St Dunstan in the East
| Early Modern * London |
Squeezed between the shadows of London’s city skyrises are the crumbling remains of a 17th century church. Set alight, bombed, subject to never-ending photo shoots, St Dunstan in the East has been through a lot. It now lives on as a reminder of the how the ‘urban environment’ has changed, from way back in the 12th century, through fires and wars, right to the present, when the Godzilla-sized walkie-talkies and cheese-graters appear through St Dunstan’s empty windows.
The first St Dunstan’s was built in the 12th century. Named after one of England's favourite saints, St Dunstan was once the Archbishop of Canterbury. There were a few interesting myths about him; apparently he suffered from leprosy and he once held the devil’s nose with his blacksmith’s tongs (tried to find hidden meaning here, but it is literally a story about him pulling Satan's nose with some tongs he had on him). So to celebrated the famous puller of Satan’s nose, St Dunstan's Church was named, and so it stood until 1666 and the Great Fire of London.
St Dunstan’s was hit hard in the fire. The structure burnt to the ground and the steeple you see today was re-made by the familiar hands of Christopher Wren. The rest of the church is from a rebuild in the 1820s. This was part of the mass 19th century panic about the decline of Christianity, and the belief that more churches there were in the industrialised cities, the less into temptation we would fall.
The walls you can still see today are the remains of this 19th century church. Bombed during the Blitz, it was allowed to re-wild; the crumbling walls are now covered in various vines attempting to take over the space. Historic England denoted it a Grade I listed building and it was made into a public garden in the 1970s. It is now a stunning reminder of all the different ‘Londons’ which have been built and re-built over the years.
St Dunstan's Hill, Billingsgate, London EC3R 5DD