St Dunstan-in-the-East must be one of the more unique and atmospheric lunch spots on offer for City workers, who eat their sandwiches amongst the bombed-out remains of a medieval church. The church itself had a complex history, having been touched by two of the major historical events in London: the Great Fire and the Blitz.
Originally built in 1100, St Dunstan’s was slowly rebuilt after being badly damaged in the Great Fire, including the addition of a steeple designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who matched his design to suit the original Gothic style of the church. Serious structural damage was uncovered in 1817, which prompted another rebuild between 1817 and 1821. Finally, the church was hit in the 1941 Blitz, leaving only a shell – and Wren’s steeple.
This was the final straw for St Dunstan’s and it was decided not to rebuild it yet again. Although the bells were replaced in the tower in 1953, they were deemed unsafe to use as without any support the tower would list greatly when they were rung. The bells themselves had a rather sad end – two were destroyed during the dismantling and relocation process in 1970 (one was actually broken up in the tower as it was slightly too large to remove), and they now grace a Californian winery.
The garden has fared much better – it was designed in 1971 by the then London Architects and Parks Department, who planted twisting creepers and exotic plants amongst the ruins and Wren’s steeple to create this secluded little haven in the City. The different areas of the church make for a nice choice of seating areas. The parish was combined with All Hallows by the Tower, who occasionally hold open air services in St Dunstan’s – such as the one this weekend for Palm Sunday at 11am.
You can find the garden between Idol Lane and St Dunstan’s Hill in the City.