hidden gems! In fact, I spend a lot of time there but actually got lost on my way to the church that morning!

    @ Ola: I used to be a lot more cautious, I must admit, coming from a crime-ridden country like South Africa. But you get a feel for places now and the City is either deserted or full of tourists on weekends.

    @ Dominic: I love Battersea Power Station and it is all to do with Pink Floyd too! I haven't visited yet though. A lot of my family are in Israel (I come from a long line of Sephardi Jews who were chased out of Spain during the Spanish inquisition). I don't often talk about Israel though because of my ambivalent feelings towards what is going on in Gaza.

    @ Ivanhoe: I actually took a couple of photos of Trinity Church but it looks like I only blogged about it once: New York day 4: Both Sides of Brooklyn Bridge. Perhaps it is time to go back through my photos and post some of the ones that didn't make the cut!

    @ Victoria: Thank you! It is indeed a magical space. I should chat to you about some of the truly magical spaces in England one day - Druid sites and such!

    @ Marko: London is full of ruins like this! I will post something about it soon.

  21. @ Ashley: I know - next time I go, I am staying for longer!

    @ Jan: I agree!

    @ London Living: I'd like to see your post on it!

    @ Ash: Thank you! I was quite happy with how all of the photos came out, except for the out of focus one. I guess you need to have better eyesight to use manual focus.

    @ Brooke: I agree - history gives the place a sense of importance.

    @ Carol: It is!

    @ Spiderdama: One day you will come to London and I will show you! Thank you for your kind words. I try not to get too creative with angles but try to make it interesting as well as descriptive.

    @ Anni: Well, thank you for visiting!

    @ Giselle: I was quite lucky to be so alone for so long in such a lovely place, that is for sure.

    @ Life Ramblings: :) I guess it felt okay to be alone there.

  22. St Dunstan-in-the-East looks like a gem of place to visit. I'm going to have to pop in for a wee gander next time I'm down that way on a Saturday or Sunday. I can imagine that during the week it isn't quite such a peaceful place.

  23. Love it... London is one of my favourite cities and your photos and descriptions are precious...


  24. Amazing! Beautiful! I wish I was there! You are really bringing London to life for me! Thank you so much for sharing your London explorations with us! I have never read a guide of London that made me want to visit as desperately as your blog! Thanks for taking me with you!


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