The tranquil ruins of a medieval church called St Dunstan in the East is one of London’s hidden gems. The 1000-year-old ruin, a mere stone’s throw from the Tower of London is not well-known to tourists, unlike its famous neighbour, but has the allure of an undiscovered urban sanctuary.
The church ruins and delightful garden provide a green space for office workers from the skyrise city buildings that engulf this tiny space, and for visitors who unintentionally stumble upon its setting.
Following the construction of the Saxon church in the 12th-century, it was dedicated to Saint Dunstan. He was a monk in the 10th century who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Before that, he is said to have lived a colourful existence. He survived as a leper, dabbled in the occult, and as legend tells us – even met the Devil himself!
Saint Dunstan was not the only one with an interesting past – the church itself has endured an incredibly unpredictable history.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 saw the church receive considerable damage and it was Initially patched together. Some years later, Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s Cathedral fame) stepped in to design the tower and steeple.
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Fun Fact: Sir Christopher Wren designed and built 51 churches in London following The Great Fire of London in 1666.
Bombing raids during the Second World War again took their toll destroying much of St Dunstan in the East. All that now remains of the original structure are the tower and steeple, obviously very well built by Wren, and surprisingly, the outer walls.
After the war, It was decided not to rebuild the church again. In 1970, it was opened as a public garden for the people of London to enjoy. With stone windows entwined with ivy climbers, the ruins of St Dunstan in the East now have an almost ethereal feel to them.
Charles Dickens described St Dunstan in the East as his best-loved churchyard
London’s hidden gem is worth a quick visit, especially at weekends when the city office workers are not around. Bring a sandwich, your favourite novel or even a set of paints and enjoy the serenity of this magical outdoor space before you continue exploring the myriad of other great things to do in London.
Fabulous Activities in the City of London
Address St Dunstan’s Hill, Billingsgate, London EC3R 5DD
Opening times All year. Daily. Open 8 am to 7 pm or dusk if earlier.
Entrance fee Entrance free.
Nearest Underground Stations Monument and Tower Hill.